I’m not entirely sure why it’s a favorite of mine, but for the past 40 years or so I’ve been in love with this place.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this place (okay, I admit that’s probably most of you) Virginia City is a long-abandoned silver mining town hidden away in the barren, inhospitable Nevada desert. Located 6,000 feet above sea level the summers are so blistering hot you can hear your brain frying with winters that are mind-numbingly cold.
At its peak, 150 years ago, there was gold and silver in every hill. The poorest of prospectors were turned into millionaires overnight, and it was considered the richest city in America. It was here in 1863 that a young reporter from the local Territorial Enterprise newspaper first used his pen name Mark Twain. Yes, this place was THE place to live – the New York City of the West Coast! I’m not making this up – I promise.
Now there’s just a few hardy residents who call this place home. During the summer, however, tourists flock the main street with its gimmicky shops – but that’s not the part of Virginia City I love.
It’s the cemetery that lies just outside of town that fascinates me. And even though the cemetery lies still, its decay frozen in time, I can still see hints of beauty everywhere I look. It’s these remnants of beauty that have survived 150 years of total neglect, in the harshest of conditions, that grip my imagination.
Despite this area’s harsh, dry and unforgiving conditions, creative pioneers in the 1870s figured out a way to transport water deep in the earth to various locations throughout the cemetery – all in an effort to water the gardens they had planted there.
In fact, these types of cemeteries (aptly named ‘Garden Cemeteries’) are considered the forerunners of today’s municipal parks, once considered places to go for a ‘meditative promenade’ – a place to enjoy nature.
As one resident of the time wrote, this cemetery had a ‘manicured landscape, laced with soft grasses, planted trees and flowers’. Manicured – this place?
A few months ago I spent the day wandering this massive cemetery in search of remnants of gardeners from the past and was amazed at what was still surviving.
Shrubs like this massive lilac bush that someone had planted years ago next to this grave site.
I’ve always wondered why this little child’s grave only has the words ‘Lucky’ engraved on it? Is it some sort of cryptic message, implying the child was lucky to have parted so early?
Upon exiting the cemetery, there’s an old piece of wood carved with this poem:
“Stop and read as you pass by,
As you are now, Once was I,
As I am now, you will be,
Prepare for death and follow me.”
Happy Halloween everyone!