Virginia City Museums
Keeping the History Alive Through Virginia City Museums
Virginia City's history is widely celebrated with a multitude of museums featuring Mark Twain's writing, the years of radio inspired by a bonanza king and telecom giant John Mackay, the critical importance of police and fire, the connection with famous Madame Julia Bulette and the role of a Civil War general.
At the top of the list as a must see, the "Way It Was Museum" takes visitors back in time to show how things that mattered in life worked for Virginia City. A few steps in the museum and you can see the works of milling and mining with old Cornish pumps. Also check out costumed mannequins, mineral collections, a fully-equipped blacksmith shop, rare photographs and information on the Sutro tunnel mule train. The tunnel, created by San Francisco investor Adolph Sutro in 1869, was designed to ventilate the mines, drain water and provide escape for miners.
A literal treasure chest in the world of radio, the Western Historic Radio Museum boasts antique radios and memorabilia from 1910 to 1955. The museum is in many ways a tribute to telecommunications magnate John Mackay, who is considered to be one of the top four mining investors of the Comstock era along with James Fair, Jack O'Brien and James Flood. His Consolidated Virginia Mine is known to have produced the largest silver ore deposit of the time. The mine of the "Big Bonanza" of 1873 is joined by the Ophir, Gould and Curry mines, which resulted in $300 million. Today the haul would be worth billions of dollars.
Miners, millers, firemen and other men - who greatly outnumbered the women in the Comstock period - were serviced well by one of Virginia City's famous residents, Madame Julia Bulette. With that, the Julia C. Bulette Red Light Museum highlights the life and times of this extraordinary woman, who cared for the sick in their time of need. A vigilante group saw to the hanging of the man who reportedly murdered her for her jewels.
Keeping the peace may have proven tough for those of law enforcement in the Wild West. For that, the Silver State National Peace Officers Museum was installed in the 1876 Storey County Jail of the historic courthouse on B Street as a way of honoring the men in blue. Inside, the museum features local and state exhibits including the death mask worn by notorious criminal John Dillinger.
Public safety was tested during the Comstock time and time again – including the Great Fire of 1875, which leveled much of the town. Visitors can get a glimpse of the contributions from the men who fought them by checking out the Comstock Firemen's Museum. The volunteer firemen of the Virginia City area were members of a system dating back to the first American Fire Co. organized by Benjamin Franklin.
One of the literary world's famous residents shows his connection with his historic past at the Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise, the most notable of the 17 newspapers published in the 22 towns of the Comstock starting at 1860. The Enterprise covered the Virginia City region's news and is known for being Twain's first employer. The museum on C Street has his desk on display. Perhaps his creativity will rub off.
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