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Published: December 22nd 2017
For those who haven’t read my last blog and are interested in continuity, I would suggest you read that blog, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Air Race Championships and a Major Oops in Reno NV
, to get the background necessary to make sense of this blog. Briefly, I departed Bonanza Terrace RV Park in Reno NV on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 for what turned out to be a two-week stay at Camp N Town in Carson City NV. My entire two weeks were interspersed with eye clinic appointments in Reno to treat my corneal abrasion and electronic negotiations with the owner of Bonanza Terrace RV Park to reach an agreement over damage and losses caused by a power surge that struck my Bighorn Fifth Wheel. After eye clinic appointments, I made stops at two Reno attractions – the two attractions I had planned to visit the Monday following the air races. I spent one day in Carson City visiting three attractions and spent a couple of days in Virginia City absorbing the history that unfolded in this extraordinary historical landmark.
My vision was my priority in my mind and on my calendar, so I’ll start with the attractions I visited in Reno. Since I have bowled in both industrial and recreational leagues, have watched
Bowling Is a Family Activity, Any Questions?
National Bowling Stadium & Hall of Fame - Reno NV
bowling on television and have attended a few live tournaments over the years, I am familiar with many of the professional bowlers who have earned a place in the Hall of Fame. As long as I was in Reno, I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to visit the National Bowling Stadium & Hall of Fame
. Make no mistake, this facility should not be confused with the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame
in Arlington TX, which does not have a stadium. Upon entry, I found the museum secured and made my way to the bowling stadium. It is H-U-G-E – 78 lanes! Nobody was bowling, but housekeeping efforts were underway so I made my way to the desk and inquired about the hall of fame. Security was notified and unlocked the door.
Truthfully, I was quite disappointed. In the main display area, there is a single aisle with four horizontal rows of plaques highlighting male bowling icons, while female bowling legends are recognized in a separate area with a nicely done portrait and a VERY brief biography. In the male bowlers’ display area, the top row of plaques is so far above the floor, it is difficult to read the honoree’s name and impossible to read the commentary.
When paired with reflection from the lights, it was difficult or impossible to read over half the plaques. There is no index – one merely has to look and look and look and LOOK to try to find any particular individual and then, if the search is fruitless, to wonder, “Is (the individual) even there, or was his plaque obscured by a reflection or did I plain, just miss him?” There is adequate space to erect a second aisle of plaques and to lower the top two rows such that they would be legible, and a small expenditure would fund an interactive kiosk with an index as well as more detailed biographical information about the inductees. Although it is somewhat difficult to complain about a free attraction, somebody has been relaxing in their twentieth-century
easy chair! Perhaps it’s just that one gets what one pays for!
My second Reno stop was at the National Automobile Museum
. William F. Harrah
, founder of Harrah's Hotel and Casinos, was an avid car collector and had approximately 1,450 automobiles stored in various warehouses. The museum opened in 1989 and has over 200 of those cars presented in four galleries. The collection includes Auburn, Bugatti, Cord, Duesenberg, Ferrari,
Franklin, Jaguar, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Pierce-Arrow, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, and Stutz among others as well as a one-of-a-kind Phantom Corsair and a 24-carat gold plated DeLorean. Oh yes, there’s a Ford or two and a couple of Chevys. Celebrity-owned cars include specimens owned by John Wayne, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Mary Pickford, Lana Turner and Sammy Davis, Jr., and several cars were features in movies and/or on television. The National Automobile Museum is rated by Autoweek
as one of “America’s (Five) Greatest Automobile Museums
” and has been named one of the 'Top Ten Museums' by Car Collector magazine. I decided Uncle Larry better check it out. By the way, there is free parking east of the museum off Museum Drive.
