More than 800 unblinking eyes stare back at you when you enter the White Pine Public Museum in Ely.
The eyes belong to more than 400 vintage dolls, collected throughout a lifetime by a local woman, which are now displayed in glass cases. Several of the porcelain children are more than a century old (the oldest is 150 years old).
The dolls are just a small part of the many interesting objects found in the museum, which is jam-packed with antique and historic things, most donated or loaned by local residents.
The museum, which opened in 1959, is also home to one of the more interesting displays found in the state — the petrified remains of a human foot that can be glimpsed through a tear in a worn leather boot.
The story behind the mysterious foot in the boot is that both were discovered in an abandoned mine shaft in nearby Eureka. It’s thought that the former owner might have somehow injured himself while working in the mine and lost his foot.
Of course, not all of the exhibits in the White Pine Public Museum are so macabre. In general, the museum is a fairly traditional repository of local history items and — other than the foot in the boot — doesn’t have much in the way of freakish items.
Upon entering the museum, you’re greeted by one of the museum’s cheerful and knowledgeable docents, eager to take you on a guided tour of the facility.
Just past the doll cases is a jewelry exhibit displaying a variety of trinkets dating from the 1800s to the early 20th century. Local artisans crafted some of the jewelry from native stones including caldonia and apache tears.
Another display is filled with a collection of handsome handmade boxes. Local artist A. Earl Preston made them in the 1930s using juniper, sagebrush, mountain mahogany and other native woods.
Wandering through the museum, you can spot a number of fascinating items ranging from a 1918 Victorola phonograph to an 1899 piano that was shipped from San Francisco to the railroad siding at Toana, Nev., then transported by wagon to a ranch in the Steptoe Valley, north of Ely.
There are also vintage telephones, a door from Ely’s first bank, an organ brought across country by wagon, several early 20th century typewriters and addressographs, an 1880 faro table (a type of card game) and a working 1921 player piano.
An unusual item is a 1903 xylophone, which was discovered a few years ago in an old mine shaft in the ghost town of Hamilton.
Not surprisingly, the region’s rich mining history is well represented with many displays including one showing various types of local rocks and minerals including high grade silver, garnets from Garnet Hill and blister copper from Ruth.
The museum also has a nice selection of corporate seal from many of the mines that operated in the region between 1906 and 1941.
Visitors will also find a well-stocked research library with a large collection of regional newspapers, books about the area, mining records, photographs and other materials.
Bones of a different sort can be found in the museum’s exhibit of the prehistoric short-faced bear. The fossilized remains of two of the bears were discovered in 1982 in a cave in White Pine County. A life-size model of the 12,000-year-old bear’s bones is on display.
Behind the main museum building are a handful of historic buildings that have been moved to the grounds and preserved. The most impressive is the Cherry Creek Depot, which was built in 1907 by the Nevada Northern Railway.
Originally located in the old mining town of Cherry Creek, which is 55 miles north of Ely via U.S. 93 and State Route 489, the depot was relocated to the museum site in 1992 after local schoolchildren raised much of the money needed to move it by collecting pennies.
The depot, which is open to the public, is a quaint little building that has a waiting room for railroad passengers, ticket agent’s office and baggage room, and a small apartment where the ticket agent lived.
Nearby are a water-drilling rig from the 1870s and a 19th century wagon with huge wooden wheel. On the grounds, you’ll also find an old wooden cabin, built in 1888 in Cherry Creek.
Inside the cabin are furnishings from the time when it would have been used, including a wooden sleigh bed, a cast iron stove and a marble top dresser.
The museum also has several boxcars and other equipment from the Nevada Northern Railway, which operated in the Ely area from 1906 to the 1980s.
The White Pine Public Museum is located at 2000 Aultman St. in Ely. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. For information, go to www.wpmuseum.org.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.