Virginia City celebrates sesquicentennial
by Matt Farley
Special to the Nevada Appeal
This weekend, a century and a half after the Comstock Lode silver strike, Virginia City locals and thousands of visitors will celebrate one of Nevada’s most recognizable cities.
The three-day Virginia City Sesquicentennial festival will feature dozens of events designed to show off the town’s anachronistic charm, planners said. From the bawdy humor of the burlesque show “A Handful of Nickels” to high tea at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the weekend will offer “things for everyone,” organizer Izabella Hunt-Jones said.
“It’s a very special time,” she said. “There are a lot of historic places in Nevada, not to mention the rest of the country. (Virginia City) may not be wealthy, but we’ve managed to stay alive and keep our heritage alive, which really needs to be remembered.”
Recognition efforts have been under way since January, Hunt-Jones said. The city has invested in new banners to greet visitors as they drive into town along C Street, and the city will continue unveiling new historic markers throughout the year. A full-length memorial edition of the Territorial Enterprise newspaper will also be released this week, highlighting various news stories and people from Virginia City’s history.
“We definitely expect that to be a real collectible,” Hunt-Jones said.
The festival will kick off at 7 p.m. on Friday at Piper’s Opera House with the first performance of “A Handful of Nickels.” The show will include music and skits from award-winning performers. Local restaurant Cafe del Rio also will offer a special sesquicentennial menu beginning Friday night, and many area restaurants will set up booths along C Street beginning Saturday.
The festival will shift into high gear on Saturday and Sunday with events spanning the entire city. A gun show, a gypsy art demonstration, an antique sale and multiple re-enactments are all set for the rest of the weekend. Voices from the Past at the Silver Terrace cemetery promises to be one high point, Hunt-Jones said.
“There’s a whole lot going on all weekend,” she said. “But Saturday has the most events. And they’re all free or cost a dollar or two at most.”
A large parade led by actors portraying Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln will start at noon on Saturday. Modern Gov. Jim Gibbons also will make an appearance, as will members of several families with deep roots in the Virginia City area, parade director Karen Woodmansee said.
Planners still are looking for volunteers to help with the event, Hunt-Jones said. Interested parties can contact the Virginia City Convention & Tourism Authority, or simply show up at the VCCTA office at 86 S. C St. around 9 a.m. on Saturday.
“We’re asking people to dress in period costume,” Hunt-Jones said. “But with 150 years of history, that means pretty much anything.”
While this weekend’s celebration marks the “official” high point of Virginia City’s 150th year, further events abound.
“It’s really not the end,” Hunt-Jones said. “We’re already working on Christmas on the Comstock for December. We’ll be raising the first city Christmas tree in years.”
The thousands of people expected to attend the sesquicentennial celebration will share the streets with a potentially large number of motorcyclists in town for the Street Vibrations Spring Rally, which will make driving even more treacherous than usual, planners said.
“We don’t really know what to expect, since there’s never been a sesquicentennial before,” organizer Izabella Hunt-Jones said. “But every event (in Virginia City) so far this year has been packed. All I can say is park in the first spot you see. We’ll have jitneys that will take you back and forth for a dollar or so. We’re trying to make sure there are a lot of ways to get around.”