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Virginia City, Nevada, and Her Spirits of the Past

Paranormal activity is of great interest to Phyllis. She has visited a few places where she actually saw spirits of the past.

As seen from the Mason's cemetery, 22 May 2010

As seen from the Mason's cemetery, 22 May 2010

Nevada Historical Landmark

Virginia City, one of America's largest historic landmarks, was a mining boom town during the mid-to-late-19th century. The Comstock Lode silver strike of 1859 created a population of almost 30,000 people in the tiny town in the hills of Storey County, Nevada.

Sitting at a 6,200 foot elevation, the town is nicely tucked into the hills with fantastic views. The history of the town, and the town today, abound with spirits that linger from the past.

Spirits Still Browse in the Stores

Sometimes, the spirits of people who once browsed in the dry goods or mercantile stores seem to return to see what is new.

The many stores selling gifts, clothing, oddities, candies, hot dogs, books, and souvenirs do business in the old buildings along the main street. A few stores have been in business for many years; some businesses open for a while and then close up, which are then replaced with new ones. None of the stores have been remodeled—they are the same as in the old days.

In all those old stores, one can feel the presence of the past. Spirits roam throughout Virginia City, in the streets and buildings and deep in the mines. Now, the saloons have been there since Virginia City first began and are still open for spirits of a different kind—from the bottle.


During the Comstock Lode strikes, silver and gold brought people to Virginia City in 1859. Many of them became millionaires almost overnight. The mines kept them working hard, and the saloons kept them happy. The many saloons became the center of life, serving the best spirits, meals, and music—other delights could be found upstairs in private rooms.

Virginia City's C Street has several saloons competing, yet all are busy most of the time. Pictures and posters from the old days decorate the walls, and gas lamps still hang from the high ceilings.

Like all the others, the Bucket of Blood saloon was originally long and very narrow. Sometime in the 1930s, the new owners knocked down the wall between their saloon and the business next door to make their establishment twice as big. The Bucket of Blood Saloon is one of the most popular rural saloons in the state of Nevada.

The Delta Saloon has the famous Suicide Table sitting in a corner, with a glass top over it. It has not been used in years. A sign over the table tells how three owners in the 1860s committed suicide at that table due to losing all they had to lucky gamblers. The first suicide was Black Jake, who lost $70,000 in one evening and then shot himself. Two later owners followed suit and also committed suicide. In time, no one would deal at that table due to the bad luck that haunted it.

Other notable saloons and gambling establishments are the Ponderosa Saloon, the Bonanza, the Brass Rail Saloon, and the Mark Twain Casino.

Charming Neighborhoods and Old Cemeteries

Up the hill from the main street, on both sides of the town, are charming neighborhoods of old homes with nostalgic gardens and houses full of memories. It is an enjoyable walk to just stroll along and imagine the people who lived in those lovely homes in times past. Off and on, a house will come up for sale, and it is very tempting to consider buying and living there—if only to feel what it was like in the past. No telling who you would be living with, as spirits are everywhere.

Down the hill from the town is the original cemetery where departed ones from times gone by are lying at rest—or not. There are several cemeteries in the area of Virginia City, Silver City, and Gold Hill. There are several cemeteries throughout the hills.

After the Comstock Lode ended in 1898, the population of residents was drastically reduced—yet a huge population of spirits remained. Many people died in the mines, and the cemeteries are filled with their decaying tombstones.

Over the years, people have come to the cemeteries to see the aging tombstones, take pictures of the epitaphs, and some even stole parts, if not all, of the tombstones. These parts are usually mysteriously brought back and placed somewhere to be found with a note saying something like, "Returning a haunted item from the cemetery, my life has been full of bad luck since I took it. I am sorry."

Boot Hill overlooking Virginia City.

Boot Hill overlooking Virginia City.

Wandering Spirits

The town itself is filled with wandering spirits, occupying the saloons, the hotels, the stores, the Opera House, and private residential homes. Many tales have been told in the past, and even today, of sightings of these ghostly residents.