In the lobby, there is an exhibit that explains the automotive linkage between William Steinway of Steinway Piano fame and the automotive industry. The lobby also hosts the 1994 Beatnik Bandit designed by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth while the top-fuel dragster of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits can be found In Gallery 4. Between the galleries are “streets” which host a few automobiles “curbside” along with automotive-related memorabilia such as gas pumps. After paying the “reasonable-for-the-product-offered” admission fee, the visitor walks through a tunnel
lined with a dozen or so automotive paintings from the brush of Reno artist Robert Cinkel . That tunnel leads to an “extraterrestrial” wheels exhibit where lunar and Martian exploration vehicles, products of high school lunar exploration vehicle design competitions and other space-related paraphernalia are presented. I’ll select photographs of numerous unique automobile specimens for your viewing pleasure and let them speak for the institution.
On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, I set out for the Nevada State Capitol
in Carson City. Abraham Curry, the founder of Carson City, reserved a four-block area at the center of town for the future Capitol building. When the Capitol building was constructed, it was, naturally, located on "the plaza." The "Act to Provide for the Erection of a State Capitol" was passed by the Nevada Legislature and signed into law in 1869. Designed by San Francisco architect Joseph Gosling for $250, the Board of Capitol Commissioners received bids for construction from $84,000 to $160,000 and awarded the contract to Peter Cavanaugh and Son of Carson City. The cornerstone was laid on June 9, 1870.
The Nevada State Capitol is a two-story masonry structure. In order to reduce cost, the sandstone was obtained from the
Nevada State Prison quarry and had an original footprint of a central rectangle with two wings. The first floor contained a major office at each corner connected by central halls, while the wings of the second floor were filled by the chambers of the two legislative bodies – the Assembly and the Senate. In 1906, an octagonal annex was added to house the State Library. By the early 20th century, the legislature had outgrown its home, and northern and southern legislative wings were added to provide more office space and expand the legislative chambers.
For more than 50 years, all three branches of the state government were housed in the Capitol. The Nevada Supreme Court met there until 1937, when it moved into an adjacent building; and the state legislature met there until 1971, when it moved to its new Legislative Building just south of the Capitol. Every Nevada governor except the first has had his office in the Capitol. Today, the Capitol continues to serve the Governor, and the second floor contains historical exhibits. The Capitol building itself is comparatively mundane, and there are no guided tours, and thus, no juicy stories about Nevada’s colorful past to relate
Definitely Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Memorial
Nevada State Vietnam War Memorial, Mills Park - Carson City NV
to my readers; however, an interactive exhibit in the former Supreme Court chambers on the second floor showcases audio presentations of “Ten Famous Cases of the Nevada Supreme Court.” Quite interesting if one has the inclination and the time.
I made a brief stop at Warren Engine Company No. 1 Museum
, also in Carson City, since brief was all that was required. This nicely done museum provides interesting color into one aspect of Carson City’s past and presents half a dozen nicely restored fire apparatus, but, truthfully, it’s not a stop most tourists would find remarkable. My next stop was the Nevada State Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
also in Carson City. One would expect a small memorial in a low population-density state like Nevada, and that is what has been presented; however, this memorial design itself is unique. It also is unique in that the memorial stones were cut by members of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #545, comprised of Vietnam veterans incarcerated in the Nevada State Prisons system. Also in Mills Park, I found a first responder memorial, made from the remnants of the World Trade Center.
Remember the Bonanza television show? Virginia City NV is the place the legendary Ben, Hoss, Adam and Lil' Joe rode
for supplies or a night out on the town. The city is steeped in volumes of history, with a generous portion of legend tossed in for good measure. It is a tourist destination that comes to the mind of every Chamber of Commerce President when somebody says, “Sweet dreams.” No promotion or advertising is necessary! Just the names are enough to rouse the interest of most tourists – Palace Saloon, Bucket of Blood Saloon, Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise (the newspaper where Samuel Clemens worked as a young man and adopted his famous pen name) and Comstock Gold Mill. Virginia City
, declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1961, encompasses the former mining villages of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Dayton and Silver City NV and owed its success to the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode. It was the first silver rush town, was the first to apply large-scale industrial mining methods and was the prototype for future frontier mining boom towns. Most of the buildings are two to three story brick buildings, with the first floors used for saloons and shops. After a year in existence, the boomtown had 42 saloons, 42 stores, 6 restaurants, 3 hotels
and 868 dwellings that housed a population of 2,345 – at its height in 1863, the town had 15,000 residents. Today, Virginia City is but a shadow of its former glory; however, it draws over 2 million visitors per year.
