Committed to the Community

Photo by Anna Solano

For the grey line: Comstock Cemetery Foundation, P.O. Box 1172, Virginia City, NV, 89440, 847-0281, e-mail

As you drive the twisting road of Geiger Grade on the way into Virginia City, carefully look off to the left. At one point, you can catch a glimpse of Silver Terrace Cemeteries, nestled against the backdrop of the breathtaking Virginia Range. Once a retreat of beautiful gardens in the desert, Silver Terrace Cemeteries and another cemetery, Gold Hill Cemetery, were sanctuaries for reflection. The monuments were surrounded by lavish purple clover and draped with morning glories, as black locust trees provided shade for visitors.

But today, the scenery has changed. Erosion, vandalism and theft have left the cemeteries in ruins. Many gravesites are unmarked and in piles of rubble. Not only are they safety hazards, but they serve as disturbing reminders of the lack of respect that some people have for history.

The Comstock Cemetery Foundation was established last year to address the cemeteries’ need for restoration. The CCF hopes to restore the badly damaged sites.

Thousands of visitors come to the cemeteries, yet only $6,000 in funding was raised last year. CCF President Candace Wheeler says more than $3 million is needed to complete the cemetery restoration project.

“At this point, having people walking up here endangers the site,” Wheeler says. “Of the approximately 4,000 gravesites at Silver Terrace, only 1,300 are identifiable. This leaves many relatives looking for gravesites of family members with nothing [as clues].”

Ironically, the phrase “gone but not forgotten” is engraved in many of the decaying, vandalized granite headstones.

Help is needed to restore the Silver Terrace and the Gold Hill cemeteries to the dignity they deserve. Those who were laid to rest there are the souls who had the courage to live the dream out West. Many didn’t make it past their 30s, and infant mortality was extremely high. There are many stories to be told, yet the visible history is being lost.

Some people have taken a piece of the cemetery as a “souvenir,” not realizing the damage they were doing. Others, however, have knowingly dug up graves to steal items, even such things as the skulls of Civil War veterans. The CCF hopes to have some of these items returned, and to obtain pictures of the past so they can move ahead with plans to restore the cemeteries.

Several types of sponsorships are in place to help in the fund-raising efforts and to restore the gardens and the gravesites. Garden sponsorships are available for $30 to $100, and gravesite sponsorships run $300 to $1,500. However, any donation amount will benefit the restoration project.

With help from actors at Reno Little Theater and the donation of costumes from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, history will soon come alive during a living tour that will seek to re-create life and death in the Comstock of the 19th century. Tours will run Saturdays and Sundays from May 19 through June 10 at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets cost $20, and good walking shoes are recommended.