Just a week and a couple days after arriving at Lake Tahoe, there was to be a field trip for the volunteers. We were to make our own way to Virginia City (VC). A field trip is something the FS does once each 5 week work session for the volunteers. Sort of a way to say thanks for all our hard work with a day off, and to give us some insight on the area’s history. This trip was around 70 miles round trip with no transportation provided and most car pooled it…but those were people over at the Baldwin RV park, while I was in the Tallac RV park. There were just me and Steve & wife at this park, and they weren’t going. So I drove by myself. Took the car naturally, and it’s a pleasant enough drive on good road. As you approach VC, there’s a Y with a sign saying that trucks and RVs should take the alternate route because the road is so steep. And boy, is it ever. But, eventually, I made it up into town, and parked in a paid parking lot right next to the Bucket of Blood saloon. My dad once owned a bar in Seattle named the same. I wondered if it was here that he got the name? He use to travel extensively as a long haul taxi driver.
Well, I’ll never know the answer to that at this point, but it’s interesting to think about. After we arrived, our guide Ellie gave us free rane to roam around the downtown area to take advantage of the opportunities to shop, eat, gamble. We’re to meet later and go to the cemetery as a group to explore.
First, I have to pass through Stateline on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Past all those casinos…
In the foothills above Carson City. That valley in the distance is where the city sits. And then after 25 miles more or so of everyday suburban type mini-malls, residential areas, a couple brothels, and the like, turn off onto NV-341, and 8 miles later, you’re in Virginia City. They’re now trying to keep it as authentic as possible for the tourists that flock here nearly year round. Hardly see any new construction here. This hill would be a prime candidate for new construction but it’s not allowed. Virginia City is where the Comstock Lode was discovered. A rich gold and silver vein that went on for miles. The city went from 300 prospectors to 20,000 in just a few weeks after that discovery. It’s halcyon days lasted 25 years. Than it went into decline for the next 75 years. Main section of downtown. Here’s near where I parked, in that lot to my left, took a shot of the neighborhood looking back down the road I just traveled. Turn around and there’s the Bucket of Blood Saloon. If you’re a fan of old west memorabilia, this is the place for you. They have a band on weekends. Really a spectacular place what with the interesting antiques. This shot is out the back window. Kind of shows that there’s not much to the town as far as the 3 or 4 blocks surrounding downtown.A few feet from the BofB along the boardwalk, is the Mark Twain Museum. We’ll come back to that another time. Suffice to say, this is the place where Mark Twain wrote the Celebrated Frog of Calavaras County. They have the actual desk where he wrote. He was a newspaper reporter here for 3-4 years but as he got to be famously rich, he gave up reporting.
After wandering around for an hour, we all got back together and car pooled it over to the cemetery. Not that far that we couldn’t have walked really, but the ride did save some time. It’s sad that it took too long for there to be protection here. The place fell into disrepair and then vandals started destroying all they could before the locals started getting mad and doing something to protect the area. Now they have video cameras all over.
Here’s a look back at downtown. Not all that far away. But back in the 1850’s, it was considered just far enough so as to not disturb the mines. It was the 3rd cemetery in the area. Mine tailings… The cemetery is divided into sections, the Catholic section is fairly large as many miners were Irish. There’s also this Fireman’s section. Several other sections names of which I don’t recall.These social groups were, back then and into the 1920’s or so, responsible for taking care of the graveyard and the graves. With the slipping population, and the older generation dying off, followed by two world wars, this tradition sort of faded. So by the 1960’s this cemetery was a mess. But now the citizens of the town, around 600, are trying to restore it and clean up the damage, while protecting it. Likely a wooden reproduction. Interesting though. I love these old wrought iron fences, railings, and gates. They really stand the test of time too. Hard to believe, but even in death these bodies are segregated. The upper crust is buried up on this hill top and along this side, whereas the commoners were buried further down the slope. Some families had the money to do things up royal: cement vaults, wrought iron fences, the works. Some were much larger than this two person plot shown here.
Many women’s headstones showed that they died in childbirth, or shortly after. This gal only made it to age 29. A look back at VC. Here’s our little group. Note how everyone is bundled up. It was in the low 60’s. Ellie our guide is in the blue coat on the left here. And here’s a look at the section of the cemetery where the people unaffiliated with any of the social groups would be buried. These graves will likely outlast those on the hill behind me, those in the segregated sections, because those sections are showing earth movement. The hill is slumping downward from the pull of gravity. So many of the graves are slowly slipping into the valley. Cracks are developing in many of the grave surrounds or toppings made of cement. This has been going on a very long time because there are 100 year old repairs.
