VEGAS MYTHS BUSTED: Hoover Dam Bodies

Posted on: July 22, 2022, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: July 26, 2022, 01:35h.

What happens in Vegas is often fake news. A surprising number of alternative facts about the world’s gambling capital continue to resonate across pop culture with little relevance to reality. The Hoover Dam holds one of the biggest.

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam, seen above, was never officially called Boulder Dam. That nickname was used by political detractors of President Herbert Hoover following the dam’s construction. (Image: TravelNevada.com)

There’s a prominent myth circulating popular culture that bodies are buried in the Hoover Dam. Construction of the dam in the 1930s was dangerous work; as such, there were many fatalities.

From that sprung the myth that the bodies of the deceased workers were tossed into the concrete mix and never seen again.

While Hoover Dam was built between 1931 and 1936 — setting the stage for Las Vegas’ eventual transformation from a small town to a big city — about 100 unfortunate construction workers did lose their lives. But none of their bodies lie inside the mammoth structure’s 4.4 million cubic feet of concrete, despite what your cousin Josh may have told you when you toured the facility.

Hoover Dam Deaths

One worker was buried alive in the Hoover Dam concrete, according to former Nevada state archivist Guy Rocha. But his remains do not remain there. On Nov. 11, 1933, the wall of a form collapsed, sending hundreds of tons of wet concrete tumbling down the face of the dam and onto poor W.A. Jameson.

When Jameson’s fellow construction workers toiled for 16 hours to exhume him, it wasn’t only to comfort his bereaved family and friends.

But there are several logical and scientific reasons why workers wouldn’t be left in the concrete. For starters, the dam is made from many slabs of concrete. Each slab took hours to set before the next could be poured. So, if someone died during the process, there was plenty of time to recover the body.

Secondly, organic material (like a human body) would cause significant issues for the structural integrity of the concrete. As a body breaks down, it would create an air pocket inside the concrete. Over time, this would create an unacceptable structural defect that could break up or damage the dam’s integrity, according to Rocha.

Dam Sparks Imagination, Confusion

The myth of Hoover Dam’s entombed owes to how large the structure has loomed over Las Vegas for nearly 100 years.

Hoover Dam was such a massive engineering project that shaped the region so much, it has sparked a lot of people’s imaginations for a long time,” said David Schwartz, Las Vegas historian and UNLV professor.

People may also have confused Hoover Dam with Montana’s Fort Peck Dam. In bad news for anyone trying to get some sleep in the vicinity of that Missouri River structure, the bodies of six of eight workers killed by a catastrophic slide there on Sept. 22, 1938, were permanently entombed inside.

Fort Peck is an earthen dam, so decomposing bodies aren’t considered structural defects, Rocha explained, since the loose earth slowly collapses around them.

But unlike the Hoover Dam, nearby Lake Mead does hold a few morbid secrets. Two bodies were recent;y found on its exposed bottom in May, with one suspected to be a mob hit.