The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Note: Photographs were all shot in color. Many of the photos shown in this post were edited for color effects or in monochrome.

The name of the place is Silver Terrace Cemeteries. It’s located on a section of rolling hills on the northeast corner of Virginia City. As you head north out of town just before C street turns into Highway 341, a winding two-lane road that was carved through the rugged, rocky hills you wouldn’t even know there’s a cemetery but for the almost nondescript green sign that points to the right: CEMETERY.

Silver Terrace; seems almost a misnomer to me. It’s hardly terraced, more like undulating hills weaved together by foot paths. The silver part? That’s easy. Virginia City exists because of the precious metal discovered in this area in 1858 and again in 1873. But for silver Virginia city wouldn’t have dotted the map.

Still Silver Terrace sounds more like a retirement home; the place where you bide your final time above ground. “Make an appointment to see Silver Terrace Retirement Community today. Our amenities include a pet friendly environment, a fitness center, self-improvement classes, shuttle services and landscaped outdoor courtyards with fountains and gazebos.” In a perverse sort of way Silver Terrace Cemetery is a retirement home; the last one. Nowhere to go from here.

Contrary to what the green sign tells you Silver Terrace is known by the plural rather than the singular. Silver Terrace is a collection of cemeteries, each occupying a section of the rolling hills and each dedicated to a particular civic, fraternal or religious group; Masons, West Coast Pioneers, Knights of Pythias, Improved Order of Redmen, Firefighters, Roman Catholic and the city and county.

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Entryway to the Catholic cemetery

Cemeteries aren’t cemeteries anymore. They’re called memorial parks; sprawling gardens with groomed lawns and quiet, cooling, shady groves of trees, decorated with brilliantly colored flowers all overlooking a scenic vista.

Take a walk through Virginia City’s Silver Terrace and the term “memorial park” only grudgingly comes to mind. No manicured lawns here. Mostly clumps of sagebrush clinging to the rough, rocky earth. While there is a smattering of trees and shrubs there are no cooling groves that one associates with a park. Every now and then you run into the bleached skeletons of what once were trees. IMG_2169

The skeleton of a long dead tree lies on the rocky ground. In the background are fenced in gravesites. Above in monochrome. Below as shot. 

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It wasn’t always like this. When the cemetery opened for its grim business in 1867 the miners and townspeople envisioned and then created a lush park. Locust and Elm trees lined the paths. Flowers and shrubs added color. A gravity driven irrigation system fed purple and white clover. Clean white picket fences partitioned the different sections of the cemetery.

Time passes and nature takes over as the gardener. Nature has her own design. Sections of Silver Terrace have adopted the landscaping of the surrounding hills. Purples and whites have been replaced by the yellow of blooming sagebrush. While trees and shrubs remain they mottle the land in the haphazard manner demanded by nature. Wide paths still connect the different cemeteries but they are now webbed by the tributaries of little informal footpaths caused by the trickling of foot traffic. Most of the remaining picket fencing is in disrepair. It may have once been a park but it’s now a graveyard. Time and vandalism have taken their toll on the grave sites and markers.

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A panorama shows the far reaches of Silver Terraces

But for some manicured sections, this is indeed a graveyard or as many old west cemeteries were once called, it’s Boot Hill, a place where men died “with their boots on.” Many sections of Silver Terrace are a hardscrabble boneyard inhabited by the spirits of people who lived a hardscrabble life. To call this a memorial park does a disservice to the hardy men, women and children who settled here. In life they lived hard and in death they repose in the hard land.

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The choked gravesite of Maria Boelen. Above as shot and below in monochrome.

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Still, the view isn’t bad. Look towards the town and you see the twin spires of the two churches, Saint Mary in the Mountains and Saint Paul the Prospector. Just uphill from the churches is the town itself, all of it under the gaze of Mount Davidson. Southeast are the rolling hills of the Virginia Range, dry, yes, but ruggedly beautiful in their coarse desolation. Craggy bluffs look down from the northwest. If you look directly south you see the reason for Virginia City’s existence, the Chollar Mine, one of the many mines that perforate the surrounding countryside.IMG_1913

Above, a view of the twin spires of St. Peter’s Church on the left and St. Mary’s on the right. In the foreground is the familiar fencing surrounding a gravesite. Below a closer view of the churches from the cemetery.

