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Battle Born Birthday Cakes

In 1964, Nevada celebrated its 100th birthday in ‘stupendous’ fashion. It plans to do the same in 2014.

BY MATTHEW B. BROWN | MARCH/APRIL 2014

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Photo: Nevada State Library & Archives

The Nevada Centennial Commission Final Report of 1964 declares, “It’s unlikely that anyone will soon attempt to repeat the feat of making so gigantic a cake.” If they could only see the Silver State now…

On January 4, 1964, Nevadans “held what was probably the most stupendous birthday party in the state’s history in the Assembly chambers at Carson City,” the centennial report continues. On March 21, 2014, a similar party will occur in Carson City at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center’s Sage Café. The Nevada 150 signature event is free and open to the public.

CENTENNIAL BIRTHDAY PARTY

Nevadans who were not able to physically attend the 1964 celebration in the Assembly chambers were able to enjoy it courtesy of the new-at-the-time Silver State Century radio and TV network. Those that were on hand were elected officials, legislators, chairmen of various committees, and celebrities such as Jack Benny and Ray Eberle.

Nevada native Ben Alexander, known for his role in the “Dragnet” TV series, read a brief history of each of Nevada’s 17 counties. As the stories of each county were narrated, Miss Carson City Jackie Darrigrand directed a group of young “map makers,” who put 17 cake segments together to form a huge shape of Nevada.

Sm1_Sewells-BakeryOnce Alexander finished, a committee of hostesses—women chosen from pioneer families in the state with last names such as Guild, Lampe, Settelmeyer, and Winters—began serving one of the largest birthday cakes the world had ever seen. But not before First Lady Bette Sawyer cut the first slice of the gargantuan cake with a sword once owned by Henry Blasdel, Nevada’s first governor. Punch was served, appropriately, from a bowl that once made its home on the U.S.S. Nevada.

The 13-foot-wide, 21-foot-long cake, adorned with 100 long brightly burning candles, was baked and donated by Sewell’s Bakery of Reno. Ball Sign Company, also of Reno, produced the county segments and symbols (woodcuttings in the form of a bullet or wagon, for example) that topped the cake.

Lieutenant Governor Paul Laxalt, stepping in for an ill Governor Grant Sawyer, gave the first reading of the Centennial Proclamation. “It was a wonderful party, one worthy of the dignity and promise of a state that was just about to become officially 100 years of age,” the centennial report concludes.

1964 CENTENNIAL CAKE

By the Numbers
13 feet wide x 21 feet long
70 working hours to make
1,152 eggs
200 pounds of sugar
600 pounds of icing
21,000 ounces of cake
$1,400 (estimated cost)

BATTLE BORN BIRTHDAY CAKE

Following tradition to a tee, the cake that is to be served on March 21 in honor of Nevada’s 150th birthday will also be 13-by-21 feet. “That equates to about a 1,300-pound cake,” says Heidi Englund of the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. She is overseeing the logistics of the Battle Born Birthday Cake, but her husband, Eric, may be under the most pressure. A professional chef, Eric runs the Sage Café kitchen. He is largely responsible for making sure the estimated 1,600 sheet cakes come together successfully in the shape of the Silver State.

Englund is quick to point out the significance of March 21. That’s the day, 150 years ago, that Congress approved an Enabling Act for Nevada, which set in motion an official state constitution and government. “March 21 is the marker for the very beginning of when we came to be, so I think it’s a great birthday,” she says. Nevada became a state during the Civil War on October 31, 1864, helping lead Abraham Lincoln to reelection shortly thereafter.

While Englund’s husband is in charge of the baking, the vision of the Nevada 150 cake belongs to Misti Gower of Carson City. “She is experimenting with different cake mixes, and we’re going to see which one is going to hold up best,” Englund says. “We’re still working out the flavor, too.”

According to Englund, an estimated $1,800 worth of cake mix is to be used. Like the centennial cake, she is under the impression the Nevada 150 cake will be organized by counties. She also envisions incorporating the state constitution, as well as the official Nevada 150 “Battle Born, Nevada Proud” logo. Expected during the daylong March 21 celebration are Civil War re-enactors, a flag salute, a Sesquicentennial Proclamation read by Mark Twain impersonator McAvoy Layne, an appearance by Sarah Winnemucca impersonator Dianna Borges, and a rendition of “Home Means Nevada” by The Reno Philharmonic.

Also, just as Mrs. Sawyer did 50 years ago, First Lady Kathleen Sandoval is expected to cut the first piece—only this time around with former Nevada Governor Charles Stevenson’s sword. Stevenson, the fifth Governor of Nevada, died of Typhoid fever in 1890 while still in office.

Those interested in donating to the Battle Born Birthday Cake Celebration can do so via an account that has been established through Greater Nevada Credit Union. Contact Englund at henglund@nevadaculture.org or 775-688-1190, extension 224, for more information. 

Thanks to the Nevada Historical Society for its assistance with this article.

 

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PLAN YOUR TRIP

Battle Born Birthday Cake Celebration
When: Friday, March 21, 2014
Time: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Location: Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center’s Sage Café. 1600 Medical Parkway in Carson City
Admission: Free
More Info: nevada150.org, 775-687-0608

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