FOR 25 GLORIOUS YEARS Virginia City was the leading city in Nevada and the brightest and most important settlement between Denver and San Francisco. Then came 75 bad years during which mining production slowed, became small-scale and sporadic and, upon the Presidential Order of 1942, finally stopped. The city shriveled over those years. Buildings collapsed or were torn down and people moved away. But not everyone. Virginia City never quite died.
And so it is the real deal, not some learned reimagining. The actual Mark Twain made his name here, and walked these board sidewalks. The actual Edwin Booth, Lilly Langtry and John Philip Sousa performed at Piper’s Opera House for actual audiences eager for the best.
The actual Ulysses S. Grant came grandly in a carriage from the railroad depot to the International Hotel on his return to the USA from a world tour. This was “The Richest Place on Earth”, and it sparked the imagination of the world as nothing had done since the California gold rush. These mines on a mountain made of silver and gold brought people from around the world, and the city they built is their monument to this wealth, both real and imagined.
Into the 1920s and ’30s this was still an increasingly ramshackle city of old-timers, and then newcomers began to appear. V.L. McBride opened the Bucket of Blood Saloon in 1937. Dominic Petrini traded his El Capitan in Hawthorne for the Delta Saloon in 1946. Four years later Lucius Beebe and Chuck Clegg revived the Territorial Enterprise and made it nationally popular. Virginia City was being rediscovered.
But it was in 1962 that Virginia City became internationally famous again, this time as the setting for the immensely popular “Bonanza” television program.
Virginia City holds a special place in the heart and the history of the American West, and despite our increasing distance from the glory years, Virginia City’s antic history can come to life in your imagination when you visit.
“Entering the main street,” Browne wrote, “the saloons along the board sidewalks are glittering with their gaudy bars and fancy glasses, and many-colored liquors, and thirsty men are swilling burning poison: organ grinders are grinding their organs and torturing their consumptive monkeys; hurdy-gurdy girls are singing bacchanalian songs in bacchanalian dens. All is life, excitement, avarice, lust, devilry, and enterprise.”
The old city is one of the largest National Historic Landmarks in the USA, and welcomes visitors the year around.
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