Rachel Hopkin

Folklorist and Radio Producer

Weekend of Wonders

25 December, 2013

Here’s a copy of the latest blog-post I wrote for Nevada Humanities.


Question 1: Do you live in or within easy reach of Las Vegas?

Question 2: Were you at the Vegas Valley Book Festival on 2nd November?

If the answer to question 1 is yes, and the answer to question 2 is no – good heavens, what were you thinking?

This was my second year attending the festival. It is such a fantastic event and I don’t say that just because my employer happens to be a festival founder – I’m a grump by nature so if I don’t like something, I’ll say it. It’s full of interesting author talks, fascinating panel discussions, readings, storytelling, plus there’s stuff especially geared towards children, young adults, and comic book fans. And it’s all free!!!

At the Hammargren House Among the highlights for me this year were the keynote speech of the Mexican American poet, novelist, and essayist Luis Urrea. I’m ashamed to say that I’d not read any of his work prior to Saturday, but having now experienced his wit, intelligence, and insight first hand, I’ve just bought a couple of his books and plan to tuck in them very soon. Another great event was Nevada Humanities’ own Salon, featuring museum curator and Pawn Stars regular Mark Hall-Patton, artist and photographer Fred Sigman, and writer Mark Maynard reflecting incisively on the myriad ways in which Nevada can shape the creative spirit.

So, if you were daft enough to miss this year’s festival, learn from your mistake and save the date for 2014 when the main day will be October 18th. There’ll also be a whole host of pre-events from late summer onwards, so keep an eye on the festival’s dedicated website to find out what’s on.

My Weekend of Wonders did not end with the festival. On Sunday I made it over to the Hammargren House, aka the Castillo Del Sol, for its annual open house, which I gather is something of a Vegas institution. And what a house it is. For a start, it’s huge, and pretty well every inch of it is stuffed full of objects collected by the former neurosurgeon and one-time Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, Lonnie Hammargren. A lot of his memorabilia relates to Nevada history, with much of it purchased from now-defunct casinos, but the ultimate principle guiding the collection seems to be whether Mr Hammargren likes something or not. Among the things you might see there – if you have the time to investigate all the many rooms – are a golden pig with wings purchased from MGM resorts, an 1815 Venetian gondola, various life-size Egyptian figurines, one of Liberace’s old pianos, and an eclectic collection of cars. He also lays on entertainers; I came across a harpist and a Monroe-impersonator.

At the Hammargren HouseIn one article I read, Mr Hammargren was quoted as saying “nobody wants to throw anything away”. Lord, count me out on that score: in my own home, I live by the principle – is it useful, sentimental, or beautiful? If not, then it gets chucked or sent to Good Will. So for me the Castillo Del Sol was something of a horror house, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in city, for curiosity’s sake if nothing else. The annual open house is scheduled to coincide as closely as possible with Nevada Day (October 31st) so check it out next year if you have a chance – Nevada Days.