Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Yellow Jacket Mine

In the 1800's, the large mines of the Comstock employed anywhere from 500 to 1000 men working in shifts around the clock to mine the precious ore. These mines were like ant colonies of underground activity. The men dug and blasted their way down into the earth, using forests of lumber to shore up the walls and work areas, called "cribs" with massive wooden beams and planks. The cribs were interconnected by miles of tunnels and wooden staircases, which in turn, interconnected the levels. Mines extended down hundreds of feet below the surface. Tons of dirt and ore were continually being moved through these pathways by means of chutes and winzes. Scores of wooden flues were constructed through out to dissipate the tremendous heat and to pipe in breathable air. The only light source came from candles or oil filled lanterns. It was a dangerous existence. Fire and cave-ins were a constant threat. Newly discovered ore veins needed to be blasted open and the wooden supports holding up the walls could buckle under the tremendous weight of the earth. One of the worst mine disasters of the Comstock happened on the morning of April 7, 1869; when a fire broke out in the Yellow Jacket Mine.

The fire started around the 800-foot level, near the line of the Kentuck Mine. It was supposed that a candle had been left burning too close to a supporting timber by one of the night shift. The fire was discovered around 7 a.m. by the oncoming day shift. The fire alarm was sounded but not before a number of men had already been lowered into the mine. The fire, once it took hold, roared through the shafts of the Yellow Jacket and the neighboring Kentuck and Crown Point Mines. The flames, along with the heat and smoke hindered rescue attempts, and an estimated 34 men lost their lives, although other accounts have put the number as high as 45. The fires continued to burn for months afterward; however, the miners went back to work in the mines 3 weeks later, such was the lure of gold.

Today, all that is left of the Yellow Jacket Mine is the incline chute and head frame. The wooden chutes leading down the hill once carried ore from the head frame at the shaft on top of the hill. At the bottom of the hill is the Miner's Cabin, which once served as a break shack for miners between shifts. It has become a part of the Gold Hill Hotel, and is nowadays rented out to guests.

Places where tragedies have occurred are said to be prime areas where residual hauntings can be found. It is thought that the high paranormal activity surrounding the Gold Hill Hotel can be directly related to that tragic fire of 1869. Is this true? Do the ill-fated miners remain at the scene of their death? Many visitors seem to think so. W.I.G.S. wanted to find out if the stories of the haunted Yellow Jacket Mine are true. And so, we returned to Gold Hill in April of this year - incidentally, the 140th anniversary of the fire- to investigate Miner's Cabin and the skeletal remains of the Yellow Jacket Mine.

Next: The Investigation

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Gold Hill Hotel, The Investigation - Part 2

The Oscar party was winding down when we made it back to the hotel. We met the resident cat who took it upon herself to act as our unofficial escort as we wandered around the outside of the hotel. We stopped for a quick peek into the the hotel bar. Every inch of the ceiling and walls of the bar is covered with dollar bills. Most of them decorated and signed by patrons, I imagine.

Around 10:00 pm, most of the party goers had gone, and things were quiet enough for us to begin our investigation. We turned on the camcorder and digital recorder in room 5, turned out the lights, closed the room, and went next door. While Paula turned on the camcorder in room 4, I once again did an EMF sweep. I didn't find any changes from earlier readings. We placed a K2 meter on the bed, we turned out the lights and began our EVP session. I took a few photos, none of which turned up any thing. Neither Paula or I got the impression of paranormal activity in this room. After about 50 minutes, we thanked "William" and moved on to room 4.

One thing we had immediately noticed after checking in, was that there is a significant slant to room 4. There is probably a 6" incline from the doorway to the foot of the bed. Upon inspection we saw that the head of the bed was blocked up by several 2x4s. Later that night, I kept jolting awake by a sensation of falling every time I rolled over, due to the trendelenburg position I was lying in. With the lights off, we experienced a slight sense of vertigo, especially when trying to take pictures, or walk around the room. We did not smell anything out of the ordinary, no scent of roses (other than the hotel soap), no sounds, no response to our questions, Paula thought she saw a shadow behind me near the top of the balcony door. We spend another 45 minutes in room 4 then decided to head on downstairs to the Great Room.

It was in the 2nd floor hallway when I first noticed the smell. Just a whiff of something. I looked at Paula, she gave no indication of anything out of the ordinary. Okay, so maybe that Indian taco she had eaten earlier combined with her dried fruit snacks were beginning to work their magic. Out of politeness, I shrugged it off. At the foot of the stairs headed down into the Great Room, I smelled it again. Oh great, I was going to have suffer through the rest of the evening while she contaminated my airspace with her silent gastric bombs.