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In perfect health I left my home,
Not thinking that my race was run
But as flowers grow so they decay
And sudden death snatched me away

Above: John Schollar, born in 1847 in Cornwall, England came to America during the 1860’s with his parents. They settled in the Carson City area, 16 miles or so south of Virginia City. In 1875 he moved to Virginia City. He worked in a law office for a time and did a stint as deputy sheriff. He contracted a fever that worsened into pneumonia. Since he had served as a member of Nevada’s state militia, the Washington Guard, John was buried with full military honors.

Below: Lavinia Lannen, a spiritualist held spiritual circles at the family home for nine years. Her husband John operated a furniture store on B Street. A local newspaper reported that she suffered from “dropsy” an old fashioned term for edema. She died in 1888 apparently of heart failure. The Lannen graves are located in the Catholic Cemetery.

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 “Death is but a kindly frost that cracks the shell and leaves the kernel room to germinate.”

Mining the Comstock was particularly hazardous, even by standards of the day. There were the usual hazards of cave-ins, fires and explosions. Added to those was the danger of flooding from waters that reached scalding temperatures.

James Prout (gravesite not shown) died in a mining accident at the 2000 foot level. A subsequent inquiry into his death cost 18 dollars. 

Below: James C. Fay was born in Cornwall England in 1850. He came to America in the late 1860’s, settling in Virginia City Nevada were he worked the Gould & Curry Mine.
He was killed in a cave in at age 23. His body and that of another miner were never recovered so the stone is in his memory only. IMG_2154-2
Life in Virginia City was fraught with the dangers of life in a frontier mining town. Charlotte Kruffschnitt (gravesite not shown) died from head injuries suffered in a stagecoach accident.

Ernest Warren (gravesite not shown) died in 1893 after an overdose of morphine. Doctors worked for 4 hours to save him. Warren’s grocery store still remains as the Del Rio cafe. 

Harriet James  (gravesite not shown) wanted desperately for her husband to give up wrestling. Apparently appeals to her husband were for naught. She was buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery after having killed herself with strychnine.  

Helen Milne came from Bayview, Massachusetts. At the age of 19 she married John Hampton. In the late 1860’s the couple moved to Virginia City where John opened a business. They died in 1888 in a shipping accident in San Francisco Bay. Two vessels, the “Oceanic” and the “City of Chester” were sailing in heavy fog off of Alcatraz when the ships collided. They were survived by their son Clay and daughter Helen. Helen and John’s misfortunes began shortly after their arrival in Virginia City. The couple lost two sons Franc age 14 months and Wallie age 2 years, 11 months. The gravestone of the two young boys is to the right of their parents’. IMG_1904

During the 1980’s the Virginia City Volunteer Fire Department embarked on a restoration of the firemen’s section of Silver Terraces. Iron fences were repaired and grave markers were refurbished in anticipation of a rededication as part of the 1984 firemen’s muster.

Below: George Hanbridge hailed from New York and spent time as Chief of the Virginia City Fire Department. He broke his neck in a fall at the Virginia City Gas Works. He was survived by his wife and children. IMG_1953

Below: William Mullen was a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department before moving to Virginia City where he worked as a bartender before passing away as the result of a stroke. During the Virginia City renovation project, the San Francisco Fire Department was informed of Mullen’s gravesite and asked, would you “like to take care of one of your own?” San Francisco stepped up, hiring a craftsman to provide a new grave marker.  To repair the fencing around the gravesite San Francisco firefighter, Bill O’Neil donated the wrought iron fencing from his own home. The fence was cut and welded to fit the dimensions of Mullen’s gravesite, the only site to feature California grapes in the fence pattern.

As with many a cemetery, Silver Terraces houses the remains of veterans.

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Captain Kirby was born in New York and later made his way to Ohio where he joined the 19th Ohio Infantry. At some point in his life he became a doctor. He died in Virginia City.

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James Parks served with the 83rd New York Infantry. According to the 83rd’s regimental history Parks likely saw action at Gettysburg.

