The mother of all July 4 celebrations

Sometimes we find a major flaw in the historical record. This week it all boiled down to a name.

Virginia City in July 1903 pulled off what must have been the mother of all patriotic celebrations at the time. The event including baseball, bike racing and rock-drilling contests and a number of parades spanned three days and threatened to empty both Carson City and Reno of its inhabitants.

Reports from the Territorial Enterprise, the Daily Nevada State Journal, the Morning Appeal and the Evening Report said as many as 5,000 people made their way up the mountain for the Comstock Carnival.

I came to learn about the Comstock Carnival, not from my days dressed as a clown riding C Street on my Big Wheel, but from a woman in Nevada City who says her grandmother reigned as Queen Virginia I throughout the celebration.

The queen, according to her granddaughter Barbara Lenore Teuber, was Lillian Anne Richards, born Feb. 4, 1881 in Nevada City, Calif., to Elizabeth "Bessie" Frances Jenkins and Abe Richards.

Her parents wed July 17, 1878, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Virginia City and must have been visiting during the carnival.

I have no reason to believe it isn't true. Unfortunately, however, not one edition of the aforementioned news establishments printed the actual name of the queen.

They named the winners of the bicycle race, the king, the drum major and the winners of the double-handed drilling contest and the drilling depths, but not the queen's moniker.

Teuber sent the following message to our sister newspaper The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., this week: "I am hoping that this could get to Virginia City for 4th of July. It might be fun to have information on the festivities 100 years ago."

The Territorial Enterprise July 4, 1903, reported nine traincar loads of people had arrived and that 15 to 20 car loads were expected from Reno. "Visitors will exceed all expectations."

The festival came about 30 years after the Comstock Lode's heyday and the Enterprise's writer said "the old town will slip a cog and drop back to the days of the seventies and the visitors will be given a taste of how it was done on the Comstock in years past."

The Evening Report noted, "The rapidly diminishing contingent, designated as 'old timers,' concede that the present demonstration exceeds any former holiday in the history of the state."

Great care was taken by the writers to describe the queen's carriage, her manners and beauty, but she was never named. They referred to her as Queen Virginia I, the Queen or Queen Virginia.

The July 4, 1903, edition of the Daily Nevada State Journal said: "Miss Virginia has invited us and we have accepted her invitation ... We haven't seen a real live queen for a long time and they do say that the one they have over there is one of the handsomest that ever was."

The Appeal July 7, 1903, said Queen Virginia was the center of interest with the ladies."She was graceful and beautiful and her Maids of Honor were the same and her royal robes and her snowy equipage and her milk white horses and general creamy appearance made her the general center of observation everywhere.

"She was gracious and good humored, and smiled and bowed to everyone who gave her a nod or a lifted hat and when tough Comstock urchins showered her with confetti and called out, 'Say, Virginia, you'se is all right,' her smile was as sweet as when she cast it upon the Governor or Lem Allen of Churchill, arrayed in his gorgeous uniform.

"She was in the thick of everything and not all exclusive. She mingled with her subjects and gave the glad hand right and left. She took in all the Midway shows with her Maids of Honor and attended the Mardi Gras ball and saw that everybody had a good time when she was about.

"She turned the keys of the city over to King Comstock on Saturday evening and closed her short reign with a blaze of glory."

It's good that her granddaughter remembers Lillian Anne Richards. For the record only remembers its queen.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal and a Virginia City native.


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