Southern Nevada legend has it that during the five years of Hoover Dam construction, some workers were killed on the job and accidentally buried in the dam’s cement structure.
Ninety-six construction workers died constructing the historic dam from 1931 to 1936, according to a report from the United States Bureau of Reclamation. Over 100 additional dam workers died off the job from causes including pneumonia, meningitis and typhoid fever.
But none of them could have been buried in the Hoover Dam itself, said Dennis McBride, director of the Nevada State Museum who once worked for the Bureau of Reclamation at the dam.
The 3,250,000 cubic yard dam, covering over 220 acres, is made of small concrete squares of about eight cubic feet, McBride said.
“The forms were big enough that the concrete, that pore, would only come up maybe to about a worker’s ankles,” McBride explained. “So there couldn’t have possibly been anyone buried.”
A buried worker would have caused the integrity of the dam to be compromised, McBride said, possibly leading to structural problems.
“It would create a kind of bubble inside the structure, certainly compromising it,” he said.
Michael Green, associate professor of history at UNLV, agreed.
“The body’s decomposition doesn’t happen in the time it takes for the concrete to set,” Green explained. “The concrete just would not have been able to set properly.”
The closest any worker came to being buried in the dam was on Nov. 8, 1933, when one of the walls of a form collapsed, according to McBride and the Nevada State Library and Archives. As hundreds of tons of recently-poured concrete went tumbling down the face of the dam, worker W.A. Jameson was caught in the avalanche.
Jameson was the only person ever buried, albeit temporarily, in the Hoover Dam, the report said. His body was stuck for about 16 hours as workers chipped it out.
Asked if there was any chance at all of just one body remaining in the concrete, the historians were insistent.
“It’s such an interesting idea, I wish it were true,” Green said. “But it wouldn’t be possible.”
“There are absolutely no bodies buried in the Hoover Dam,” McBride reiterated. “Ever.”