After Paula set up a camcorder and digital recorder at one end of the Great Room, she did an ambient temperature reading of the entire room, while I did an EMF sweep. We began an EVP session, inviting any spirits to communicate with us, touch us, respond to our knocks, etc. I took a few photos, with nothing showing up. While Paula and I were wandering around the foot of the stairs, she suddenly spoke up, "I keep getting smelling something, smells like barbecue or something." She headed over to the entrance of the restaurant, sniffing around. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the Indian taco after all. As I stood there debating whether or not to tell her of my earlier suspicion, I suddenly got very chilled. Paula experienced the same thing when she walked back toward me. We checked the temperature readings, but by then the feeling had past. We sat down on one of the sofas and began another EVP session, but ended up just chatting. we called it quits around around 1:30 a.m.

We spent an uneventful night in our rooms, got up in the morning and headed home. Over the next week, we looked at the video, still photography, and audio recordings. We were able to debunk most of the light anomalies, and radio interferences from passing cars, along with some sounds that were just us chattering. We did capture one EVP that we could not explain, however. Toward the end of the night we were sitting on the sofa near the stairway. Paula had left a digital recorder running at the other end of the room. The recording picked up our muffled conversation from across the room and a single very clear word, closer to the recorder: "money". Paula uploaded a copy of the recording if you are interested in hearing it, go to: and click on videos. Paula has posted both the original and a cleaned up version.

All in all, it was a great trip. We learned a lot about investigating. There is still a lot we need to learn. We are headed back up to Gold Hill this weekend, we are going to be investigating the Miners Cabin. Jessie will be along with us on this trip. It should be fun. If we get up there before dusk, we plan on checking out the cemetery.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gold Hill Hotel - The Investigation, Part 1

Initially, we had planned for 2 teams to investigate the Gold Hill Hotel. However, the best laid plans have a way of unraveling, and as as the investigation drew close, Paula and I were the only ones able to go. I was a little concerned about having to cover all the areas in the hotel. As we were going to be short handed, I wanted to know what we should concentrate on: video, photography or audio, and if any areas in the hotel were more "active" than others. I was also having some anxiety on a personal level. As a Native American, my early training was to treat spirits in a respectful manner, and under no circumstances "call" them if you could not send them back. I wondered if that is what we would be doing if we were inviting them to speak with us. So, I emailed Scott Truelove of the Ghost Posse team.

Scott has a lot more experience than I do, has investigated the Gold Hill Hotel, and doesn't seem to mind answering my many questions on the subject of ghost hunting. Although I've never spoken to Scott face to face, I get the impression that he thinks in a very orderly manner, has a lot of common sense, and can cut directly to the chase; which is helpful to someone like me who has numerous strings of thought going at all times, and gets bogged down with minor details.

He gave me some good pointers on conducting our investigation. Based on what he said, I decided to concentrate my efforts on trying to capture EVP with my digital recorder and try to spend a some time in as many areas in the hotel as I could. W.I.G.S. decided not to investigate the Miner's Cabin, choosing to leave that for another trip. He also allayed my anxiety about disturbing something I should not. According to Scott, I would not be invoking any spirit to travel to my location, I would simply be asking any spirits already there to respond to my questions. Okay, so shored up by all this great advice, I was ready to begin.

I had booked rooms 4 and 5 for Sunday, February 22th. I was told by the hotel clerk that a local theater troupe were having an "Oscar" night party earlier in the evening but that things would quiet down around around 11pm or so. This worked out for us, as Paula had an earlier engagement that day, and we wouldn't be getting up to Gold Hill until late afternoon. I wasn't sure if there would be any stores open up in Virginia City later that night, so when Paula swung by to pick me up, I had her stop by Carls Jr. for a $6 burger. Paula was still full from the Indian taco she had consumed earlier, but she had brought dried fruit snacks and water for later.

The Oscar night party was just getting started when we arrived at the hotel. I saw that the women were outfitted in long gowns, and the men had on dark suits, string ties, long duster type jackets and cowboy hats. "Oh, look!" I says to Paula. "They've all dressed up in Old Western costumes for the event!" ...or so I thought. After spending some time wandering around Virginia City, observing the local denizens, I realized that they weren't dressed up in period costume at all, that this was their "Sunday best". Oh dear. Anyway we checked into our rooms, made a plan, unpacked the equipment and began the set up.

We decided to set up a tripod with camcorder in each room, which would record the entire time we were investigating. We took ambient temperature readings, did a EMF sweep of each room, noted the electrical outlets and layout. Our plan was to start in room 5, which is said to be haunted by "William", move to room 4 - "Rosie's" room, then the downstairs Great Room. Since the rooms were small and we don't have that much equipment to set up, this all was done pretty quickly. By now it was about 7:30, the party downstairs was in full swing, and we were feeling a bit hungry.

