VC parade long on labor, patriotism, gunshots and short on bookstore’s future

Children reach for candy at the annual Virginia City Labor Day parade on Monday.

Children reach for candy at the annual Virginia City Labor Day parade on Monday.

VIRGINIA CITY — Nevada’s Republican governor and labor’s Wobblies shared Virginia City’s C Street on Monday and shots were fired, but it was all festive rather than restive.

The Wobblies, more precisely known as International Workers of the World, weren’t the ones doing the shooting. Nor were weapons brandished by Gov. Brian Sandoval, who road in the Comstock’s annual Labor Day Parade here with his family in a 1925 Model T right-of-way maintenance vehicle of the old Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

The shots were left to other parade participants. The were from muzzle loaders or six-shooters, but also were the kind folks get when the belly up to the bar for pre- or post-parade refreshment. Both loud guns and soft slurps are a parade tradition in this mining and tourist town, whatever the excuse for the parade.

Much of Monday’s festivities were designed to pay homage to all who labor for a living, whether they agree with the storied history of Wobblies and their “Workers of the World Unite” slogan or just venerate people who pay workaday and union dues.

Along with Wobblies, among labor organizations represented were the Teamsters, Ironworkers, Sheet Metal Workers, Letter Carriers and the Plumbers, Pipefitters & HVAC Technicians. As is the case each year, however, this gala at 6,200 feet wasn’t just about labor.

The VC parade and Labor Day Weekend fun — also mixing history with tourism, patriotism, a nod to first responders or virtually anyone who loves a parade — ran the gamut of crowd-pleasing trekkers strutting and riding down the city’s main drag.

Tourists, locals and Nevadans from just down the road lined the streets as period-costumed locals or visiting Civil War re-enactors, both groups evoking the 19th century. They shared the street with the governor and union members. Also along for the ride were Karson Kruzers and representatives of Virginia City’s Peace Officers Museum.

Tourists came from as far away as Oregon to Ohio, Canada to California.

One of those over from California got the best seat in the house. Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy R. Nelson of China Beach, who is retiring after 20 years doing aircraft maintenance in the Navy, was the parade grand marshal. He was asked how he got such a great seat in a Jeep.

“I asked them to fly my flag over the community, and they asked me to be in the parade,” he responded.

The weekend included various other activities and opportunities. Among them were the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, the Civil War re-enactors doing their living theater in the park as well as on the streets, the Living Legend Docent Program group in the parade, and the final day for the Mark Twain Bookstore before it closed doors for good.

Among the Living Legend group was Ed Smith of Carson City. When he is in parades, he dons dark western garb and looks like a gunslinger. At 72, the retired janitor and machinist says he enjoys spending most weekends in Virginia City.

Other Living Legend participants were Monte James and Betty Gieffels of Silver Springs, who formerly lived in Virginia City a half-dozen years. They don the garb of a gunslinger and a proper lady of early Northern Nevada. Gieffels, who uses his first and middle names as his gunfighting moniker, is also called Jangles in his summer role at VC.

Betty takes her docent role seriously. Ask her what comes to mind as the most fascinating fact about VC and she hesitates not a whit. She cites the 5,000 tunnels covering 750 miles underneath the community.

“Some of the tunnels didn’t go anyplace,” she said.

She was browsing the Mark Twain Bookstore before the parade, a hangout for many who love the era of the Territorial Enterprise newspaper that made Samuel L. Clemens morph into Mark Twain. Also in the store was Greg Melton of Carson City, an artist and sculptor of renown whose statues grace the Capitol and environs.

Melton was there talking with owner Joe Curtis, who retired from the Carson City Sheriff’s Office in the 1990s and was about to close the store he and his wife, Ellie, have run for years. Curtis, whose parents owned the building and Mark Twain Museum, added the bookstore. But now the couple has sold the building.

Melton, who is considering a bid to push for a Comstock Time Capsule, was on hand consulting with Curtis about the idea. Both of them are Vietnam-era veterans and lovers of preserving history and art, and they ruminated a while before Melton headed back out onto C Street.

Curtis, meanwhile, wasn’t caught up too much in the bittersweet aspects of closing despite greeting many regular customers. The veteran, who said he was in covert operations intelligence work during his military service, will have plenty to do with a graphics and sign company still to run.

He also is Storey County’s director of emergency management and a volunteer firefighter.

His wife didn’t seem broken up, either, about the final day of business. She figured she would remain active like her husband.

“He’s always got some kind of project going that I need to supervise,” she said, smiling as people bustled in and out to get a quick look at books and then a good spot for the parade.


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