A little girl of about seven is often seen walking down the main street, dressed in her clothing of the 1860s, oblivious to the fact that time has left her in the past. She obviously believes she is still on the dirt road that once was crowded with family and friends she knew. I saw her once, walking alone, and was going to call her out of the street for safety when she suddenly faded away.

A lady of the night, wearing her filmy negligee, is often seen gliding back and forth in the second-story windows of the Old Washoe Club. I have seen this apparition with my own eyes, and she seems to be lost in time, not realizing her days have passed and that she is lost in another era.

The Old Washoe Club has a few other ghostly haunting tales. The women's restroom has a lock that seems to want to open or close on its own. Could it be some spirits playing tricks on unsuspecting ladies?

And if you are sitting down and having drinks with friends, beware of the old grizzly prospector who loves to gulp down your drink when you are not paying attention.

The club was once used to store corpses in the winter when the ground was too frozen to dig in. There are often voices of men heard upstairs in a back room, playing poker, and the smell of their cigars lingers on. This room is at the top of a winding staircase. It has a secret entrance and two secret exits. It was called "The Millionaires Club" and kept the men entertained discreetly with gambling, liquor, and prostitutes.

Virginia City main street in October 2009.

Virginia City main street in October 2009.

More buildings on historic main street.

More buildings on historic main street.

Famous Visitors at Piper's Opera House

Although Virginia City was a mining town, that did not prevent class, good social events, and enjoyable evenings out. There were many famous visitors at Piper's Opera House, which once boasted of the stars who played there. Lillie Langtry, Maude Adams, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Edwin Booth all gave performances at Piper's during the great days of Virginia City.

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The Opera House is weather beaten but still stands, overlooking the town, a splendid memory of the brilliant past it had. Often there are children's voices heard in the balcony, laughing and whispering when there is actually no one up there.

Lillie Langtry's spirit has made herself known by approving of a performance that she herself had performed many years before. A young actress had performed on stage at Piper's, singing a song that Lillie had sung often on the same stage. At the end of the song, a poster with Lillie's picture floated down and landed at the young woman's feet—apparently in approval of her performance.

Actress and socialite Lillie Langtry photographed by William Downey in 1885.

Actress and socialite Lillie Langtry photographed by William Downey in 1885.

The Mines and Tommyknockers

Most of the spirits and tricksters, however, are still in the mines. Deep down in the dark corridors that run under the town and all through the hills for miles, twisting, turning, crossing, back switching, and confusing. Wandering aimlessly, they have not been able to find their way out. This is where the little Cornish imps, elfish miner companions, the tommyknockers, employed their trade of trickery.

Just a few miles down the hill, when leaving Virginia City, is Gold Hill, the site of where the gold strikes began. The hotel that stands there, as it did back during the gold rush days, is the home of 37 miners who were killed at the bottom of a mine shaft where a fire broke out in 1873. Their bones still lie where they died at the bottom in The Yellow Jacket mine. The mine is right behind the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon where the spirits linger even today providing guests and staff with their ghostly sightings and hauntings.

Caption on image: "To Labor is to Pray." Frances S. Osgood. Photograph of seven men, Comstock miners, two holding lanterns; from the Alfred Doten collection; cyanotype.

Caption on image: "To Labor is to Pray." Frances S. Osgood. Photograph of seven men, Comstock miners, two holding lanterns; from the Alfred Doten collection; cyanotype.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain spent some considerable time in Virginia City. The "Mark Twain Museum" in the Territorial Enterprise Newspaper Building still displays the desk he worked at when he was editor of the paper.

Twain loved to write ghost stories—he had his office in the basement and it is still set up the way it was when he spent most of his time there, writing. Gazing at his office, it looks as if Twain has just gone out for lunch and will be back soon.

If you are familiar with Mark Twain's writings, you will understand how he can put actual tone and emotion into his work with just the right wording. An excerpt from one of Twain's editorials while at the Territorial Enterprise, clearly shows his indignation at the audacity of spirits wandering around loose.

Are we to be scared to death every time we venture into the street? May we be allowed to go quietly about our business, or are we to be assailed at every corner by fearful apparitions?

