Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam
Boulder City, Nevada
A statue in downtown Boulder City reminds us not to complain the next time we have to scrub a toilet.
In 2007, Boulder City commissioned local artist Steven Liguori to immortalize "Alabam," one of the unsung workers who helped to build nearby Hoover Dam. Alabam was a specialist. His job was to clean the outhouses of the vast construction site: sweeping refuse, tossing lime into holes, and restocking the always-diminishing supply of toilet paper.
Not much is known about Alabam. He was among the older workers. "Maybe his name was John or Bill, but there were lots of Johns and Bills at the Dam," said Steven. "He was probably from Alabama, so they called him 'Alabam'." In a job site filled with draftsmen and construction designers, Alabam referred to himself as "the sanitary engineer."
"Alabam's role might not seem important, but it was," said Steven. Workers would start the day with a big breakfast at the mess hall, then pack a big lunch to take to the construction site. "But once you got to the Dam, you were stuck there all day." The outhouses got used -- a lot.
"Can you imagine cleaning latrines for 7,000 men in 120 degree heat?" Steven asked. "Can you imagine the smell? Oh my god!"
Steven had earlier sculpted a heroic-size statue of a high scaler, one of the Dam's most glamorous and exciting workers. But he felt that the unseen people of Hoover Dam deserved to be honored, too. When Boulder City launched a project for public art, Steven submitted his proposal for a statue of Alabam. The city, to its credit, accepted it.
Steven sculpted Alabam as he looked in old photos from the 1930s. The eight-foot-tall bronze statue -- mixed with copper salvaged from the Dam's electrical grid -- shows Alabam wearing a fedora, overalls, and thick gloves, with a broom slung over his shoulder like a combat rifle, and a large bandolier of toilet paper rolls strapped across his chest. The man definitely had a sense of style.
Alabam was unveiled on a Boulder City street corner on June 29, 2007. "I was born and raised in southern Nevada," said Steven. "I've cleaned my own latrine. But when you see pictures of Alabam, that guy was just so proud of his job."