Virginia City and the Comstock Lode

The Ghost Town novels are set in and around Virginia City,  site of the great Nevada Silver Rush of the nineteenth century.

Birds eye view of Virginia City, Storey County, Nevada. Drawn by Augustus Koch. Lith. Britton, Rey & Co. Public Domain
Bird’s Eye View of Virginia City, 1875


Gold miners were already prospecting in the Virginia Range of the Sierra Nevada in the 1850s. But it was the discovery of the  silver Comstock Lode under Mount Davidson that sparked a mining rush to rival the great California Gold Rush of 1849. Thousands of prospectors flooded the area, and dozens of boom towns sprung up.

Virginia City soon claimed prominence as the Queen of the Comstock.  Its population swelled 4,000 in 1862 to over 15,000 one year later.  The city was on the forefront of many technological advancements – not only in the mining industry. The city boasted all the modern conveniences of sewer and gas lines. Electricity soon followed. The one hundred room International Hotel  was famous for its “rising room” – the first hydraulic elevator in the West. The city boasted multiple theatres and an opera house. Three daily newspapers competed for readers: it was as a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise that Samuel Clemens first used the pen name Mark Twain.

In the shadow of glittering Virginia City was Gold Hill, a lively working-class town, home many of the Irish and Cornish miners who worked the Comstock Lode. As both towns grew, they met in the middle, on a steep slope called the Divide.  At its height, Gold Hill had a population of 10,000, and its largest mines, the Yellow Jacket and Crown Point, brought in over $20 million in silver ore.

But the boom times couldn’t last forever. The Big Bonanza of 1873  was followed by the Great Fire of 1875, which destroyed most of Virginia City. No new lodes of significant size were found after 1878, and by 1880, the population declined rapidly.  Mining continued on a smaller scale, and new processing techniques were employed to sift through the lower-grade ore that had been previously discarded. But those who could left in search of better pastures. Those who remained fell into three categories: the stubborn, the desperate, and the dead.

Mining was a dangerous profession, and boom towns were rife with crime.  The history of the Comstock is filled with tales of violent deaths and restless spirits.  A prostitute named Rosie is said to haunt the Silver Queen Hotel after she slit her wrists in the bathtub of Room 11.  The Silver Terrace Cemetery’s gates swing open and closed of their own accord.  Cornish miners swore they heard Tommyknockers. diminutive tricksters living deep in the mines. Today, Virginia City is known as America’s Most Haunted Landmark.

Savage Mansion on D Street, c 1962 


When I started researching a setting for my concept of a paranormal western/romance/mystery,  the Comstock was the perfect fit.  In a town where every building has its own ghost, who would take any notice of the vampire working at the local marshal’s office?