ByTommy DePaoli, writer at
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Tommy DePaoli

As a behemoth of human technology, the Hoover Dam has made comfortable settlement possible in those arid parts of Nevada and Arizona. Not only is it an industrial feat that provides water for over 8 million people, the dam is also a tourist destination that attracts one million people per year.

It's so ingrained in American culture, it even made a cameo in one of National Lampoon's popular Vacation movies, when Clark and the family head to Vegas.

It's not all achievement and laughs at the Hoover Dam, however, and it only takes a quick glimpse at its history to see a staggering death toll.

The early days come with a body count

At the time of the dam's construction, such an incredible structure built entirely out of concrete had never been attempted before, and some of the essential methods were still unproven. Treading such unfamiliar territory comes with a lot of risk, and, in this case, a lot of tragedy.

There were 112 deaths at least associated with (if not caused by) the construction of the dam. Of these, 96 occurred during the site's construction, which is an awful lot of sacrifice for an inanimate object, no matter how awe-inspiring and useful. In a time before hard hats, the most common cause of death was falling debris. This led creative workmen to fashion headgear out of cloth hats dipped in tar, but that still led to countless broken jaws.

The Hoover Dam's African-American workers
The Hoover Dam's African-American workers

In the most insidious cases of money-grubbing corruption, deaths ruled as caused by pneumonia were not considered official fatalities. While this may seem innocent, many workers contest that this was a cover-up for carbon monoxide poisoning caused by exhaust-spewing vehicles being used in closed tunnels. While none of the locals suffered from pneumonia, 42 workers died of that supposed cause, and the conglomerate responsible avoided paying compensation.

The persistent myth of buried bodies

There's a pervasive and compelling rumor that many of these dead men have landed in the concrete bricks, forever entombed in the goliath structure. The thinking is not unreasonable. When workers were constructing each massive block, they use gigantic buckets to pour wet concrete into massive rectangular molds, so isn't it likely that one of the workers fell in and remained stuck in the cooling material?

Probably not. Since the workers would work in small increments, it's pretty unlikely that someone would get stuck as they could be easily extracted before the concrete cooled. If all prior reports are wrong and there is even one body inside, that would be a huge problem. As the body decayed (as all bodies do) the air around it would cause a weak point in the structure, which could potentially lead to a rupture. So let's hope for everyone's sake that there are no dead bodies in the Hoover, or there will be way more when it gives way.

No matter the amount of reports to the contrary, many people are still convinced that famously missing labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the Hoover Dam.

A popular (but ill-advised) suicide spot

Like other gargantuan landmarks with significant name recognition, the Hoover Dam has become a popular spot for troubled folks looking to end their lives.

On some guided tours, however, employees make it entirely clear that popularity does notThe Hoover Dam does not provide the kind of open-air descent you would get from a skyscraper or a bridge because its slope prevents anyone from reaching the bottom before making contact with the concrete. Instead of a quick fall before hitting water, jumpers face a prolonged, horrifying, and gruesome slide down the face of the dam, which causes their skin to be ripped from their bodies. On more than one occasion, heads have exploded after the body is eviscerated, all while families and tourists must watch in abject terror.

Ultimately, bodies may not be hiding in the Hoover Dam, but the pall of death certainly is. And that's a dam shame.


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