July 22, 2022

Photo Essay: Where Gentlemen Millionaires Gathered & Gambled During Virginia City's 'Silver Seventies'

On the Saturday of my 4th of July weekend trip to Nevada, I had a couple of hours after getting back from my Fly Geyser tour and before the sun would set on Virginia City and the landmarks along its nationally-recognized historic district. 

I'd decided to make my visit to the Comstock Lode former boomtown as touristy as could be—including a stop at the supposedly haunted Washoe Club, where a ghostly woman in a Victorian blue dress reportedly occupies one of its windows on occasion. 

The Washoe Club's present location in the circa 1862 Douglass Building on C Street is actually its second—the first (on B Street, in the Reynolds Building) having been consumed by the infamous 1875 Virginia City fire (a.k.a. "The Great Fire"). 
Its present-day bar is considered Virginia City's oldest saloon (though, for decades starting in 1887, the drinkery downstairs was known as "the Crystal Bar").  

But while the drinks are tempting (I recommend the strawberry margarita), the real tourist draw is the tour of the "Millionaire's Club" quarters on the second floor—where the "who's who" of the silver mining bonanza would congregate amongst themselves, far away from the riff raff found elsewhere.
You used to be able to get to the exclusive club by climbing a spiral staircase...

...which is not only allegedly haunted by the ghost of a prostitute named Lena (who reportedly worked at an onsite brothel)...
...but has become a tourist attraction in its own right for having been built without a support pole. 

Unfortunately, that means it's not up to safety code and swings away from the wall too much for you to want to climb it. The uppermost portion has been blocked off—and no one's allowed on it anymore. 

Also underneath the former club headquarters is "The Crypt"—which, legend has it, was once used as a temporary morgue during the winter season, when the ground was too frozen to bury anybody.  

But that might be just a tall tale to sell ghost tour tickets. 
Some folks might recognize portions of the Washoe Club's upstairs, as it's been featured on multiple episodes of the paranormal investigation TV show Ghost Adventures.

It bears all the trappings of a "haunted" location, from peeling wallpaper... creepy baby strollers and carriages...

...but I was more interested in the history of the place, where "the elite gentlemen of the Comstock" would gather. 

The most important rule for gaining admission to this elite social club? 
You had to be a man. And a millionaire. 

Back then, especially at the peak of the silver mining bonanza during the "Silver Seventies" (a.k.a. the 1870s), there were plenty of millionaire gentlemen in Virginia City—a.k.a. "the richest place on earth." 

When the boom went bust, the Washoe's millionaires-only club closed in 1897. 

Since then, the spaces upstairs have been used for other purposes—some unsavory.  

The former ballroom was also once a doctor's office, where some patients died...
 ...including a 10-year-old little girl who'd been struck by a carriage in the street below. 
Other spaces have been left vacant for over 100 years, occasionally used for storage—and, of course, ghost tours. 
The former poker room is a popular stop...

...not only for the original table where some of the rich got richer...

...but also for the smell of cigar smoke that some guests claim to be able to detect. 

Our tour guide Justin regaled us with stories of his own sightings, as he asked us if we were brave enough to visit the third floor...

...where two people died in an accidental dynamite blast from next door...

...and where, in 1982, Washoe Club bartender Scotty committed suicide (by gunshot) after losing his son to a fall down an abandoned mine shaft. 
In addition to a music room and little girls' former bedrooms (presumably from the upper levels' rooming house days)...

...the third floor is also home of the "Red Room"...

...where paranormal investigators and guests have reported being grabbed or even scratched by unknown culprits...
...and where the door appears to be slammed shut from some unseen force on the inside of the room. 

Nevertheless, the Washoe Club is slowly restoring many of those rooms, even adding new but vintage-looking wallpaper. 

It's hard to find out anything about the Old Washoe Club that doesn't refer to it as one of the hauntedest places in the Comstock—or in Nevada—or in the Old West. But according to the book Weird "Haunted" Virginia City, the stories of hauntings don't seem to have become popular until new owners took over the building in 1991. 


That's OK by me, though. I don't really want contact with any ghosts. I'm afraid of hitchhikers. 
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1 comment:

  1. Oooooh - the Virginia City I never knew . . . thank you! 💙