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Which historic hotel reportedly held the hidden body of a United States Senator in a bathtub of ice?

According to local legend, Mizpah Hotel is at the center of quite a “chilling” story concerning a United States Senator and a bathtub full of ice. The Senator in question was Key Pittman, who represented the state of Nevada from 1913 to 1940. An influential member of the Democratic party, Pittman was one of Franklin Roosevelt’s leading campaign advisers in 1932. On March 9th, 1933, Pittman became the chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee and President Pro Tempore, the second highest-ranking official in the United States Senate. His influence in Washington benefited Nevada greatly, with his state leading the country in per capita federal spending on New Deal projects.

Photograph of Key Pittman with Nevada politicians and southwestern railroad and mining magnates late 1910s early 1920s

Photograph of Key Pittman with Nevada politicians and southwestern railroad and mining magnates, late 1910s-early 1920s.
Garner, FDR and Pittman

From left to right: Vice President John Nance Garner, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Senator Key Pittman.

Though he represented Nevada, Pittman was originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Seeing the potential in the gold and silver minds out west, he moved to Tonopah, Nevada in 1902. Pittman and his wife, Mimosa, lived at Mizpah Hotel when they first arrived, and by 1908, the couple had built their own home on Prospect Street across from the Tonopah courthouse.

Thus, it would make sense that on the eve of the 1940 election, Key Pittman and his supporters were holed up at Mizpah Hotel, preparing for the next day’s festivities when Pittman would, hopefully, be reelected. As the story goes, Pittman tragically suffered a sudden heart attack and died that evening. In an effort to ensure that Pittman’s seat remained Democratic, his supporters' kept his body on ice in one of Mizpah Hotel’s bathtubs, formally announcing his death five days later on November 10, 1940.

Local Newspaper reporting Pittmans death

November 11, 1940 - Reno Evening Gazette reports the death of Senator Key Pittman.

The story quickly made the rounds, gaining further credibility when it was repeated in the sensational national bestseller, The Green Felt Jungle (1963). However, this spooky story is nothing more than a folk tale, likely resulting from an odd statement made by one of Pittman’s handlers. According to journalists Barbara and Myrick Land in A Short History of Reno (1995), "One political reporter, it was rumored later, asked one of Pittman's handlers why the senator was making no campaign appearances in this important final week. The handler replied 'We're keeping him on ice.’”

While Pittman’s team may not have hidden the senator in an ice bath, they did deceive the public into electing a dying man. According to an interview with Pittman’s personal physician, Dr. A.J. “Bart” Hood, the senator did suffer a heart attack on November 4, 1940, but he did not die that night. Dr. Hood told Pittman's political lieutenants that there was nothing he could do to save Pittman. Quietly, the senator's associates moved him into Washoe General Hospital. A coronary disease specialist who was flown to Reno from San Francisco concluded, once Pittman regained consciousness, that death was imminent. On November 10, 1940, United States Senator Key Pittman passed away. His supporters plan worked and Governor Edward Carville appointed Democrat Berkley Bunker to take the late senator’s seat.

Key Pittman

Senator Key Pittman circa 1930s.
Mizpah Hotel

Mitzpah Hotel's Pittman Cafe.

Despite attempts to dismiss the story as mere legend, many still believe that there may be some truth to the tale. Today, guests at Mizpah Hotel can gather and debate the truth of this story at The Pittman Café, the hotel’s casual dining restaurant named for the famous Nevada senator.

This has been a Historic Hotels History Mystery.
For more fun facts, trivia, and historic highlights, check out our History Mystery pages for Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. Subscribe to our newsletter below and follow us on social media to play along.

Question: Which historic hotel reportedly held the hidden body of a United States Senator in a bathtub of ice?

  1. St. James Hotel MN
  2. Mizpah Hotel
  3. La Posada de Santa Fe
  4. The Wigwam
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