— Mark Twain, late 1860s

Mark Twain, Editor of the Territorial Enterprise (1867).

Mark Twain, Editor of the Territorial Enterprise (1867).

Author's Note

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me—please let me know your interests as it helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor

© 2010 Phyllis Doyle Burns


Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 01, 2014:

Hi Jamie. Thanks for reading and commenting. I bet the troops found some interesting inscriptions in the cemetery. There are so many cemeteries throughout the community - the one down the hill from the town is the most visited by tourists. Thanks again.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on December 01, 2014:

Hi Mary. I like your pun. :) Virginia City is a very active place with both tourists and spirits. I love to wander through the town and stores. Yes, it was a hard life and death often came quick and hard. There are several cemeteries that hold a lot of memories on the tombstones. The murder of Julia Bulette was shocking to all who lived there at the time and the whole community rose up in anger, demanding justice for the "Darling of the Comstock", as she was called. It is an interesting town with an interesting history. Thanks for the visit and comment, Mary.

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on December 01, 2014:

My son just had a tour of the graveyard with his cubscout troop. It was a great, interesting day! Thank you for a great hub. Jamie

Mary Craig from New York on December 01, 2014:

What a great bit of history brought to life (pun intended). You've certainly told us about the goings on in Virginia City. Amazing that you've actually seen two of the ghosts or apparitions as many prefer to call them.

It was a hard life back then and along with that hard life there came a hard death. Well done!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on November 17, 2014:

Or go down in the mines (over 400 miles of tunnels under the city and local area), or hang out in the saloons. LOL Hi poetryman, Virginia City is a fun place to visit. A little too commercial, but, still fun.

poetryman6969 on November 17, 2014:

So I can look forward to shopping when I am dead?

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on July 08, 2013:

Second revision of this hub - July 2013.

If you are anywhere in northern Nevada during the summer months, you just might want to take a side trip up to visit the historical town of Virginia City and greet some wandering spirits.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 03, 2012:

PS: There is one thing about this revision that rather unsettles me. When I was looking for images for mines or miners, I chose the Comstock Miners photo, taken in the 1880s.

What bothers me is the second man from the right and the third man from the left. If you notice, the man second from the right has his arm up and across the arm and chest of the man on his right. If you can look closely at the image, you will see that the arm he put up in front of the other man is transparent almost. And the third man from the left is barely visible, as if he does not really belong there.

hmmmm .... weird

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on October 03, 2012:

I revised this hub on 10/03/2012, by adding more information and several images. I do hope you all stop by to read and leave a comment as to what you think about my revised hub.

I kind of spooked myself when I was reading, editing, rewriting, and reminiscing about the many times I have visited Virginia City and encountered lost spirits wandering around. Fortunately, I managed to get through it all without losing my wits.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on August 19, 2010:

Thank you, saddlerider1. I love your story and poem about Laura. It is so very endearing. When I am in Virginia City I can sense, and often see, the lost souls of the past. The atmosphere there is heavy with wandering spirits. I just finished writing another article about lost souls and will publish it later today.

saddlerider1 on August 19, 2010:

What a fascinating hub. I strong believe that spirits linger on after death until they eventually cross over to another dimension. That thin vale that exists between us and them allows us both to have a glimpse into each others existence.

I know I was given that opportunity a few years back on one of my road trips through the state of Kentucky. Little did I know I would write a poem about this encounter with the Lady In White.

I also went on to write 3 more stories about her, although fictional I based all 3 on my first real encounter. Here is the link to that first hub.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on August 13, 2010:

You are so welcome, Leslie.

Leslie Jo Barra on August 13, 2010:

Sounds like a great place to visit. Thanks for all the interesting details.

Phyllis Doyle Burns (author) from High desert of Nevada. on August 13, 2010:

Thank you, Paradise7. Virginia City is an awesome place to visit. I love to explore the old buildings. I am hoping to one day get permission to go through the Washoe Club upstairs, and several other buildings that are closed to the general public.

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on August 12, 2010:

What a terrific hub!! Thank you!!! I'd really love to visit this place, feel that atmosphere for myself.

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