Ironically, there is NO(single)THING particularly outstanding in Virginia City, but the cumulative effect is awesome. Everywhere one walks, the probably is that there is a mine tunnel beneath your feet. When one ventures off the main drag, one finds historic homes and commercial establishments, some open and some closed. There is so much to see and do in Virginia City that I had to return to complete my tourism agenda. The first day, a Sunday (when I had no eye clinic appointment), I parked in a spacious parking lot and walked about a block to the main drag and the Virginia City Visitor Center
, housed in an old saloon that merits a stop even if you don’t need any tourism information. After departing, I encountered a “cowboy” in full dress hawking the Virginia City Outlaws Gun Fight Show
which was to begin a handful of steps away in a few minutes. I succumbed to the enticement, but, what the hell, I came to have a good time.
I made a stop at the Comstock Firemen's Museum
(aka Liberty Engine Company No. 1, or some other Comstock derivative which was initially quite confusing during my research), made a similar monetary forfeiture and saw a small, but interesting, fire museum where I learned of The Great Fire of 1875
. The Ponderosa Saloon
is not your average Virginia City watering hole. The rear of the saloon is the entry point for a 20-minute tour of the Best & Belcher Mine
, which lies beneath the building. After lunch at the Palace Saloon & Restaurant
, I meandered my way along the covered, wood-plank sidewalks to The Way It Was Museum
which contains exactly the kinds of artifacts one would expect in a museum so named – no surprises or curve balls, but exactly what I came to Virginia City to see! After a brief stop at the Bonanza Saloon
– “Home of the 100 Mile View,” I made my way to Bucket of Blood Saloon
, where I enjoyed the country music of David John and the Comstock Cowboys
for a few minutes. Had the music not attracted enough folks to render the establishment SRO, I would have had a seat and enjoyed a cold brew. Instead, I made a beerless stop at the Delta Saloon
to see the infamous Suicide Table.
The Suicide Table is, in fact,
an old Faro Bank Table dating from the 1860s. Faro
is a late 17th-century French gambling card game that belongs to the lansquenet and Monte Bank family of games due to the use of a banker and several players. Wildly popular in North America during the 1800s, Faro eventually was taken over by poker in the early 1900s as the preferred card game of gamblers. The Suicide Table is claimed to be responsible for the deaths of three of its owners. The first casualty of the Suicide Table is said to be "Black Jake," who lost $70,000 playing cards one evening and then shot himself. The next victim is an unnamed second owner who was "unable to pay his losses," so the official record doesn't verify whether he committed suicide or was cashed in by his angry creditors.
After the second suicide, the table, too valuable to destroy, was stored for several years because nobody would deal on it. In the late 1890s and with its cursed history forgotten, someone converted it into a "21" table. Then, a drunken miner walked in and, so the story goes, he gambled a gold ring against a five-dollar gold piece. He won
Is This Old or What?
Miscellaneous Photos Around Virginia City NV
and proceeded to gamble all night long. By morning had won over $86,000 in cash, a team of horses and an interest in a gold mine – everything the table’s owner had in the world, whereupon the owner of the Faro Table promptly did the honorable thing (so his wife didn’t have to). Over the Comstock Lode era, many famous men have gambled for high stakes on the Suicide Table, and its green cloth has seen fortunes won and futures lost. Today, the table is under protective plexiglass – protection from whom (tourists) or for whom (tourists) remains a matter of speculation – while signs relating its story flank the artifact.
