If there are past lives I was definitely one of those people making a mad dash West in the Gold Rush and probably yelling “GOLD!” I would have been a gold prospector.
FROM GOLD FEVER TO SILVER
When we’ve visited gold mines on past trips I’ve had to contain the part of my personality that wants to pull out a little pick from my pocket and start digging away at the gold veins. When we’ve gone panning for gold I’ve become crazed in the pursuit of gold. You can see me swish every last piece of sand for gold flecks and start checking the kids pans as well; people standing next to me at the sluice might have me looking over their shoulders, too. I own it; gold fever!
If there’s a mine or a place to pan for gold… I’m there. It began and ended with gold until…
While we were visiting Lake Tahoe we ventured out to take a tour of Virginia City, Nevada. I looked ahead at travel sites to see what the area offered for visitors with kids and found the Comstock Mine.
Comstock Mine. Comstock Lode. SILVER!
SILVER: COMSTOCK LODE
The gold rush in my head turned to silver and I was fascinated by the history of this city and the silver deposits in the hills. Unfortunately, the mine was closed for the season and I didn’t get to tour and fantasize about being a silver miner.
It wouldn’t have been a good life back in the day as apparently it was hotter than the dickens in the mine due to hot springs.
HOT WATER PLUGS
Sadly, miners of the era didn’t have a long lifespan and working in and around the hot springs below the mines earned them the name, Hot Water Plugs.
I suppose it would have been much better to have been Henry Comstock but I learned that he never made a fortune from the silver deposits as he sold early. He was however an eccentric man which always is of interest and they called him “Old Pancake.” The reason for that wasn’t so interesting. More interesting was that Henry Comstock wouldn’t leave his house without several belts around his waist. No one knew why.
VIRGINIA CITY CAMEL RACES
Each year Virginia City holds camel races along with ostrich races in a family friendly weekend of fun events. If you’ve ever considered trying to jockey a camel or wrangle an ostrich then Virginia City is the place to visit. If your curious about why Virginia City, Nevada holds annual camel races visit my post “The Mule Lobby and How the Camels Won the West…”.
I wonder if Henry Comstock participated in the camel races? Virginia City also has ostrich racing and that’s on my must-do list!
SEARCHING FOR A MORGAN SILVER DOLLAR IN A GHOST TOWN
Back to the silver. We weren’t able to tour the mine but we did go in search of an old Morgan silver dollar minted in Carson City. Why? Because it’s silver, because the silver was mined there in Virginia City and the coin would have a story to tell if it could talk. We wandered into an old smoky bar and asked some of the locals where we could find one of these treasures. Turns out pretty much every other store had a small collection at various prices to sell. No secrets to be found there. Maybe some ghosts.
AN OLD WEST BOARDWALK AND A MAN WITH A MULE
We headed back down the wavy boardwalk which was a feat of engineering or built by someone after a very long night at the bar: Up and down, side to moderate side the wooden boardwalk stretched down the storefronts of the old town. Picturesque: A photo out of the Wild West. We even came upon a man and his donkey. He took tips. I gave him $5 dollars and asked if we could take a photo with his donkey. He let us.
We moved on down the street to many interesting storefronts and then came upon the Silver Queen; walking in to find the only wedding chapel in Virginia City and very large painting of a woman dressed in a gown made of 3,261 Morgan silver dollars minted in Carson City. Bingo! Where was my little pocket pick? The SILVER rush hit me. There’s silver in these hills!
SILVER QUEEN SALOON
This artwork was amazing. There were Double eagles, which are twenty-dollar gold pieces, and dimes adorning her attire. Now that was a dress.
The Silver Queen was a saloon, wedding chapel, hotel and ghost-sighting-space all in one. My mission was still to find an old Carson City Morgan silver dollar of my own. I knew nothing about them but I knew I needed to find one. It would be our family token of our trip to Virginia City.
A CARSON CITY MORGAN SILVER DOLLAR
I quickly researched and found warnings that there are many fake Morgan silver dollars floating around Ebay and other internet sales sites so I quickly watched a video on how to spot a fake. Internet expertise at its finest! We strolled down to a vintage jewelry store and found what we were looking for along with a very knowledgeable store owner. He showed us the coins he had available and he happened to have an 1879 Morgan silver dollar minted in Carson City that was in very good condition.
1879. The Gilded Age. The end of the “Long Depression” also known as the first Great Depression. Mark Twain was a reporter in need of money working at a Virginia City newspaper just years earlier. It was the year Thomas Edison demonstrated the first incandescent light bulb, Deadwood South Dakota burned to the ground and Vanderbilt named Madison Square Garden.
TRAVELING THROUGH TIME
Where had this coin traveled over the last 139 years? What could it tell if it could talk? A piece of history. A connection to a time long passed.
This coin made its way back to the region and found itself on a shelf in Virginia City where it’s silver was mined from the Comstock Lode and where I was holding it admiring everything about it. I looked for signs of its authenticity. The shop owner offered his guarantee and a discount because they were going into their low season without many visitors.
Summer is the busy time in Virginia City he shared and told us how busy the boardwalk gets and that many visitors want their own Carson City Morgan silver dollar. That dress at the Silver Queen sold me!
I happily purchased my first old coin that will offer a memory of our trip to Virginia City for our lifetimes. I’m just thinking now I should have purchased two because I’m sure both of my children will want the coin for memories sake.
I don’t know where that coin traveled or whose pocket it may have jingled in before it became a collectors piece but the coin has a story now and an owner to tell it.
Funny what you’ll find on an adventure with no particular plans, that turned into a quest then turned into a piece of living history. The mule, the boardwalk, the dress the saloons, the chapel and the Morgan silver dollar.
Virginia City, Nevada should be on everyone’s list of places to visit any time of the year. It was fascinating. We even finished up at St. Mary’s in the Mountains which was rebuilt after a fire swept the town a few years before my silver dollar was minted. We lit a candle.
If you’re visiting Lake Tahoe take a drive to Virginia City, Nevada and take a walk down the boardwalk and see what you find.
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