October is here, and with it comes Halloween decorations, costume shopping and the air of all things spooky. And this may come as no surprise, but no place does spooky like Northern Nevada.
Really, it makes sense. A place so full of history, so integral to the spirit of the American West is bound to leave some of that spirit – er, spirits – behind. So for those brave enough to track down some of those spirits, here is your definitive guide.
Throughout the month of October, I’ll be your tour guide on a ghost tour of sorts, spreading from the early government ghouls of Carson City to the tavern-haunting, first-settling undead of Carson Valley. There’s the traditional history of Northern Nevada, and then there’s this one. Travelers beware.
First up is Virginia City. Home of the Comstock Lode, the once-booming gold-and-silver-rush town, the temporary home of Samuel Clemens on his way to becoming Mark Twain. But with such a solid history as part of the Old West, have these miners, townspeople and even notable celebrities truly passed on? Local legend might have to argue.
Only the most courageous souls wander into the city’s sprawling Silver Terrace Cemetery. Who in their right mind might enter a supposedly haunted, actual graveyard, you might ask? Well, in the light of day, the cemetery overlooks the rolling desert hills, where a railroad weaves in and out in a true throwback to the days of the West. Plus, the cemetery is full of gorgeous stone-carved headstones marking the final resting places of those who experienced Virginia City in its heyday, more than 100 years ago. At night, however, the weight of the place sets in. Locals have claimed to see roaming blue lights and even a glowing headstone. A trick of the moon? Perhaps.
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On B Street the E. Clampus Vitus building may be easy to miss. Its white balcony and red brick exterior blends in with the architecture of an old western town, though this building hides a sinister history. It is said that within the walls of the E. Clampus Vitus building, men of the town founded a secret fraternity in the 1800s. Believing to be the true bringers of justice, the group is supposedly responsible for many murders over the years. Now the building sends off a strange vibe to visitors and locals alike, called home to the darkest energy in Virginia City.
On the main stretch of town, however, there may be no darker past (and chilling present) than that of the Washoe Club. A former gentleman’s club in the Gold Rush era, the building with large white lettering across the red-brick front spelling Old Washoe Club draws ghost hunters from across the country to its door. This is in part due to its feature on the Travel Channel show Ghost Adventures, but also because of its horrifying reputation. The building almost seems to attract death, burning down in what is dubbed as the Great Fire of 1875 (which claimed many buildings and many lives along the main stretch of town) only two years after part of the building exploded in a nitroglycerin accident, killing a dozen. Then, during the winters, the club’s cold rooms are said to have housed bodies while the ground was too cold to dig graves, earning one back room the nickname The Crypt. Now, for a comprehensive guide to the dark history and malevolent spirits who call the Washoe Club home you can sign up for a ghost tour of the property. Though I must say, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Still, there might be no property more notably haunted than the Gold Hill Hotel, just south of Virginia City. Like the Washoe Club, the Gold Hill Hotel embraces its haunts, knowing precisely which rooms you may experience actual paranormal activity during your stay. And visitors come from all over to experience some of Gold Hill’s ghostly happenings. For example, late at night Room 5 begins to smell like the huffing cigar smoke of eternal resident William, while Room 4’s Rosie spritzes her perfume and messes with the door locks. Overnight visitors to the Miner’s Cabin have even claimed to hear the moans of the miners who perished the night of the Yellow Jacket Fire nearby. So you say you’re not scared of anything? Stay a night at the Gold Hill Hotel.
There are those who take a day trip to Virginia City for the incredibly rich history and the closest experience to a Western town you can get. Then there are those who yearn – naively, I’m sure – for a close experience of another kind. If that sounds more like yourself, I implore you to visit the haunted Virginia City this weekend. At the very least, you’ll come back with a story to tell your friends. At most? You might just become the story yourself!