At some point during my first Virginia City day, I made my way to Mustang Ranch Steakhouse (now reported permanently closed) and the Julia C. Bulette
Red Light Museum where I was told that the museum had closed but that considerations were underway to reopen it. If reports of the restaurant closure are accurate, I don’t hold a lot of hope for the brothel museum. At another point during my visit, I stopped at the Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise
. The Territorial Enterprise
was established as a weekly paper in Genoa NV in 1858 and
Vintage Newspapers Are on Display …
Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise - Virginia City NV
published in Virginia City beginning in 1860. The 1876 brick building, now home to the museum, was built as the third and final office of Nevada's first newspaper. It housed the first steam-activated press in Nevada, installed in the building at the time of its construction. The paper suspended publication in 1893, but was revived in 1895 when the first linotype west of the Mississippi was installed. It shut down again in 1916, only to be revived in 1952 by Charles Clegg and Lucius Beebe, both New York journalists and prominent historians of the West.
After campaigning for Abraham Lincoln in his 1860 presidential bid, Orion Clemens, Samuel Clemens’ brother, was appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory in March 1861. Although the position carried a significant salary, it did not include any relocation funds for the move to Nevada. Without the funds to pay for the trip, Orion struck a deal with Samuel whereby Samuel would pay for the move in exchange for a job as Orion's private secretary. Once in Nevada, the job was unable to maintain Samuel Clemens' interest. In February 1862, he began to send occasional letters to the Territorial Enterprise
and, by July, he was
… As Well as Vintage Printing Equipment
Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise - Virginia City NV
asking Orion if he could assist him in finding a job as a correspondent. The Enterprise
staff and its founding editor, Joseph T. Goodman, had enjoyed Clemens's letters, especially one that satirized the oratory of the territory's chief justice. In the fall, he was offered twenty-five dollars a week to become the city editor of the newspaper. He accepted.
On February 3, 1863, Clemens penned a letter complaining about a lavish party that kept him "awake for forty-eight hours" with a closing, "Yours dreamily, Mark Twain" – Samuel Clemens first known use of his now-famous pen name. During his 1862 to 1865 tenure at the Territorial Enterprise
, Samuel Clemens gathered material from the colorful characters and activities of the Comstock for the stories and books authored by Mark Twain. Much of the Territorial Enterprise
historical archive was lost in a fire, but, after several years of effort, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley announced they had recovered about 110 of Twain's Enterprise
columns by looking through the archives of other Western newspapers that often republished his stories. The collection was unveiled in May 2015. Twain moved to San Francisco in 1864 but, in 1865, got a correspondent's
job with the Territorial Enterprise
to help cope with his financial problems. From February 1865 until March 1866, when Twain left for Hawaii, he composed five or six "San Francisco Letters" to the Enterprise
. Each letter consisted of about 2,000 words, and Twain was paid $100 a month for the stories.
The University of California at Berkeley collection also contains private correspondence between Twain and his brother. In one 1865 letter to Orion, Twain wrote that he was contemplating suicide, "If I do not get out of debt in three months – pistols or poison for one – exit me." How fortunate we are that his first important work, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," was published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. Twain was born two weeks after Halley's Comet's closest approach to Earth in 1835. In 1909, he said, “I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they
The Building Itself Is a Worthy Stop
Fourth Ward School Museum - Virginia City NV
came in together, they must go out together.’" Twain's prediction was accurate; he died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910 in Redding CT, one day after the comet's closest 1910 approach to Earth.