I thought that this ‘poor person’ section actually had a better view. This section isn’t very populated as the town started losing population as the mines played out around the time it was being used. But there are still locals here, and they still get buried here. Here’s an older grave that vandals ruined. There’s no idea who the person inside is… Now here it gets interesting. Our guide from Lake Tahoe, had family here a century or more ago. Ellie (the young woman in the blue jacket in several of the photos) had a great-great-great grandpa come here to VC with his new wife and worked in the mine until he was blown in half while keeping explosives near his body to keep them warm. That was common practice in the cold. The story was they found his bottom half 100 yards from his top half. They were Irish and strongly catholic so when the church refused to give him a sanctified burial (the church has a rule that the human must be whole to receive church last rights and BS like that), they promptly left the church and had him buried by another faith. Anyway, this is their family plot. Her great-great grandpa took off after the death and ended up in Sacramento where he started his family, and never went back to the Catholic church.
Ellie is disappointed that the historical society won’t let her and her family inside the plot to clean it up, but that’s their rule right now. But before that rule was in place the family use to come up here periodically and fix up the fence, paint it, mow the grass, place flowers. The whole gambit. Not anymore. And Ellie isn’t happy about it either, that use to be a family occasion when they’d all pile into their cars, run up here and work on their ancestor’s grave plot. And next plot over had this interesting turned stile fence. Really nice. But you can see where the ground is heaving and slipping downslope. Would have cost the family plenty back in the 1880’s for this so they likely had money. And of course the largest headstone in the entire cemetery had to be of the local priest. Gah. Thought they were suppose to be humble and all that? Another neat fence surrounding a nice family plot with only one gravestone. Wonder what happened to the family to make them abandon it? Very nice plot in the ritzy section too.Another shot overlooking the poor person section of the cemetery…see what I mean about it actually being the nicer looking part of the cemetery? At least I liked it better.
The headstone of one of many of those murdered here. Mark Twain wrote that there were an average of 7 murders per month in VC, with a population of only 20,000. That’s equivalent to 35/100,000. In 2015 in Reno, it’s only around 5/100,000 so 7 times Reno’s rate. But back then practically every man wore a gun, or at least packed one. Twain did for a while but decided it wasn’t him and stopped. Here’s the road leading out of town towards Reno, and the ubiquitous mine tailings, taken from the parking lot of the cemetery as we all crowded back into our shared vehicles. Back in town, we are once again let loose to browse on our own. Since there’s not much to do at home anyway, I just contented myself with wandering around for the rest of the day. Here’s a plaque in downtown about Chinatown. Of course there isn’t anything left of their area. Twain said the streets were so narrow, you could get a small horse drawn cart through, that was all. But the food, services, and medicines were top notch.There once stood a famous hotel here in this spot, since burned down. Now a canvas for murals.
Another famous place. This opera house attracted the most famous entertainers of the 1880’s and beyond. Just up the street. The county court house I think. Well, too bad, locked up today. There was a play scheduled for a couple weeks later though. Took this through the glass door. Old timey looking. And right next door is a nice bar. Had me a sarsaparilla. Donkey looked as though it was getting plenty of carrots on a daily basis. Came back to the BofB for more pictures. See how small the town is? Go a couple blocks in any direction and there’s nothing but dirt. Came back to admire the artwork. There must be a million in old 1880’s type artwork here.
Well, that was fun, but now across the street to visit a couple more places. Like the Delta.Locked up today. These are the front doors, there were doors and the end of the building that were open.
A few steps beyond was a chocolate store. This is their old time coffee roaster. And a few steps beyond that is another bar. Also very old. But Bob and his lovely wife came in around this time and told me the story of when they came here to VC and ended up getting married right here in this chapel in the back room of the bar. It had been a chapel for over 100 years too. Pretty neat when you have history told to you by those that experienced it right here 50 years before. And back out in the main hall, there’s this silver coin artwork. And back out on the street. So many things to see here. Stopped in another bar…I was bar hopping looking for a small lunch to tide me over. I didn’t want anything big, just soup would have been fine, but none of the bars/restaurants had what I was looking for at that moment. Bar menus tend to have smaller portions, which is what I was looking for.But, never mind, I won’t starve. I went back across the street to the Mark Twain museum. Cost $5 to head down the stairs, this was on a landing in the stairwell.
And here’s everything in a dusty and probably dank at certain times of the year, basement. The basement of the old territorial newspaper Twain worked for. As a young man in his twenties. So this portrait is a bit incongruous. He worked at both of those desks shown here.
This museum is basically the stuff used in the printing of the newspaper Twain worked for. With some of the old banks paraphernalia thrown in. The old printing press. That was pretty neat. I’m a big fan of Twain’s and bought a book of his upstairs after this visit. Well, time to move on. I like how the old boardwalk is kept up.
And over there is the old abandoned Catholic church. They skedaddled as soon as the mines played out. Wouldn’t want their business model to be impacted by having to help the poor. It’s now a museum.
So, that’s the trip to Virginia City. Very entertaining way to spend the day. I might try to come back some other time. I left around 3:30 and got home to my RV at Baldwin estate by 4:30.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the visit.