VIRGINIA CITY - A special exhibit of artifacts recovered in archaeological digs in this Comstock mining town is helping dispel myths about 19th century saloons in the West, state historians say.
The variety of bottles, dishes, glasses and gaming devices reveal the Virginia City saloons to be centers of society and commerce rather than the arenas for deadly showdowns between ruffians, as often portrayed in books and movies, the state researchers say.
The Comstock History Center opened the exhibit in mid-August: "Havens in a Heartless World - Virginia City Saloons and the Archaeology of the Wild West."
"It's helping focus a little bit more on the reality of life in Virginia City in the 19th century instead of a lot of the mythology," said Bert Bedeau, district administrator for the Comstock Historic District Commission.
Ron James, Nevada's state historic preservation officer, agrees.
"The exhibit brings the saloon to life, correcting the stereotypes and providing visitors with a new view of this famous, Western institution," James said.
"'Havens in a Heartless World' brings many artifacts excavated from Virginia City back to the Comstock for the first time since their removal," he said.
Between 1993 and 2001, archaeologists excavated the remains of four saloons in Virginia City.
The exhibit features the world's oldest bottle with a Tabasco brand sauce imprint, dating to 1870.
The bottle was reconstructed from 21 shards of glass excavated from beneath the site of the Boston Saloon, which was owned by a black man from Massachusetts and catered to blacks and whites alike from 1864 to 1875.
It was among roughly 30,000 artifacts excavated in 2000 in an effort to learn more about the estimated 100 blacks who lived in the bustling mining town of 20,000 in the 1870s.
The Boston Saloon site is behind the Bucket of Blood Saloon, which was established in 1876 and still stands at the corner of D and Union streets.
Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, got his start a block away at the local newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.
Bedeau estimates several thousand people have visited the exhibit since it opened.
It continues through March, open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by special appointment.
"We've certainly been pleased by the response from the public," he said.