Hollywood’s Spider-Man….. Every moviegoer knows Spidey’s swift, skillful propelling through a cityscape’s skyline as if he were at the end of a yo-yo trick executed by a giant’s hand. But, I have met a real Spiderman, and he is someone to spend time with.
Outside a gift shop at the Hoover Dam (Boulder, Nevada), a statue adorned with ropes, cables, a wooden seat, and a forty-something working man—secure in his domain with goggles on his helmet—hangs off a cliff wall. The statue depicts one of the Dam’s famous High Scalers. These former sailors, circus acrobats, and American Indians repelled down the sides of the Colorado River’s Black Canyon during the early days of the Dam’s construction. Their notable job? Removing the loose rock caused by water freezing in the cracks.
Armed with only ropes, dynamite, pick axes, water bags, and jack hammers lowered to them, the High Scalers ricocheted off the canyon’s walls, sticking dynamite into excess rock to even off the canyon. Then, suspended a couple hundred feet in the desert air, they caromed away from the blast, escaping lethal rocks and ear-blasting explosions. Like modern zipliners, they performed aerobatic stunts for their fellow workers, but only when their supervisors were not watching. It has been said these Spidey men might even have been responsible for designing the first construction hard hats, covering their caps with tar to protect themselves from dropped tools and falling rocks. Paid a mere seventy-five cents a day (a princely sum, though, for Depression America), these audaciously brave men, many of whom died as they scaled the canyon’s walls, were, indeed, High Heroes.
Here, today, I cannot help but stare into the stone-carved face of the High Scaler, whose gaze sweeps over the Dam he helped to construct, a gaze that looks to the future when the Dam— representing the dominating will of man over nature—is still providing water to people in many American and Mexican states. This High Scaler (the statue’s model was supposedly a Joe Kine, the last High Scaler alive when the statute was carved in the 1990’s) may have been just an ordinary Joe, if anyone can be said to be ordinary. But, unlike the Marvel comic Spider-Man, he has no identity crisis; he embodies rugged, determined individualism, and, ironically, confidence and surety during the time of the Great Depression when doubt and uncertainty prevailed. With his legs braced against the cliff wall, he is posed to repel once again.
Another tourist, a slender man pushing thirty, dressed in khakis and dockers, looking more prosperous than the High Scaler could have ever hoped to be during the Depression, stops to search out the meaning of this statue clinging from the cliff’s high wall. The proud bearing of the statue provokes the tourist’s words, “I don’t think we have any men today who could build us such a dam.” Such valor deserves respect. And, even a moment to linger, as my tourist friend and I did, before a true Spider-man.
About the Author: Dr. Bonnie Devet is a Professor of English/Director of the Writing Lab Department of English at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina.
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