The beloved bearded, one-toothed gun-toting gold miner who is iconic to Sparks is still in a state of disarray and desperately needs help. Standing at 35 feet tall, “Last Chance Joe” is a structure that was relocated to the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center in late 2014.
Originally installed in front of Dick Graves Nugget in downtown Sparks in 1955, Last Chance Joe was built by a design firm in Los Angeles that also did work for Disney. It was shipped to Sparks in three pieces by train and has overlooked Victorian Square for the past 56 years.
However, when Nugget Casino Resort ownership changed hands in 2014, new management did not see how Last Chance Joe would work into its remodeling plans. Preserving Last Chance Joe is quite a monetary undertaking and it was rumored that it would move to a location on C Street but the City of Sparks did not want to take the project on. Former City Councilwoman Julia Ratti went to the Sparks Museum to ask about its interest in Joe, and they couldn’t turn him down.
“He’s an icon for the area, he was at the Nugget for years,” says Sparks Museum Interim Executive Director Aimee Kelly. “This is part of what we do in preserving the history of Sparks,” she adds.
Needing around $36,000 to remove him from the Nugget and reinstall him at the museum (as well as around $20,000 for restoration), the museum put out a call for donations and received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community. Councilwoman Ratti received a pledge from a donor to cover the costs of the move and Last Chance Joe was transported via crane across the street to the museum.
However, after Joe was moved the main donor only pitched in $6,000 of what he promised and skipped town, leaving the museum to pull from its operating budget to cover the rest of the cost of the move. Although Joe is falling apart, the museum decided to do what it needed to do to help Joe get through the winter and is now trying to drum up support to finish the restoration.
When the original donor pulled out, the community rallied as much as it could with donations coming in from Baldini’s Casino, Mayor Geno Martini, Silverwing Development, Julia Ratti, Governor Brian Sandoval, and others to cover Joe’s bills. Although the museum has long ways to go to help with Joe’s expenses, the museum was surprised to see that kind of overwhelming support once before.
“We knew that people loved Joe but all of the sudden when Joe was going to be tossed in a landfill we saw the community come together to save him. From the governor and mayor to little kids bringing in bags of coins, everyone has this connection to Joe. It hit all age groups and demographic sectors,” says Kelly.
“We just got a $100 check in the mail today from some people in San Francisco who want to help Joe, and we have no idea why. Usually, we see donations come in from the locals, but this coming from San Francisco maybe gives us a glimpse of how Joe has created an impact throughout the years,” she adds.
Last Chance Joe was constructed out of a steel frame and covered in chicken wire, with lots of paper mache to build out the features. Paper mache doesn’t really hold up in bad weather, though, and birds began poking holes and making nests in him. Worried that he wouldn’t make it through the winter, the museum pitched in some of its own funds to patch the holes and using a celastic/fiberglass like bonding material to weatherproof him.
“The holes, for the most part, have been sealed, but he requires a lift to rent to fix his upper body,” says Kelly. She says Joe’s upper portion above his belt has been primed (which is why he looks all white) and it still needs to be repainted, while his lower portion needs restoration, primed, painted, and sealed.
“We are trying to raise money partly to recoup our operating expenses but also to help Joe for future restoration and keep money in the bank to take care of him,” Kelly says. The museum is also working with the Nevada DMV to issue license plates with a photo of Last Chance Joe on them. With every purchase of the Last Chance Joe license plate, $20 of the sale will go to the Sparks Museum. “Then Joe will be everywhere,” says Kelly.
To contribute to the restoration of Last Chance Joe at the Sparks Museum, visit https://www.razoo.com/story/Last-Chance-Joe.