We headed into Virginia City only to discover that with the exception of a few bars, this little town rolls up the sidewalks after dark. I mean, the place was deserted. I could have walked down the street naked, and the only ones to see me would have been a couple of grizzled looking old guys, too drunk to know what they were looking at. We wandered into the Delta Saloon and looked at "The Suicide Table", a historic faro table in which 2 players had lost everything they owned on that particular table and committed suicide. I wondered if they simply died of embarrassment, considering that in faro, the odds are stacked against the house. The bar was the only thing that offered anything to eat, if you consider pickled eggs and hot sausages worthy of eating. I think I'd have to be pretty drunk. Maybe that why saloons are the only place you can find this particular fare. Paula and I decided that maybe our time would be better spent checking out future sites for investigation. We headed out in search of the Silver Terrace Cemetery.

The Silver Terrace Cemetery lies on the northeast side of C St. As the name implies, the cemetery is situated on several terraces. It is open to the public, but closes at dusk. Since we have heard that there has been reports of paranormal activity there, we were very interested in having a look around. It was very dark down by the cemetery, and we couldn't see much of it, however, we did notice that the gate was open. It was clearly posted that the cemetery was closed after dark, still...we were sorely tempted to ignore the sign and go in. After some debate - I imagined us having to explain to the local authorities about wanting to see ghosts, them thinking that a psychiatric evaluation might be in order before releasing us - we decided to resist the urge to sneak into the cemetery and headed on back to Gold Hill.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gold Hill Hotel: A History

There are so many places I would love to explore in and around the Comstock: the remains of Johntown, Silver City, and Sutro. In Virginia City: the Silver Terrace Cemetery, St. Mary's Art Center, The Old Washoe Club, the Delta Saloon, the Fourth Ward School, Mackay Mansion, to name a few. But since as my friends and I are relatively new at ghost hunting, we all agreed that the Gold Hill Hotel would be a good place to start.

Gold Hill is situated on a steep grade between Virginia City and Silver City, on Highway 342. The Gold Hill Hotel is the oldest hotel in Nevada, built some time before 1862. When the Comstock Lode was discovered in 1859, there was a frenzy to dig out as much gold as possible, and little attention was paid to where one slept. Men lived in tents, shacks, and holes dugout of the mountainside. When winter set in that year, many headed back into California. However, in 1860, the masses returned and the population of Gold Hill and nearby Virginia City exploded. Once it was determined how large the strike was, more permanent types of shelter was needed for the miners. Hotels and boarding houses were in big demand.

In 1861, Miss Louise Forster and Alfred Riesen formed a partnership to build and operate a hotel on land they jointly owned on the west side of Main Street. It was called the Riesen House. At the time there was already another hotel called the Gold Hill Hotel. The Riesen House encountered problems when melting snow and rains caused substantial structural damage and collapse. The main part of the building held up and repairs were made. This misfortune may have caused Forster and Riesen to dissolve their partnership, because by late 1862, Horace M. Vesey leased and operated the hotel with his son, Edward. The building was renamed Vesey's Exchange, then Vesey's Hotel and later, the Vesey House. Vesey ended his association with the building in 1867. It is uncertain who operated the hotel afterward, but it is known that the hotel was still in operation when Horace Vesey died in Reno on March 19, 1876. By this time the Comstock had begun its decline. According to insurance records, in 1890 the building was listed as the Capital Hotel.

By 1907, the building was used as a private residence, and little is known of its history until 1958 when the building was purchased by Dorothy and Fred Inmoor and operations resumed under the name Gold Hill Bar and Hotel. Bill Fain is the current owner of the Gold Hill Hotel. Fain renovated the building in 1986 and added more rooms.

Possibly due to its proximity to the ill fated Yellow Jacket Mine, the Gold Hill Hotel is reported to have quite a bit of paranormal activity. Although this activity has been reported throughout the hotel, 2 rooms are thought to be more haunted than the rest. Rooms number 4 and 5 are located in the oldest part of the building, directly above the bar and great room.

In room 4, the scent of rose water is thought to signal the presence of an entity known as Rosie. It is generally thought that Rosie may have been a former housekeeper. The scent has been experienced by both visitors and staff. A dark haired man sporting a mustache has been spotted on occasion in room 5, along with the smell of cigar smoke. He is referred to as William.

Besides these two apparitions, reports of odd smells, items moving on their own, sounds of moving furniture, footsteps and voices heard in empty hallways have all been reported throughout the rest of the hotel.

The history and reports of paranormal activity at the Gold Hill Hotel peaked my interest enough to go ahead and call up the Gold Hill Hotel to find out the availability of rooms 4 and 5. February being a slow season, there was no problems booking. I felt a little strange specifically requesting the most haunted rooms, but the hotel clerk was very friendly and helpful (she must get a lot of inquiries of this sort). W.I.G.S. was going to Gold Hill!

Next time: The investigation.