When I was invited to participate in a haunted/paranormal trip I assumed it would be a blast and should we run into a ghost it would just be the icing on the cake. I reviewed quite a bit of literature about the Nevada location and I was intrigued so off I went.

Let me tell you that if there’s another town as adorable as Virginia City I’d like to see it. This old western mining town is so cute that if it had a cheek I’d have to pinch it. A visit here is just like stepping into the mid 1800’s. Buildings are original and untouched, and there are crooked wooden sidewalks, nostalgic shops and plenty of saloons. The whole thing looks like a giant Hollywood set.

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I was quite surprised to learn that during the boomtown years the mining town was home to 20,000 people and today there are just 800 permanent residents. The town is full of history, ghost tales and paranormal experiences that make it a unique travel destination. You can almost not run into a local who hasn’t had a haunting experience of some kind. We stayed at the Silver Queen, an allegedly haunted hotel that looks today just as it did over a hundred years ago. There are no phones, no TV’s and no clocks and the place is flooded with ghost stories. Apparently guests have often reported that they can hear a man and a woman arguing in the next room. That’s when Debbie Bender has to open the door to that room to prove to them that there’s no one there.

“Room 11 is the one thrill seekers all want to stay in. In the mid 1800’s a prostitute (or soiled dove as they were called) learned she was pregnant and killed herself in that room.”

The incredible stories roll off the tongue here without pretention and it’s clear to see that the story teller has accepted ghosts as part of their life.

One night our plan was to go through the old Washoe Club on C St. in the center of town. The three story brick building dates back to 1859 when there was a saloon on the first floor, a millionaires club (cards) on the second, and locals claim the third was used as a brothel.

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“You have to remember that a lot of people died here in shoot outs in the streets and others died in the mines. There were numerous murders and suicides here too. People were here to mine silver and gold. There was also quite a tragic mining accident, the Yellow Jacket Mine fire that took the lives of 39 men.,” ….said.

The night we went to tour the building, the second two floors of which have no electricity, proved a bit unnerving. It was a vast place complete with creaky floorboards, accounts of doors slamming shut and of chairs and other objects being moved to different locations. Our ghost hunter experts Debbie Bender and Tom Cruz came fully prepared with electromagnetic field monitors, K2 meters, motion detectors, radio wave scanners and temperature gauges and then gave each of us flashlights. As we toured the old building I have to admit that some of the rooms just felt creepy. I almost wished we all held onto a rope the way preschoolers do. When everyone agreed that one room had a particularly bad feeling about it our host told us that a man had committed suicide in it after being dumped by his girlfriend.

Whether you’re a believer or non-believer this place can give you the willies.

The next night we visited a building in town that was once the home of the Knights of Pythias, a secret society. The huge edifice is also currently without electricity (and is in fact for sale) and it’s said that the place is so haunted with spirits that when some visitors stand in the basement in what’s known as “the vortex” (ghost portal) they become physically ill and have to leave the building. It’s a place where if a chill passes by or you think you hear something strange it probably isn’t your imagination. That night our group of about a dozen, decided to try to contact one of the ghosts. We entered a dark room on the first floor with mile high ceilings and windows facing the street. We all sat in a vague circle, our ghost whisperer, Deb spoke softly to the ghost she says she’s communicated with many times in the past. Then she placed a random flashlight on the floor in the center of the room and we all waited quietly. At one point I was almost ready to give up the ghost and head back to my room but Bender kept asking him for a sign. “Please….please, just turn on the flashlight to let us know you’re here,” she said and all of a sudden the flashlight’s blinding light came on and scared the bejesus out of everyone in the room. I was never more surprised.

But because we humans feel the need to make sense of things on a logical level, even the unexplained the group asked Bender to give it one more shot. Again we sat in quiet darkness and listened to Debbie’s soft voice, the kind of voice a ghost can trust. “Just one more time is all we ask, please. We promise to leave here after that,” she urged. A few moments later the flashlight flickered and then a few seconds later it came on again – to the same shrieks and gasps as the first time. Before exiting the building Bender stopped and made a point of thanking the ghost for cooperating and we all left with goose-bumps.

Later that night in the center of town the same woman channeled a little girl named Cassandra that was killed in a stagecoach accident many years ago. Several people in town have reported seeing the little girl’s ghost and each one describes her the same way. Just standing in the spot where she’s most often seen caused Debbie’s equipment to come to life. The she spoke to the little girl and within a few minutes the meters were going crazy.

No matter where you go in the area, or whether your ghost hunting or treating yourself to a trip back in time, a haunted town is nothing short of a wicked cool adventure.

DSCN0326Our journey continued and another day we visited a building in town that was built in 1875 and served as St. Mary Louise Hospital for many years. Today the 14,000 square foot building is used as St. Mary’s Art & Retreat executive director Rita Wheeler is an expert on using dowsing rods. I said to myself I’ll believe it when I see it. First we looked at the original operating room where surgeons wore out a section of the floor operating. We went into the kitchen where many people over the years have reported seeing Louisa, a mentally challenged orphan who worked there.

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(Wheeler and legend) insist that there’s a room with rocking chair rocks that by itself and at the same time the room fills with the scent of baby powder.

