Todays article comes from a trip to Virginia City Nevada, in search of cowboys and miners. Who knew we’d find a writer thrown into the mix.
We hope you enjoy “Twain and the Suicide Table”
Todays article comes from a trip to Virginia City Nevada, in search of cowboys and miners. Who knew we’d find a writer thrown into the mix.
We hope you enjoy “Twain and the Suicide Table”
“Twain and the Suicide Table”
By Brian Brecht
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.
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, noticing the ceiling mounted belt drive system that at one time powered many of the presses in this room.
It was engrossing and Tom and I found ourselves just standing in this space, reading and soaking up as much information as we could. What I expected to be an “in and out” kind of attraction grabbed ahold of us for an unexpected amount of time.
We came up from the basement, invigorated and renued that Virginia City had other hidden treasures to offer us.
And so it was with that excitement that we came across another “basement museum”, that of the Julia Bulette Red Light Museum. This one however didn’t play out as hoped. The building had just been taken over by, believe it or not, the Mustang Ranch restaurant. It seemed fitting that the Mustang Ranch would buy the building occupying the space of the Red Light Museum. In the end it seems we caught them a little early. Tonight was their opening night, and because of the chaos surrounding their start up, the museum was closed for the day. So from here, we kept walking until we found our next point of interest.
One of the more active and well-known locations in Virginia City is the Delta Saloon. Located at 18 South C St. the old tavern and casino still boasts the clanging chimes of the one arm bandits and a pronounced layer of cigarette smoke hanging from it’s ceiling.
Sitting in a far back corner, now roped off from modern use, the Suicide Table was originally a Faro table brought to the Delta somewhere in the 1860’s. The table gets it’s macabre name due to the claim that it is somehow responsible for the death of three of its previous owners.
The first casualty was its original owner, one “Black Jake”, who in one night lost $70,000 playing cards, and in the end, shot himself. The next victim is an unnamed second owner who was unable to pay his losses. The official record is unclear whether he killed himself or was done in by his creditors.
At this point the table was put away as no one would deal on it. In the late 1890s the table was converted into a Blackjack table and play once again resumed on it.
The legend claims, on a stormy night, a drunken miner walked in with a wild streak of luck. Everything the current owner had, $86,000, a team of horses, and an interest in a gold mine, all departed from the owner to the miner, and quietly the owner moved on to the next life.
Today the table sits in the Delta under protective glass. It’s seen little action in the passing decades, however there was a short lived game in the mid 1980’s when Jack Palance, actor and host of the TV series “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, dealt a few hands for the episode highlighting the tables doomed history. As far as I’m aware, Palance suffered no ill effects from the table (believe it or not).
The Delta exemplified what I felt about Virginia City. You can clearly see the cowboy town, hiding under the t-shirts, and tourist trinkets. And I couldn’t help but feel frustrated as what I wanted to see wasn’t modern life, but the old west we’ve read about. But that said, we stood in the middle of the Delta, took a deep breath (trying to not choke on the smoke), and through the clanging of the slots, or the blaring flat screens, you actually could find the history you’re looking for.
I realized, yes over the bar hang signs of beer specials and Jagemeister shots, but the fact is that there has been a bar in this spot since days when spurs jangled instead of slot machines made me smile. That the back stairs, instead of being “Employees Only”, probably saw various working girls move up and down them with various “Johns” in tow. That the beauty of Virginia City is that, yes you can get a t-shirt or a reproduction map of TV’s Ponderosa, but it really is a town from the old west. You just have to look past a few things to see it.
On the way out of town we made one last stop, that of the Silver Terrace or Gold Hill Cemetery.
I wanted to call this Boot Hill, as so many other western towns have done, but clearly this was a cemetery built from the hunt of gold and silver. It was surprising how far the sight stretched on, realizing it flowed down the far side of the hill and into the valley like a river of the past. There were a number of beautiful old tombs and head stones, but it was troubling to Tom and I the state of disrepair the site had fallen into. Even more, as we walked around, we found modern graves from families who must still be native to the area. Not only for its historic value, but also in seeing its continued use, we both felt a sense of sadness that time and vandalism has taken it’s toll.
It was a quiet end to a thrilling day. We had little knowledge that Twain would figure so prominently in this cowboy town, but it helped round out what we came here to find. Not just old west trinkets, but something of the real history that took place, those 150 years ago.
Tales from the old west have shaped this country and fascinated us from childhood. And from here on the west coast, it’s an inexpensive way to grab an adventure even just for a weekend. Virginia City has opened a door to other cowboy and mining sites, all within striking distance, and we’ve already ventured off in search of new destinations.
So as we continue to set our sights on future explorations, we felt it only fitting to finish this entry with a quote from Twain himself.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Continue to find your own adventures friends.
Over the summer, with busy family schedules, we found some time to explore one of our favorite pastimes, whisky.
Our latest Club Chair article, “Whisky: Novice or Not” highlights our whisky tasting event and exposing some of our friends and members to the joy of a wee dram.
“Whisky: Novice or Not”
By Brian K. Brecht and T. Dietz
As we plan each adventure, two things have become clear.
First, in the GAC, we want to enjoy our experiences with a wider range of devotees. And second….. we really like whisky. It is in fact how we finish each of our adventures.
Tom and I found our fondness for whisky over time, and we’ve both settled on what we like and don’t like. So as whisky drinkers, we wanted to share our enthusiasm with our GAC friends. We realized we had some members that had some, little or even no exposure to whisky at all. And in discussing how to share our fondness without prejudicing your intended audience, it led us to the idea of hosting our own whisky tasting event.