My second day-long visit to Virginia City came on Thursday, September 28, 2017, the day after I was released by the eye clinic. My first stop was on the Virginia City periphery at the Fourth Ward School Museum
. One first encounters a changing gallery. During my visit, the exhibit was, “The Comstock Through Time.” When paired with the first permanent display, the Comstock History Room, the visitor finds photographs and personal accounts that trace the changes brought to Virginia City during the Comstock era as well as information about the technological innovations that allowed those changes to transpire. Books and journal entries as well as oral histories give the visitor a firsthand account of daily life on the Comstock through vivid descriptions of the sometimes-chaotic life in the day:
“The First Ward School accommodated the first through third grades. Mrs. Quirk was a beautiful little lady – very prompt, petite and a great teacher… The first day of school she would pull out this razor strap
that looked about five feet long and give us a little lecture on discipline. Then she would put the strap away in her desk, and we never saw it again for the rest of the year.” – William Marks, University of Nevada, Reno; Oral History interview; 1984.
The original 1876 Historic Classroom is furnished with original desks, wall maps, pot-bellied stove and a well-worn wooden floor. In the Alumni Room, one finds class photographs dating from 1883 to 1964 which a local visitor might find very interesting. In the third floor Printer’s Room, there is a restored 1887 Chandler and Price printing press and a permanent Mark Twain exhibit. The Mining Exhibit, also on the third floor, presents many of the technical innovations inspired by the flurry of activity in the Comstock era as well as an exhibit that tells the story of Comstock mining. If one is interested in the history of Virginia City, the Fourth Ward School Museum is an absolute must see.
A short drive found me at the Comstock Gold Mill. Once the ore was brought out of the mine, it needed to have the ore extracted. To effect that extraction, the ore first
had to be crushed. In the old days, the ore would be washed out from the crusher and put on a steel table where mercury would be added to extract the gold. The mercury would attach to the gold and workers would then burn off the mercury. In the late 1880s, after too many workers were killed burning off the mercury, the mills of the day changed to a system where the gold was washed out of the ore with water, passed through several screens and then onto a pulsation jig where larger pieces would be trapped. The finer ore would then be washed onto another steel table where the dirt and rock, much lighter than the gold, would just wash away. The Comstock Gold Mill is not a “one-of-a-kind” but is unique, and, for those interested in historic big boy toys, worthy of a visit. In the process of looking for information about the history of Comstock Gold Mill, I found an interesting article, Milling Technology in the Nineteenth Century
Another short drive found me at Chollar Mine, home of the Chollar Mine Tour. Over the course of my travels, I have seen several mines and must place the Chollar Mine Tour in
the bottom ten percent. For those who have never been on a mine tour, it probably is worth the outlay but the average tourist should invest their Hamilton and their time elsewhere. I headed back to downtown Virginia City and made a dining stop at Delta Saloon before I made a final cruise up and down South C Street.
Although not a pure tourist trap ala Pigeon Forge TN and Branson MO, be sure to arrive with your pockets full of Washingtons, Lincolns and Hamiltons. My regular followers might have noticed I did not endorse any of the establishments in the historic downtown area of Virginia City. All of them are worthy to some degree. You’ll have to decide how to allocate the time you have. I suppose it would rest on the verge of sacrilege to fail to visit a mineral extraction facility of one sort or another. Your choice is a push. Although the Best & Belcher Mine in the rear of the Ponderosa Saloon is more convenient, I found the Comstock Gold Mill the most unique and the most interesting. While Virginia City hosted slightly over 100 waterholes in its heyday, there still is a substantial
selection of Virginia City Saloons
to invigorate your day and a dozen or so establishments where you can fill your belly with food and/or brew, Virginia City Restaurants
. I chose to dine in the historic hotel restaurants where I could get a sandwich and a beer (with tip) for an Andrew Jackson. In all honesty, I cannot say that Virginia City is a destination city or a must-see city; however, it definitely is worth the drive if your travels take you to the vicinity.
My final west-central Nevada stop was incorporated into a scenic drive. I began by heading east and south on US 50, Alternate US 95 and US 95 until I reached the intersection of US 95 and NV 361 where I turned north on NV 361. When I reached NV 844, I turned east toward Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
near Gabbs NV. I haven’t had (actually, taken is a better word choice) many opportunities to visit ghost towns, but they are definitely high on my interest list. Although many ghost towns are mere sites where a town once stood, Berlin is the real deal; however, exploration of the interior of the buildings by any sense other than sight is not permitted. Well, I
suppose smell and hearing are okay too!
