Distinct, heavy footsteps follow him up the steep 19th-century stairs. He can feel their anger as the stairs creak with both of their weights. A horrible, twisted feeling wrenches the pit of his stomach. He tries to escape around the sharp corner, but those heavy boots keep up. They follow two strides behind him in the dark as another pair of feet stomp in the next hallway over. He speeds past the rotting wood-slatted walls, but he can no longer find the stairs that he led tours up and down everyday. The footsteps walk past him, but there is no body accompanying them. He bolts down the hall, finally finding those elusive stairs.
Many visitors flood Virginia City, Nev. because of stories such as this one. A 40-minute drive from downtown Reno, up the mountain and around the bend, this old mining town pulls in about 1 million visitors per year, according to Patrick Gillmore, a tourism commissioner for Virginia City.
This ghost story belongs to Brett Robards, a tour guide at the Old Washoe Club. Those footsteps had followed him inside the Old Washoe club and he has had many other close encounters there.
“This is ground zero for the paranormal,” Robards said.
Some visitors are so spooked by the paranormal activity in the Old Washoe Club that Robards had to let them out of the tour.
Walking along “C” Street on the original wood-board sidewalks of Virginia City, tourists can listen to many employees’ stories of their experiences with the town’s previous inhabitants.
“The second day on the job, the bartender and I saw ‘someone’ walk by us,” said Veronica Mozley-Eisenbarth, a new employee at the Washoe Club.
“When I first started here, I was told about ‘Sally’ over in the restroom,” said Daniel Caravallo (also known as “Diamond Jim”), a docent who dresses in traditional western wear and works in the Visitor’s Center.
“Sally” used to play with her cat under the stairs where the bathroom is now located in the Visitor’s Center. Killed by a wagon after running into the busy street in pursuit of her cat, it is believed that she still comes back to play.
Caravallo had been using the restroom last summer when the locked towel cabinet door slammed open on its own.
“We think that this was her favorite place,” Caravallo said.
Although “C” Street was the center of the town’s gunfights, bar brawls and murders, spirits roam in almost every building.
One mile from the edge of “C” Street, the Gold Hill Hotel still operates as a full hotel with 19 rooms and a restaurant. Rooms four and five are known for their spirits “Rosie” and “William.” Bobby Bishop, the front desk hotel receptionist, said that four and five are the most requested rooms in the hotel.
“’Rosie’s’” room smells like rose water perfume,” Bishop said. “’William’s’ room smells of cigar smoke.”
No one sprays the rooms with any scents and none of the other rooms have a distinct smell.
Bishop said that two lovers who had frequented the hotel could be the spirits haunting rooms four and five. “William” was killed in an ambush and “Rosie” died in her old age in a retirement home.
“They liked it here, they came back,” Bishop said. “This is where they had the most fun in their lives.”
Virginia City locals even share their homes with the spirits of past residents.
Caravallo said that one day while doing the dishes he felt a finger poke him in the back. Janet Jones, the town psychic, said that “Anetta” lives in Caravallo’s home and that her favorite color is yellow.
Caravallo was wearing a yellow shirt the day he was poked.
The town’s architecture, events, shopping and history hold appeal for those who don’t believe in the supernatural. Mackay Mansion was home to John Mackay, a self-made millionaire and mine owner. The home’s original furnishings and decorations are an excellent reminder of the town’s peak during the Comstock silver strike in the late 1800s.
J.P. Horgan, tour guide for the Mackay Mansion and performance poet, said that he has not experienced any supernatural activities in the house.
Although devoid of spirits, this house offers visitors a view of the past.
Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and Ulysses S. Grant all sat around the nine-leaf dining room table to eat food served on the Tiffany silver and porcelain china. The table, Tiffany silver and china are all still used today for dinner parties and events at the Mackay Mansion.
Virginia City provides a draw for everyone, no matter what his or her interests may be, but it is the spirits of the dead that attract many of the living.
Rather than paying for a scary movie or walking through a “haunted” house in an amusement park, many tourists come here to satisfy their need to feel scared.
“It’s more real,” Gillmore said. “You’re in an old building standing on old wood floors and staring at the old, peeling wallpaper. It’s three-dimensional. Movies aren’t. TV shows aren’t.”