Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Ghost (Literally??) Town Of Goldfield, Nevada

Goldfield, Nevada lies on Highway 95 between Beatty and Tonopah, Nevada; it's about 40 miles south of Tonopah. Technically, it's not a "pure" ghost town because there are still a few residents and it is the county seat of Esmeralda County, Nevada. However, there is no grocery store and the only gasoline station was boarded-up and closed when I last visited in 2003. A small visitor's center staffed by volunteers is sometimes open and sells soft drinks, and there is a bar that is open at various times. There are also a couple of antique stores, but otherwise no services are available to visitors. Goldfield is at an elevation of 5689 feet and it gets cold there in winter; during an April, 2003 visit I got caught in a brief snowstorm.

Goldfield sprang to life in 1902 with the discovery of large gold deposits in the area; it quickly became the largest producer of gold in the United States. By 1906, Goldfield had a population of over 30,000 and was the largest city in Nevada. Because of its gold wealth, Goldfield soon had a central business district built from brick, granite, and other substantial materials. Many of these buildings still stand.

Wyatt and Virgil Earp arrived in Goldfield in 1904 from Tombstone, Arizona; Virgil became a deputy sheriff while Wyatt worked as a pit boss at a local casino. On Labor Day in 1906, Tex Rickard----a local mine owner who later managed Jack Dempsey----staged a fight for the world lightweight title between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson in Goldfield. The fight lasted for 42 rounds, with Gans winning before over 20,000 spectators, many of whom had traveled from San Francisco by train. The Goldfield Hotel opened in 1908 and at the time was the largest (and arguably finest) hotel between Denver and San Francisco; in that year, Theodore Roosevelt stayed there and gave a speech to a large crowd from its second floor balcony.

But production at Goldfield's mines began to drop in 1910 and by 1920 Goldfield's population had dropped to about 1000. In 1923, a large fire destroyed most of the wooden structures in town, and the last mines ceased operation around 1930. There was a brief revival during World War II due to the Army Air Force flight school in Tonopah-----the Goldfield Hotel was used to house trainees then-----but after the war the only "business" left was the Esmeralda County government. The population today is about 400, almost all of them county employees and their families.

The street scenes in Goldfield are striking, with several large, well-preserved, but utterly abandoned brick buildings still standing. They are impressive testimony to what a large, vital city it once was:

While the brick or stone structures of the buildings are still intact, the wooden doors, floors, windows, etc., are in a state of serious disrepair. As a result, almost all of the buildings are closed to visitors because of the possibility of injury. That's a shame, because I really wanted to poke around inside them, like the old high school below:

The side streets of Goldfield are filled with abandoned buildings, like the scene below. The sound of Esmeralda County deputy sheriffs' vehicles entering and leaving the courthouse are about the only signs of life on a weekday afternoon:

Many people who live in isolated areas of the American Southwest seem to have quirky artistic sensibilities, and the good people of Goldfield are no exception. Below is a bit of "street art" I photographed. Mobile homes, like the one in the background, are apparently the housing mode of choice for contemporary Goldfieldians:

The most prominent remaining structure in Goldfield is the Goldfield Hotel; the front is shown below. As you drive toward Goldfield on Highway 95, this hotel is the first structure you see looming in the distance:

I was inspired to write about Goldfield today because of a program I saw on the SciFi Channel last night titled Ghost Hunters. You see, the Goldfield Hotel is supposedly on the most haunted places in the United States. (Heck, it even terrifies dogs.)

I have stopped in Goldfield about six times, and each time I have stopped by the Goldfield Hotel. It is a delightful structure, and I have enjoyed looking through the windows at the marvelous carved woodwork, the ancient wallpaper, the grand old Otis elevator in the lobby, the sprawling dining room with its elaborate lighting fixtures, etc.. . . . . . . . but I am sad to say I have never seen anything resembling an apparition. Nor have I seen floating glowing balls of lights, heard ghostly voices, or otherwise encountered anything that wasn't everyday and mundane. Maybe I should've tried visiting at night. Back in 2001, the then-owners of the Goldfield Hotel were offering all-night tours on Halloween for $25 a person. I couldn't work that out with my schedule, and now I wish I had.

I wasn't convinced by the evidence presented on Ghost Hunters last night, but I'll let you be the judge of whether the hotel is haunted. What I am sure of, however, is that Goldfield is a fascinating ghost town that's well worth the trip from Las Vegas or Reno.