Having visited Virginia City, MT last year, 2023 was the year for Virginia City, NV. Perhaps next year we’ll try Virginia City, VA, or Virginia City, NM. This particular Virginia City is an old mining town, reachable only via very steep, winding, guardrail-less roads, and, like most mining towns, perched high on the hillside.
The mountainside under our feet contained 90 mines and the largest single deposit of silver ore ever discovered in the US: the Comstock Lode, prominently featured in the Western show Bonanza. A lot of boots have walked the streets of Virginia City since the 1800’s.
Virginia City is perhaps best known for being haunted. Though not the only haunted placed in town, the Old Washoe Club is “ground zero” for spirit hunters due to the success of its three features on the series Ghost Adventures.
If you have watched the show, you will recognize many of these rooms, in which people have died by suicide or after accidents, such as the young girl who was hit by a stagecoach and later passed here; she supposed still giggles her way through the rooms on a regular basis. We tried to “pose” with non-visible spirits, hoping they would show up later when we checked the photos.
You can choose from three levels of scary: daytime tour, nighttime flashlight tour, or private overnight stay. The guide enthusiastically shared information and photos supposedly taken by prior tour guests. Here is my photo with a menacing shadow showing on the left! Just kidding, that’s me.
Of particular (creepy) interest is “The Crypt,” a stone room in the lower level where 70 corpses were once stored when the winter ground was too frozen to dig their graves.
Though our photos didn’t capture any errant visitors from another world, our RV site was perched over three of the local graveyards, with areas divided by type: Catholics, Oddfellows, etc.
Many of the graves exhibit ancient wooden headstones from the mid-1800s, though modern graves also exist, and we had to puzzle at this one. Competitive, much?
VC’s streets are still lined with old boardwalks and it celebrates its history with a bunch of wacky races: Coffin Races, Camel and Ostrich Races, Outhouse Races, etc. There were lots of ways to die in VC; the cemetery notes victims of morphine overdose, coach accident, being run over by a train, mining accidents, falls, and one woman who wanted her husband to stop wrestling and killed herself with strychnine when he would not.
Ghosts aren’t the only wild spirits roaming town. Wild “outlaws” pace in the streets, charming (and chiding) tourists to come to the gunfight show. Feral horses are anywhere and everywhere, including steaming piles of dung … on Main Street, in the cemetery, even on a hotel’s manicured grass patch.
Beautiful historical buildings and museums celebrate VC’s illustrious past as one of the wealthiest silver towns in the West. In celebration, the 16-foot-tall Silver Queen is made from 3,261 silver dollars, most from local mines, a tribute to the flamboyant heyday of Nevada’s most famous mining town.
Fires have burned the town to the ground more than once. At one time in the 1880s, there were over 100 saloons in VC, and Mark Twain, a young and unknown journalist who got his start at VC’s newspaper, noted there was a “…whiskey mill every fifteen steps.” Many of the buildings still look the same today.
A saloon was more than just a place to whet your whistle. A gambling hall, social center, and in some cases a brothel, they were found on every street and corner. The oldest and most popular to this day is the Bucket of Blood.
The ghosts of memories past visited my husband here, because over 60 years ago, his family took Philip and his brother Michael on a classic parents-and-grandparents road-trip-in-the-Pontiac out West, and VC was one of the stops. He immediately recognized the hotel they stayed in, which undoubtedly looked exactly the same as in 1964.
Philip also recognized the Bucket of Blood stage as the place that his 8-year-old self gazed in amazement as the can-can dancers’ skirts went up, revealing shapely legs below, and changed his life forever. We saw a drawing of this show in a museum in town. You know you’re getting old when depictions of your childhood are in a museum.
This is a big tourist town, with mine tours and ghost tours and museums and whatnot. We have since decided that a town with not one — not two — but three of those places where you dress up in old West garb and have grainy brown-and-white photos taken, is someplace we should avoid as a rule. But the history was pretty cool and we were glad we braved the haunted hillside, if just for a few days, and not for all eternity!