“I’ve been in here at night and I can hear feet upstairs running back and forth across a wooden hall. Well those floors have been covered with carpet for years. One night the piano started playing an old ragtime saloon song. It really isn’t anything to be afraid of once you get used to it,” she said. She also said that there have been nights when several people in the building swear they heard the sound of a herd of horses running by outside the building, but when they looked nothing was there.

Two regular ghosts at St. Mary’s belong to 10 year old Henry and 12 year old John, the brothers froze to death in December of 1876. “Because they’d spent a lot of time here visiting a sick parent their energy returns again and again to play in the halls. People also claim they’ve heard them laughing with a 12 year old ghost named Patricia. The playful child ghosts are known to move or hide things all the time.” Wheeler said looking for the missing pieces of a tiny tea set. She found them at the other end of the shelf. She also claims that the spirits will often play with a ball that she places in the middle of the floor. “After a few minutes you’ll all of a sudden see the ball roll across the floor. The floor is perfectly even so what would cause it to suddenly move?” she asks.

I’ve heard of dowsing rods before but always thought it was a bunch of bologna, a wooden stick that geriatric hippies use to find water outside their commune, so when Wheeler pulled hers out I was skeptical. First she explained to us how they worked with a demonstration. Much to my surprise the rods weren’t some shoddy tool. We examined them and realized that there really wasn’t a way that they could be manipulated by the one holding them. Shortly after she began one of her ghosts showed up and the rods began moving, not just a little but a lot. She asked questions and the ghost answered yes by turning the rods in and no by turning them out. She then passed the rods onto non-believers in the group who went on to have a similar experience.

Perhaps the room with the heaviest energy was on the third floor. The small room was once used as a place where psychiatric patients were locked up.

Just around the corner from the Art Center we found another house full of memories and spirits known as The Mackay Mansion which was built when Lincoln was president. While mining for gold Mackay just happened to strike the largest silver mine in the country. He was one of four who discovered what came to be called the Comstock Lode, and the first major silver mine in the country that really helped turn Virginia City into a boomtown.

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Octavio Cresta, the home’s current owner said Mackay often entertained guests at the house that included Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill, Al Jolson, Alexander Gram Bell and Rutherford B. Hayes. Tunnels beneath the house were used by miners who brought whatever silver or gold they mined that day directly into Mackay’s safe, which often had two million dollars worth of gold bullion in it at a time. Debbie Bender said she’s seen a woman a couple of times at the house who is believed to be the nanny of two children that died there. Occasionally the children, known as Tom and Emma will make an appearance but they’re shy.”

Cresta said that often times he’ll leave a book on its side the table and when he returns it’s standing up. For years people have repeatedly claimed to see orbs or have felt the presence of spirits in this house, and a lucky few were able to capture them on film.

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Because this area is so rich in history one doesn’t have to wait too long to have an interesting experience.

About a mile down the road, the Comstock Lode mine remains next to the Gold Hill Hotel & Saloon, which is the oldest hotel in the state. This place doesn’t just serve up gourmet food but plenty of ghost stories as well. Head waiter, Victor Kangas is no stranger to the unusual things that happen at the restaurant. One night after the restaurant had closed Kangas thought someone threw a glass across the room but when he looked there wasn’t anyone there. He also claims to have seen a little boy with a Buster Brown haircut on the stairs. Owner Clayton Mitchell said that various smells often permeate some of the guest rooms, one is a strong rose scent and the other is cigar smoke.

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Moods, feelings, vibes, call it what you will but like so many others I’m convinced there are definitely ghosts or some kind of energy in Virginia City. It was explained to us that it’s all about energy and how it vibrates differently on the other side.

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the author

Teri Borseti has been a professional freelance writer for over 20 years. Her byline has appeared in numerous publications including The Boston Globe, Boston Business Journal, Ocean Home Magazine, Ocean Style, EnRoute and many others. Travel writing has taken her all over the Caribbean. She is also the author of Memories of Maverick, a memoir about growing up in the East Boston Projects. You can read more of her work at beingteri.com.

  • Empathic Paranormal

    I can personally vouch for all of the above statements. I’am a tour guide at the Washoe Club and have been since the day they started in 2012. I have many personal experiences as I have been giving tours, and as a paranormal investigator on night time investigations. Many of the people who take the tour have had personal experiences as well. I have had small nails, pebbles, dirt clods thrown at people on the tours, disembodied voices telling us to “Get Out” and “Leave”, the sound of a small child giggling at us, the sensation of being touched, hair being stroked and pulled, shadow figures darting in and out of rooms, the sound of boots walking down hallways.
    I have personally seen a full bodied appearation on the second floor, a very strange looking shadow person running across the third floor platform and darting down the stairs.
    But…These things do not happen on que, It can be days before activity happens. There is no guarantee that people will have an experience on the tours, or even on an overnight stay/investigation.

    • Cynthia Jet Ne Yu.

      I am about to embark on a ‘Paranormal’ vacation and plan to visit your lovely town!! I am a medium and have done readings for over 20 years and I truly cant even begin to describe how excited I am. I do have a personal interest in the prostitute that was murdered. Well,hope to see you soon!!