Below: Private Cecil Loughran, a veteran of the Spanish-American War served in Cuba. He died shortly after. The local newspaper The Territorial Enterprise reported,  Cecil Loughran, who was injured at National Guard Hall on January 19th by falling from a horizontal bar, died as a result of his injuries yesterday about 11 o’clock.
Since receiving his injuries he has suffered great pain and his body has been paralyzed. From the first the doctors in attendance have had no hope of his recovery and death came as a relief. No young man in this city had more friends then the deceased, as he was possessed of a happy disposition and was generous to a fault. He was always ready to share whatever he possessed with his companions. During the Spanish War he enlisted in the Nevada Battalion and was honorably discharged when that organization was disbanded.
The deceased was a native of this city, 19 years of age, and leaves a mother and two brothers in this city to mourn his loss.IMG_1956

It was silver that opened up the lands of Storey County, Nevada. Silver attracted the legendary rugged individuals who chose to trade their homes and what they knew for the elusive chance for riches and the certainty of finding uncertainty. Only a few struck it rich. The others left disappointed or opted for the opportunities that came with the new town that was growing on the barren mountainside. They were followed by the ranks of immigrants; men, women and their children who had no interest in the ore itself. They tied their successes to the miners, not the mines. It was they who would build the town and provide the goods and services. And they came from all corners. A reading of the gravestones reveals that the lure of silver and all that came with it brought people from across the continent and across the oceans.

J.S. Pidge came from Rhode Island and opened a saloon. His tavern was damaged by the fire of 1875. The property was insured for 4000 dollars. Seven years after the fire, Mr. Pidge passed away. IMG_1958

Peter G. King hailed from Pennsylvania. During the Civil War he served with Company E of 2nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. It’s likely that he saw no action beyond a skirmish at Hoke’s Run against Stonewall Jackson’s men in what is now West Virginia. After the war he married Katie Popp and opened a clothing store. In 1868, accompanied by Katie, Peter moved to Virginia City where he opened Kings Clothing Store on C Street. He was 46 when he succumbed to cancer. His wife passed away 10 years later.  The symbol on Peter’s gravestone identifies him as a Freemason.

Below is the memorial to Matthew Crowley, located in the Catholic Cemetery.  A native of County Cork, Ireland. Matthew and his wife Hannah would lose their only son Aloysius who died on July 17, 1872 from a rattlesnake bite. IMG_1985

One wonders what Peter Marioni thought of his new home when he immigrated from Switzerland. IMG_1989

Eugene Monaghan immigrated from his birthplace of Louth Co. Ireland in the late 1850’s with his friend Anthony Adams. Eugene died in a mining accident in the Ophir Mine. Six months later his friend Anthony died in the same mine. Both from Ireland and both facing the certainty of uncertainty in a wild new land.IMG_1991-2

Silver Terrace is a fascinating step back to the days of the western frontier. For me it was the highlight of a two day stop in the little mining town.

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17 thoughts on “Cities of the Dead: Silver Terrace Cemeteries, Virginia City, Nevada. Part I

  1. Nice photos again Paulie. Those old grave stones and cemeteries hold so many untold stories.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much. It took some digging to find the bits and pieces of stories that I was able to write about. They aren’t just names on tablets. The stories behind those names reveal the times that they lived in.

  2. KDKH says:

    Such tragic stories, I but losing a child to snakebite makes me shudder.

    1. Paulie says:

      The cemeteries in New Orleans and Virginia City are filled with the gravestones of children. New Orleans because of yellow fever and Virginia City I would imagine because it was such a solitary and rough town.

      1. KDKH says:

        Having grown up in rattlesnake country, I can probably over-relate to the Virginia City folks. Where is Virginia city? California or Nevada?

      2. Paulie says:

        Virginia City is in Nevada about 40 miles from the California border at Lake Tahoe.

      3. KDKH says:

        Ahhhh. Thank you! That helps.

  3. Irene says:

    Interesting stories and fantastic photos. The feeling in monochrome works so well. 😊

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Irene. I was actually surprised at some of the detail that I could come up with in a relatively short time frame. Thankfully I’m retired

      1. Irene says:

        Well done! Those details added even more interest to the pics. 😊

  4. gifted50 says:

    Very detailed research on your work here, plus the black and white contrast gives added depth to the pics and the stories.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you for your kind words and for visiting. The research wasn’t always easy but it was definitely worthwhile.

  5. M.B. Henry says:

    Incredible! Boy I’d love to take a walk through there. Excellent photos, thanks for sharing them with us

    1. Paulie says:

      Knowing your interest in history I’ve no doubt you would love it. The local historical society runs tours with docents in period costume playing the parts of some of the deceased.

      1. M.B. Henry says:

        Awww that would be awesome! They do something similar with the Hollywood Forever cemetery here in LA. It’s really cool.

  6. Amy says:

    Thank you, Paulie for sharing these stories and highlights of your trip. Cemeteries are difficult to photograph. These are great captures.

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you Amy. And thank you for visiting

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