Few folks know as much about Nevada ghost towns as author Shawn Hall. Since the late 1970s, when he was a college student, Hall has reveled in researching and learning about just about anything related to the hundreds of mining camps, railroad stops and other forgotten places scattered across the wide Nevada landscape.
And, fortunately, he’s written much of what he’s learned in several books.
In fact, his first published work, “A Guide to the Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Nye County, Nevada,” was published back in 1981, when he was only 21 years old, and still an undergraduate at Harvard University.
Since then, Hall has written several other Nevada ghost town-related works including: “Connecting the West: Historic Railroad Stops and Stage Stations in Elko County;” “Romancing Nevada’s Past: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Eureka, Lander, and White Pine Counties;” “Old Heart of Nevada: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Elko County;” and “Preserving the Glory Days: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Nye County.” All were published by the University of Nevada Press.
More recently, he produced, “Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Southern Nevada” for Arcadia Publishing. Unlike his other publications, this new work is primarily a photo book filled with some 228 historic images of communities such as Tonopah, Rhyolite, Manhattan and Belmont.
Hall, who lives in Tonopah, is a native of Massachusetts, who, was always fascinated by the old west, which eventually translated into a preoccupation with ghost towns. Writing about his background, Hall said he first visited Nevada in 1979 and traveled to Nye County because he’d read about some interesting ghost towns located there.
“The trip became a wonderful adventure and I fell victim to ‘Ghost Town Fever,’” he wrote. “During the summer, I visited a ranch that used to be an old stage station and ended coming back out during the next five summers.”
In 1983, he relocated to Nevada to obtain a master’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. Over the past few decades, he has led hundreds of ghost town tours and worked at a number of museums around the state, including for a number of years as Director/Curator of the Tonopah Historic Mining Park.
He has said that one of his goals—which he’s still working on—is to write a book about historic sites and ghost towns in every county in Nevada. With that in mind, for the past several years he’s been working on a book devoted to the ghost towns of Mineral and Esmeralda counties.
His four books for the University of Nevada Press serve as comprehensive, well-researched guides to the hundreds of historic mining and railroad towns he’s uncovered in the respective counties he’s focused on to date.
For example, “Old Heart of Nevada,” encompasses more than 100 sites in Elko County. Thumbing through the book, it quickly becomes obvious that Hall has done considerable research on each site. In easy-to-understand language, he provides a brief description of the circumstances behind the town’s founding—usually a gold or silver strike—and the people who made the discoveries.
Hall offers interesting anecdotal stories about each place—for example, he points out that in 1931, boxer Jack Dempsey trained in the mining town of Midas for a title fight. During his training, he actually worked in one of the mines, and later returned to the town, where he lived for several years.
Regarding the ranching community of Jiggs (near Elko), Hall writes such unusual facts as that it was named after a newspaper comic strip character (Jiggs of “Bringing Up Father”) and in 1940, was the location for the filming of a movie, “Brigham Young, Frontiersman,” which starred Tyrone Powers, John Carradine, Mary Astor, and Vincent Price.
The town of White Rock (located 23 miles north of Jack Creek, above Elko) is worth mentioning because in 1917, it was the site of a notorious murder. Hall writes that two local men, Arne Parus and John Winter, had a longstanding feud over allegations of cattle rustling (they had similar brands) that ended when Parus shot and killed Winter.
The case could not go to trial for nearly two years because of a national influenza epidemic. In October 1919, following a hung jury earlier in the year, Parus was convicted of manslaughter. In a bizarre twist, Parus drowned in 1923 while working at the Carson City Prison’s farm (he was herding cattle across the flood-swollen Carson River).
Hall’s “Romancing Nevada’s Past” work about Eureka, Lander, and White Pine counties is equally fascinating with its stories about such obscure towns as Alpha, a railroad town that disappeared in the 1880s but which had a name that just about guaranteed it would always be listed first in guide books, and Diamond Springs, which has the remains of an impressive charcoal kiln and where the author was attacked by killer bees.
“Preserving the Glory Days,” Hall’s equally excellent book about Nye County, is an updated and revised guide to the mining camps he wrote about in his first book, while “Connecting the West” uncovers information about more than 300 former stage stops and railroad stops in Elko County.
Hall has a web site, http://nvghosttowns.topcities.com/book.htm, on which he retails all of his books, including copies of his first book, which is out-of-print. And if you order directly from him, he’ll gladly autograph your books.