In order to give our guests the full range of characteristics to the spirit, we took a broad approach, choosing to not steer toward just single malts or whiskies from a particular region. Our goal was to not bias the experience so instead of a deep dive into scotch, or jumping on the current Bourbon bandwagon, we’d start with comparing all the variations to better understand why one differs from another. In fact the deeper we went into the subject; we found things that even we weren’t familiar with. That peaked our interest.
The impetuous for the evening came from a similar conversation with newly indoctrinated GAC member Yves Metraux. After my discussion wit Yves we decided this was to be Whisky(ey)…… whether you were a novice, or not.
After some deliberation we settled on four specific variants, Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, and Rye. From there we picked two varieties of each. We hoped to find similarities in candidates, but also examples that might highlight the wide range between the two selections. Why we didn’t include Canadian Whiskey I’m really not sure, but it just didn’t seem to ring true for us. No offense Canada.
Interestingly enough, though we were planning for only those four types, as guests arrived we wound up with (what we called), the extra credit table. Here were brought other representations such as another high-end highland Scotch, a Tennessee whiskey, and a Japanese whiskey. So to give you the full picture, our menu was cast as follows:
The MaCallan (Speyside) – 10-year fine oak
Adberg (Islay) – 10-year-old single malt
Jameson – 12-Year-old 1780
Tullamore Dew – 12-year-old reserve
High West Double Rye
Stronachie (Highland) – 12 year Single Malt
Gentleman Jack – Tennessee Whiskey
The Hakushu – 12 year single malt Japanese whiskey
From here it was all about planning the event and how we wanted to present our spirits. One of the first things we realized was that food would be a priority. Laying out our eight to twelve whiskeys, we realized we’d need a solid base for it all to sit on. We did something of a potluck but steered the courses to savory full flavor choices such as Tri-Tip, marinade peppers and olives, a ranges of heavy cheese and a mixed green salad in balsamic dressing.
We wanted to showcase all the variants at their finest. Again not wanting to slant toward any of the various brands, we pulled highlights and tasting notes from a variety of sources, and rolled them into tasting cards of our own so that it might entice our guests to each selection. We wanted them to find all the positive tastes, characteristics, flavors and aromas each had to offer.
Finally the glasses. We had hopes of each guest leaving with a souvenir Glencairn tasting glass, but at $10+ a piece that just wasn’t going to happen. In the end it was really about first exposure, so at my local liquor store, I found a great prepackage tasting kit that included small rocks glasses, tasting note cards and even maps of the various whisky regions. Getting a little pre-made prep didn’t hurt the experience.
For the purpose of this article, we won’t delve into the specific tastings of each bottle. There are plenty of sites that one can dig into the characteristics and subtle hints in each small dram. The purpose here is to highlight the idea that you don’t have to drink beer, wine or any spirit in any certain way. Our event was to bring like-minded friends together and explore something we each had different exposures to. For us this would be no rules whisky. If you like ice, then put it over ice, like it neat, that’s fine too. A little water, no problem, for us it was really finding what our guests would like and why. Taste, color, and of course the experience were all, vital to how we enjoyed the spirit.
All of us had different experiences with the various whiskeys. For myself, I found I still love Irish whiskey, and I still can’t drink Rye. Others found that specific Scotch they either love or hated. And some, found whiskey wasn’t their thing at all. But by the end of the evening, it became clear there were three bottles that were everyone’s favorite. For our event the general winners were The MaCallan, The Gentleman Jack, and The Tullamore Dew.
Here are some of the fun quotes I remember from that night.
Regarding the Ardbeg 12: Who served my drink in an ashtray?!
Regarding the Bulleit Rye: “It tastes like a red hot candy!”
Regarding the Hakushu: “They managed to make a whiskey that tastes like Japan”
Regarding whiskey in general: “Had a great night, but I think I’ll stick to wine……. and heroin.!”
Regarding the evening overall: “I would highly recommend the whisky tasting adventure. It goes well with a padded carpeted floor and no sharp objects.”
And finally: “I like both the scotch and the rye… Just not in the same room!”
In the end we knew we had a successful evening when all of us, now having experimented with all 12 variations, each grabbed a glass of our favorite and found ourselves laughing, joking, and sharing adventure stories in the back yard among the stars. This is indeed what we had a hoped, and aside from the wonderful benefits we find in this particular spirit, in the end, it was the camaraderie of friends that we found truly meaningful.
Until our next adventure,
The Adventurer’s Club
Continuing the hunt for all things GAC, we came across stories regarding “The Adventurer’s Club”, a themed nightclub in the Pleasure Island section of the Walt Disney World resort in Florida.
Set in the year 1937, the “Adventurer’s Club” was fashioned after a private venue for world explorers. The walls boasted trophies and photos from various explorations, and a cast of characters filtered through, interacting and entertaining club patrons.
The club and its fictitious backstory, was created by the incredibly talented team of Disney Imagineers. Opening in May of 1989 until December 31st of 2005, every night was New Years Eve, and the shows and conversations were fraught with innuendo and silliness.
Over the years the club created quite a following with former patrons and fans rallying behind petitions to keep the club open when Disney announced it’s closure during the revamping of the Pleasure Island resort.
No more would greetings of “Kungaloosh” be heard, or would club salutes be given. In the end, Disney closed the club, and it’s artifacts and relics were disbursed amongst other Disney attritions. Some of these have taken on cult like status and are sought after as if priceless artifacts themselves.
Scrolling through the old photos, it’s evident; plenty of folks like us look for the feeling of adventure and the age of exploration.
I’m sure we’d look for a less comical Disney flare, but nonetheless, a fun piece of adventuring history, even if it was all in jest.
As a final note, you can’ help but love the club motto:
“Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you, but always dress for the hunt!”