by Justin Panson
The Ghost Town has the most beautiful name, drawn from botanical nomenclature, at once Victorian and old western. But I omit it here, based on keeping secret places secret. With a place this unspoiled you have to be careful with the information. The old timer who told Whitey about the town looked long and hard at him before deciding he was worthy to entrust. So we’re carrying that trust forward.I think that’s why you never got a really clear map to get out there. There was some dead reckoning involved, as if you had to really want to get out there and had the get-up to figure it out. In the age of moment-by-moment self-broadcast and the perfect memory of Google, there are no secrets anymore. I’m a bit concerned about even sharing this account.
Also, full names are not used since people in these stories didn’t likely expect someone to write about all their unguarded moments and put it up on the internet.
very western story needs certain elements, heroes and rogues, booms and busts, wide open range…and in the middle of it, a lonely little town.
And every town needs a mayor and a sheriff. With a wink and nod to old west propriety, Whitey and Jeffy D. were our self proclaimed town officials, on the basis that they found the Ghost Town way up a forgotten road out in the middle of the Nevada desert.
Every western story needs calamity—and that is a guy named Preston, a larger-than-life, big-hearted wild man out of Ohio, whose enthusiastic revelry once had to be subdued with a small handful of Tylenol PM crushed up and slipped into his drink.
Calamity was served in the Ghost Town by no shortage of antics and characters. There were sages, desert rats and a cat house madam; there were old cowboy songs and honky tonk numbers belted out in a little shack saloon beside an abandoned quicksilver mine. Pastimes among our band of eccentric townies included pyrotechnics, gunplay, heavy drinking, 4 wheeling, drugs, sometimes all in combination–and wrecked cars, as you would expect.
There were calmer pursuits like horseshoes, walks in the sagebrush hills and dutch oven cookery. There were potluck formal dinners in the multicolored dusk, at a long table hammered together out of scrap wood and topped with glowing thrift store candelabras. There were artists, musicians, historians, geographers, and a tall salvage guy whose exact role in life remains hard to describe. There were slackers and teachers and translators and programmers.
Above all there was resourcefulness and a DIY ethic—restoration of the old structures, reroofing projects, porch fixing. There was a charming fireman who sang lovely folk ballads and figured prominently in town affairs.
There was a brief span of time, a few years, when we regularly took trips out to the Ghost Town, all of us coming together in this rarefied, otherworldly place. It was more than just weekend camp outs. The place took on a life of its own. Looking back on the experience, the thing I like best is that we made our own world in this godforsaken landscape, a land that the Mayor and his friends found beautiful. I have come to understand this beauty. I have come to share their genuine reverence for western lore.
And I can see now how ruins and ‘old shit’ can capture the imagination.
When you find yourself walking in the Elysian Fields, of course you do the tourist thing and pull out your camera. Most of us were powerless to resist the allure of photography, even though playing the intrepid photog was sort of a well worn role. Our device-centric age has trained us to reflexively reach for digital capture as a shorthand expression of more profound things.
Editor’s note: Comparison to Burning Man may be inevitable, but this is the other side of that coin. Be assured there are no corporate camps, no paid admissions, no marketing department. Participation at Ghost Town is by invitation only, and these invitations might be the hottest ticket in Nevada if there were any tickets. There aren’t. Invitations are only available through natural selection so naturally hardly anyone is selected. Rather than wait for an invitation to this place, find another place that needs saving and save it.
Editor’s Choice —
In the county that claims Mark Twain, an irreverent
Nevada History —
Elko celebrates its Centennial-and-a-half this year. Railroad tracks were laid through the little city in December 1868, and the first train arrived January 25th of ’69. Completion of the railroad was celebrated May 10 at Promontory, north of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The nation was then joined by the most modern form of transportation — rail.
There was great ceremony, with engines from the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroads meeting nose to nose. To commemorate the occasion, three ceremonial spikes were made, one of gold from California, another of silver from Nevada, and the third of a gold, silver and iron alloy from Arizona.
Virginia City assayers, E. Ruhling & Co., provided 25 ounces of silver which Robert Lodge of Dowling Blacksmith Shop forged into a 6-inch long, 10 1/2 ounce spike. Leland Stanford representing the Central Pacific and Thomas Durant of the Union Pacific, using a special silver plated maul, gently tapped the special spikes into predrilled holes of a specially made laurel tie. Gandy dancers from the two railroads, Chinese and Irish, aligned and pounded in two final rails. After the ceremonies and speechifying, the “special” spikes and tie were removed for safekeeping and standard material were placed.
For years, there was a rumor that Nevada’s Silver Spike had disappeared during the festivities. HOWEVER, with a little bit of telephoning-to the Golden Spike National Historic Park in Utah, I learned that California’s Golden Spike and Nevada’s Silver Spike are on permanent at the Art Museum at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. During the 150th year celebration they are on display at the University of Utah Art Museum, moving to the Utah State Capital by May 10, 2019 for extended display.
Union Pacific Railroad has generously donated kiosks and replica Golden Spikes to pioneer Nevada towns. Elko’s is on display at the Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum, 542 Commercial Street. For more information on the 150th events. Contact the National Golden Spike Historical Park, 435.471.2209
— Jan Peterson
5 Years Ago in the NevadaGram
The High Roller Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas is the main attraction of The Linq, an open air retail and entertainment district between the Flamingo and Imperial Palace. It took almost three years to build and opened on March 31, 2014
This is the tallest observation wheel in the world at 550 feet of altitude. It is comprised of 28 enclosed, air-conditioned, transparent pods each with an area of about 225 square feet and can easily accommodate 40 passengers. This amazing experience will take you and your 39 closest friends, roughly 30 minutes for one full rotation.
— Michael E. Wetzel, Henderson
Overheard at Gema’s Cafe in Beatty “Look Jeanette, when you counsel someone, you should appear to be reminding him of something he had forgotten, not of the light he was unable to see.”
10 Years Ago in the NevadaGram
Gold Point Goes to Hollywood
In October 2007 a Hollywood film crew came to Gold Point to film a psychological thriller titled “Blood River”. As Herb Robbins reports, “They filmed in the Post Office and the Saloon and all around outside. Red Dog Lil was in the film at the end of the movie. She even had a speaking part when she picked up one of the stars of the movie in a 1966 black mustang.
“We were invited to the premier in the Egyptian Theater on March 24th so we all went down. Red Dog Lil was even invited to walk down the Red Carpet, dressed in her fancy Saloon outfit, to have her picture taken by a mob of paparazzi and filmed and interviewed by other media. Sheriff Stone, of course, escorted her.”
15 Years Ago in the NevadaGram
Ely is Nevada’s great undiscovered city, now that Elko’s been found. It is becoming increasingly visible, however, as the city’s imaginative mural project is bringing international attention, and work is getting underway to bring the old Kennecott mines back into production again. “All of the equipment needed to operate the Robinson Mine has been secured and workers are being hired,” the Ely Times reports.
This prospect has added a rosy glow to one of the municipal cheeks — the other one was already glowing from a slap by J.C.Penney & Co. which closed its Ely store and seriously inconvenienced the community. In response, local people have organized a co-operative mercantile store, and, just like in a Jimmy Stewart movie, fundraising is underway and optimism is running high.
Parting Shot — Steam locomotive of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad chugs up from Carson City to Virginia City in fine 19th century fashion. Photograph by Angela Mann.