Twain and the Suicide Table

“Twain and the Suicide Table”

By Brian K. Brecht

Virgina City

We’ve spent a fare amount of time in the Lake Tahoe area, but it was a trip Tom suggested to Virginia City Nevada that brought us back to an original cowboy town.

We shot east from Tahoe and eventually crossing the border into Nevada. Any town or city you go to these days is reasonably modern or built up, regardless of it’s history. And then there’s Virginia City. This town has purposefully remained as much a cowboy town as you can and still remain functional in modern times.

For context, Virginia City is the location of the Comstock Load. The Comstock Load, discovered on June 8th 1859, was the first major discovery of silver in the United States. The discovery of the Comstock sparked a “silver rush” of prospectors and created an excitement as great as the gold rush in ’49. Mining camps and towns sprung up over night, eventually adding to the bustling centers of wealth in Nevada and San Francisco California.

During its time, the production coming from the site was so great; it altered world monetary standards and kept the United States solvent during the Civil War. It created the state of Nevada and made possible the two Senate votes needed to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (the law abolishing slavery).

The Comstock is notable not just for the immense fortunes it generated, but also for the

advances in mining and mining technology. Square-set timbering, invented by Phillip Deidesheimer in 1860, made possible the removal of large ore deposits at great depths. The square set timbers being set into an internal super-structure reinforcing the walls of the mine.

Because of it’s intent to remain something of its hey-day, I confess to being a bit shocked as we rounded the mountain pass and first set eyes on the modern Virginia City. It took only a few short moments to realize I was in for a treat. This was a town the likes of which we seek out when on an adventure such as this.

Virginia City is in many ways, as it was back in 1850’s & 60’s. Granted, what once might have been cowboy saloons or miner places of business, now sport t-shirts and “cowboy trinkets” as souvenirs and modern keepsakes.

Tom and I were willing to accept the modern trappings the town had put on, but it was those olden times we were in search of this day. Virginia City boasts number of different attractions, like the “Bucket of Blood Saloon”, or a working courthouse from days past. A number of different mining and silver baron sites are throughout the area. But there were a couple specific sites we set our minds to hit.

We found ourselves along “C” street, the main thoroughfare in the hillside town, but quickly realized we were probably on the far end of what we wanted to see. As we cross the street and headed the opposite direction, we found a small shop claiming jerky, which of course I had to stop in. Jerky has always been a prime requisite on any road trip or adventure.

I grabbed a small amount of regular and teriyaki, Tom taking away some of the ”Hot” version. I laughed my ass off as we were walking, Tom starting saying things like “wholly shit” and “Oh my god!”, watching sweat bead up from his brow. Having experienced numerous versions of jerky through out the country, I have to say this stuff started out like leather. Admittedly that’s probably how it truly tasted as far as texture back in the day. The flavor was fine, nothing out of the ordinary, but again the tough texture in some way made it seem more authentic. Seriously this stuff was like leather.

You could catch a glimpse of the old west in the architecture and historic building facades. But then the illusion would wash away amongst t-shirts and tourist traps. We spent our time hunting through a variety of shops, every once in a while finding something of interest or out of the ordinary. But there were two stops we found very enjoyable.

Mark Twain

Located at 53 South C Street, is what appears to be just another trinket clogged gift store. But along the left wall, and behind a very thin brass chain was a door marked Mark Twain museum. Ok lets be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Or perhaps, when I see the word, museum, I’m expecting something more. Something that didn’t require you going through post cards and key chains to find it.

Then again, it’s these kinds of things that make the best adventures.

Having paid our fee, the owner, or caretaker, walked over and opened the door to what clearly was going to be the basement. Oh boy, there was no way this was going to be good.

So for perspective, Samuel Clemens journeyed to Nevada in 1861, eventually coming to Virginia City in 1862, taking a job very early in his career with the local Territorial Enterprise newspaper. He spent roughly three years here and it was during his time in Virginia City when he took on the bi-line Mark Twain.

I’ve been through plenty of “museums” claiming to be the place where “this guy slept”, or so and so MIGHT have lived, or where such and such COULD have worked. This I have to admit was a surprise. We stepped into the building’s basement, which, during Twains time, was the printing room of the Territorial Enterprise. Undoubtedly there are a few items that likely didn’t always reside here. For example we passed what was labeled as Mark Twain’s actual writing desk. I think it’s unlikely the desk was always here in the basement,

but there was little doubt the large printing presses and set-up tables were anywhere else. It was really impressive to see these huge machines and to think about the work that had gone though them. Signs along the walls spoke of the large marble tables as the place where not only the men of the paper set type for each edition, but also took their meals and even slept when the next edition needed work late into the next morning. Even the mechanics held a deep fascination for Tom and I,