After the opening of the Berlin Mine in 1896, the town of Berlin was established the following year as part of the Union Mining District. At its peak, the town had about 75 buildings and 300 residents. Berlin never prospered to the same extent as other nearby boom towns like Tonopah and Goldfield, began to decline following the Panic of 1907 and was largely abandoned by 1911. The Berlin Mine had three miles of tunnels but produced only $849,000 at a time when gold was $20 an ounce. Berlin was a company town, operated and maintained by the Nevada Company until its acquisition by the state as part of Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park in 1970. While most ghost towns in the West are left to the wear and tear of weather and time, Berlin is preserved by the State of Nevada. The town was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
At the time of my visit mine tours were by reservation only and were offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 AM and 2 PM. With a 184-mile, 3-hour, 23-minute drive to reach the state park, I had
a reservation for a 10 AM mine tour and got a VERY early start. It so happened that my choice of tour dates was the last tour day of the season AND just happened to be “Discover Nevada State Parks Day” wherein the admission fee was waived. Timing is everything! The Diana Mine connects to the Berlin Mine at the fourth level and is the site of the mining museum. From the park office, the ranger and our group of three walked to a small building near the entrance to the Diana Mine where we were issued a hard hat and a miner’s lantern and got a short safety lesson, “If the canary starts yodeling, vacate the mine!” We made several stops where the ranger offered explanations about the mining operations depicted at that location. Overall, the tour was interesting and worth the time of the tour itself; however, the driving distance was another matter.
Berlin is a true Nevada ghost town, “preserved in a state of arrested decay.” The self-guided tour of the Berlin town site features informational placards about Berlin’s history as well as a dozen or so remaining buildings. The preserved buildings include several cabins, complete
Some Buildings Are Secured …
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park - Gabbs NV
with dusty iron bedsteads, chairs, dressers and tables with cutlery, dishes and bottles; the mine supervisor's house, which now serves as the park office; the assay office, where the quality of the ore was determined; a machine shop; and the 30-stamp mill, one of the best of its type in the state, where visitors can look inside from multiple vantage points.
The ghost town is not the only attraction at the park. The park was established in 1957 to protect the most abundant concentration of ichthyosaur fossils known to exist. This giant prehistoric marine reptile, some were as large as 50 feet in length, swam in a warm ocean that covered central Nevada 225 million years ago. It has now become the Nevada State Fossil. The fossils are protected and displayed at the park’s Fossil House where Park Rangers offer a 40-minute fossil shelter tour. There are windows in the fossil house, which is secured except during guided tours, so ill-timed visitors can get a glimpse of the fossil. I took a look through the window and decided I would continue my scenic drive instead of waiting for the next Ranger-guided tour of the Fossil House. Since I had
zero expectations and had set out for a scenic drive, the STOP ITSELF was worthy, but I’m sure glad I didn’t make the drive specifically to see either attraction. I made my way back to NV 361 on NV 844 but turned north toward US 50 where I turned west toward Fallon NV and then returned to Carson City.
I spent a total of three weeks in the Reno/Carson City/Virginia City area. The first was spent dealing with an electrical issue, with a smidgen of air races thrown in; the second was spent getting treatment for an abraded cornea, with some planning thrown in; and the third was spent doing what Uncle Larry likes most – reaping the planning efforts of the professional tourist! While Reno has little to offer most non-gambling tourists, Carson City, being a college town and the state capital, has a plethora of eateries and a handful of worthy attractions; and Virginia City is nothing individually but everything collectively. My suggestion (for the non-gamers) would be to set up in Carson City and commute to Reno and Virginia City. Three or four nights should exhaust the attraction list for most tourists. Oh yes, I found
a great little Mexican restaurant in Carson City, The Lady Tamales
, where I could get frozen tamales for $10 a dozen. I bought two dozen!
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