Carson City loses living memory

By the time she was 6, Arline Fisher's father had taken more than 6,000 photos of her.

John James Forrest Nulty would later add photographs of four U.S. presidents, and nearly 50 years of Nevada and Nevada governors to that collection. In all, he is credited with taking more than 40,000 photos as official state photographer and a part-timer for the Nevada Appeal.

Nulty died Wednesday at his Tahoe Drive home in his sleep at the age of 91, just blocks from the home where he was born May 9, 1910. Memorial services will be 11 a.m. Tuesday at Walton's Chapel of the Valley.

"John Nulty left us a picture of the past, and now John Nulty has left us," said state archivist Guy Rocha, who often relied on Nulty for information on early 20th-century Carson City.

Fisher said her dad on Monday had ordered three new suits. On Saturday, he nearly purchased a new Honda with a 60-month lease.

"That's the way to go. He was still sharp as a tack," she said.

Just two weeks ago he had a pacemaker put in, and he still swam three or four times a week at the Carson Hot Springs. He lunched on Tuesdays with an eclectic group of men, which included former Secretary of State William Swackhammer.

"I knew him pert-near 50 years," Swackhammer said. "I came down as a legislator, and later on when I became secretary of state he worked under me."

As the state's photographer, Nulty's office was in the basement of the Capitol, a place where people gathered and a place Fisher remembers visiting her father.

"It was kind of scary down there as a kid because you had to go past the big furnaces," she said. "He was a person who liked to work. He took photos all his life. He would come back early from family vacations to go back to work. I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone.

"He really loved his friends. He ate lunch on Tuesdays with the group of retired state workers. He respected them and really felt privileged to be a part of the group."

Swackhammer called Nulty a very fine fellow who was very interested in what was going on. Swackhammer said they talked politics and traveled around a bit for political things.

"He dearly loved his daughter," he said. "His mainstream was photography. He photographed every notable that came to Carson City -- he really loved that. He was a good fellow. I'm going to miss him."

Some of the notables included U.S. presidents Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He photographed Kennedy while he was still a senator.

Nulty called Nixon a down-to-earth person but wasn't impressed with Kennedy.

"Kennedy was a horse's ass in my estimation," he said in a 1995 interview.

In addition to the presidents, Nulty took photos of legislators, elected officials and state projects for the department of transportation, the economic development department and for tourism. Over time, his photos tell the history of Carson from 1930 until his retirement in 1979, with a break for World War II.

Nulty was the only son of an Irish-Italian couple. His father, James Nulty, was a brakeman for the V&T Railroad and died when he was 3. His mother, Marie, was Italian and spoke little English. Together they struggled to make ends meet.

"He started working at 11," Fisher said. "He managed the movie theater in Carson when he was in high school."

In 1951, John Nulty worked after-hours as the Appeal photographer.

Nulty began taking photos when he was 20. He then was trained by the U.S. Navy's photo service and served as an aerial photographer in the South Pacific at Guadalcanal.

He was also a 67-year member of Warren Engine Co.

In August, he said the closest he got to the enemy was "a mile above them."

Fisher said her dad was a champion for veterans and veterans affairs and has held multiple positions over the years with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

He was appointed to the Governor's Veteran's Advisory committee by Gov. Richard Bryan and was past state commander of the VFW and past district commander of the American Legion and a member of the legion's national legislative committee.

Fisher said her father was supportive of the veterans of the Vietnam War despite the generation gap between them and that he was not in favor of the current offensive in Afghanistan.

"He was very opposed to us being over there," she said. "He never did talk about his experiences in the war to me. I think it must have made an impact on him so that he didn't think anyone should have to go."

Nulty, unlike many old-time Carsonites, was not born in the home of midwife Mae Noonan. Noonan was Nulty's aunt and used one room of her 710 E. Telegraph St. home as a midwife's quarters. He was born instead at the 608 Spear St. home of his grandfather and grandmother Patrick and Anne Nulty built in 1884.

His second home was the one his mother, Marie, built in 1916 after his father's death. His father caught pneumonia and died after working on the logging trains at Lake Tahoe. In an earlier interview Nulty said he spent a lot of time with his grandmother, who lived in the house when he was a child.

"I used to see her every day," he said. "But I spent most of my life living at 709 E. Telegraph St."

Nulty and members of his family owned the property and lived there until 1936 when it was sold to Edward Zimmer for $750.

"I got $150 of it," he said.

"He had so much institutional memory," Rocha said. "He saw so much of Carson City and documented it in photographs. The people who live here now come from other places or were born after the Carson City Nulty knew. We don't have too many of the old ones left. All the people who knew Carson when it was the smallest capital -- I don't know where to find them. I respect those who left an imprint."


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