Exploring Virginia City’s silver terrace cemeteries
It may seem a little morbid, but one of the more interesting things about exploring the historic mining community of Virginia City is hanging with its dead.
Like just about everything related to the former Queen of the Comstock, Virginia City’s cemeteries, commonly known as the Silver Terrace cemeteries, have proven to be bigger than life. Indeed, Virginia City once boasted no less than 25 separate cemeteries, although only about a third of those can still be identified.
Virginia City’s cemetery area is located at the north end of the community, just beyond the Sun Mountain RV Park. Virginia City is 16 miles northeast of Carson City via Highway 50 and State Route 341.
A good source of information about Virginia City’s historic burial grounds is a 32-page guidebook entitled, “A Walking Guide to the Virginia City Cemeteries,” published in 1987 by Gloria J. Kramer.
The booklet contains a map showing the location of the major surviving cemeteries, including the Masonic (near the entrance), Knights of Pythias, Catholic (at the top of the hill), Odd Fellows (south of Masonic), Silver Terrace, Exempt Firemen, Wilson & Brown and Pocahontas Lodge of Redmen.
Additionally, it identifies several notable century-old tombstones in each section. As bizarre as it sounds, there is beauty and elegance in the headstones, many of which were elaborately carved in marble or wood with intricate designs, including cherubs, angels, flowers and animals.
For example, one of the most impressive is the Edward M. Keyes grave (he died in 1872) in the Catholic Cemetery, a marble tombstone carved to resemble the wings of an angel and featuring a lamb and evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The Catholic Cemetery also has interesting stone displays of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, placed around the top of the cemetery hill.
Down the hill, at the Exempt Firemen Cemetery, is one of the better-preserved wooden markers, commemorating G.W.S. Hanbridge, a fireman who passed on in 1884. Kramer notes that wooden markers that have survived the years and are legible were usually painted at one time, which provided some protection.
Wrought iron fences are also given some attention by Kramer, who points out several different designs, including the weeping willow and lamb motif of the Masonic Cemetery, the Maidenhead stanchion found around the Odd Fellows and Catholic cemeteries and the Shell and Fleur-de-Lis fence in the Odd Fellows plot.
Kramer also relates several of the more moving epitaphs found on markers throughout the cemeteries, such as:
“A warmer heart
Death ne’er made cold
Yes she is gone
And we are gong all
Like flowers we wither
Like leaves we fall.”
She notes that while some refer to Virginia City’s cemetery area as “Boot Hill,” it’s incorrect in this case because that was generic term used to describe where the more unsavory members of a community were buried, such as outlaws and gamblers.
Walking through the cemeteries, you can also find other interesting markers, such as the large alabaster statue of an angel that seems to be praying over Virginia City—final resting place of Solomon Noel who died in 1895—as well as the simple yet impressive stone marker of L.H. Kleupfer, who passed on in 1877.
Perhaps the monument commanding the most attention is the tall, gray marble stone pillar at the top of the hill upon which all the cemeteries were placed. This thin towering stone looks out over the city and, appropriately, commemorates Captain Edward Faris Storey, the man for whom Storey County is named.
Incongruous as it sounds, there is something serene and calming about wandering through the historic final resting grounds of many of Virginia City’s former denizens.
Only the forlorn graves of the young children buried in the cemetery are disturbing, with their markers filled with carved winged cherubs and sleeping lambs. They are a powerful reminder of the difficulties of life on the frontier in the 19th century.
Another good way to explore Virginia City’s cemeteries is on a guided tour sponsored by the Comstock Cemetery Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving the Silver Terrace cemeteries. For information about the group, go to http://comstockcemetery.com/.
Because of past vandalism, the Silver Terrace cemeteries are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. No one is allowed on the premises at night.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.