Mark Twain Visits Famous Virginia City

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A fictional story about Mark Twain returning to today's Virginia City


By John Ross Hart


I walked back into old Virginia by the same road traveled in life.The hills looked as forbidding and certainly more wasted than what I recall.The city was still there, if you wanted to call it that, on the side of the same mountain, taking in the sun. Most of the citizens were gone and most of the buildings with it.A few landmarks remained.St. Mary's and St. Paul's were still standing stoically, as symbols that eternity goes on even if life does not.

In my day, I remembered a busy place;miners working by day, wasting themselves by night.I tried my luck at such life and if you have looked me up you will recall my lack of fondness for the profession.That $25 a week the Daily Territorial Enterprise paid me was pretty darn good despite my feelings of guilt at the time.

Now look at the Enterprise."Where Mark Twain got his start!"I always thought it started in 1835, far from Virginia, in Florida, which is in Missouri.I was born in a town named for a state that was already in a state.Then I came here to another state within a state.Believe me, old Virginia was truly a state of either hope or hopelessness, winners and losers, nothing in-between.At least, nothing worth printing.

I see the old desk is still there.People get suckered into coming down to see it. Dan DeQuille wrote a good story.That was not his real name, either.But he was the best danged reporter west of the Mississippi.Lucius Beebe. Now there's a writer for you.The man appreciated the good things in life.He also respected my times.I look at C Street and watch Ford's prodigious invention passing me by, leaving me coughing and not wanting to risk a crossing.

C Street used to be an avenue of character, not to mention a cast of characters.The Washoe Club is still here.The club is quiet now which is what happens to places that survive long enough to become tourist attractions.Common folk come walking in here looking for stories.They do their "oohs" and "ahhs" when reading about the legends that used to come here.I used to walk into a saloon and fill up a notebook in minutes, whether it was fit to read or not.Some of my best stories came out of places like the "Washoe" and the "Delta Saloon."With a drunk and an imagination, a writer can create just about anything.It was never below me to buy a round, or two.I did say necessity is the mother of "taking chances," especially when you have a deadline and two columns to fill.

At the Delta they have the Suicide Table.I should have stayed around.I remember when a low-life named Black Jake lost $70,000 in a short night then decided to call it quits with a small revolver.I never conjectured to see the likes again.The sign above says two others were just as unlucky, losing everything they owned but their guns, which they proceeded to use to end the cycle.I could have made a big story out of this.These poor souls had enough bad luck.Even old Henry Comstock lost everything but his name on the lode, and that was sold.

I walked past Mackay's Mansion.He was a lucky one, old John Mackay.The same could be said about Fair, Flood, and O'Brien;farsighted, shrewd, high-stakes gamblers.They never played the faro wheel.I can attest that fact alone made them a different breed.The Consolidated Virginia set them up for life.They invested well.Sutro and Deidesheimer.Smart men. Bright ideas.Both men knew how to handle a buck.Wish I could have done the same.I found myself one rung above Eilley Bowers.On the other hand, she never went on tour, except to buy lavishly.She really lost herself after Sandy died.Everything comes at a price, and there is a price to pay.I could have paid attention.

Down the road I hear the whistle of a train.Nice to know the V & T is still in business.  Do you think Sharon and Mills profited nicely from hauling off all this bounty we once had here?I see passenger cars full of people rolling down the line, none of whom appear to be rich, powerful, or of any great notoriety.One thing that hasn't changed on the Virginia and Truckee, they haul great numbers, be it silver bullion or silver in a Levi pants pocket.Old Levi Strauss was a smart man.He never came here, but his pants did.

I passed by the site where Julia Bulette is buried.She was no saint, considering her livlihood, but still a sweetheart, which was possible in the glory days of Virginia.Most of my stories wound up at Boot Hill, which probably has more folks now than the living town.People were always coming and going in the old Virginia.They would show up full of life, would either strike it rich or strike it poor, then just as quickly would leave, either running down Six Mile Canyon or lying six feet underground.

The chief editor suggested we all carry revolvers.For all the violence worked up in our fair city, I never saw the need.I should have.That is the reason I had to leave.A reader unimpressed.He could have used his fists.I never made it a point to walk the back alleys, but on a couple of occasions I found myself lying there, looking and feeling hung over, though I was not.Up on the hill, Lady Justice kept her eyes open.She was following my moves as well.

I walked the streets past Piper's Opera House.Looks better than it used to.A lot of these buildings do.I always felt there was a lot of smoke blown around here, but I did not stay long enough to see the fire.I am sure the populace finally found the sense to better fireproof the place.Even the third little pig knew better by using brick.

As for Piper's, this is strictly a place for a straight story.It is impossible to print something off-key from here.When the big boys showed up, they were always showing off their best behaviors.If Emma Nevada came through and sounded good, I could only say that she sounded good.One does not make up a great talent.She had already done that for me.

I always wrote plain stories;simple language, short words, brief sentences.I was never shy about sharing my world travels, and the words to prove it.That was my style.Excuse my exaggeration, but if I had been dependent on just facts, I would have starved.  Some of my stories were just that.I killed off many a transient in the desert.The way I figured it, Virginia had enough business anyway.

Continuing my walk, I saw candy shops, craft shops, old-time photo shops, and places that puts your name in the headlines."Mark Twain Revisits Famous Virginia City."I sit on a bench and watch what passes as the world pass me by.Instead of boiled shirts, I see a tee-shirt saying "AREA 51" with some weird-looking creature.I cannot help but wonder about this place once called home.Kids run down the boardwalk with mouths full of fudge.I remember seeing a poor gambler in debt running for his life, but stumbling, not from eating great amounts of sugar, but drinking high contents of alcohol.

Passing the "Silver Queen," I see a man in shorts playing the slots.Let me see him do that come January.I have been given credit as saying the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.Not exactly my words.Got it from a friend whose name I do not recall.We were drinking in a saloon there, trying to keep warm.I could not argue with him but somehow through the years the phrase has been credited to me.I accept.Next to San Francisco, Virginia winters will chill you to the bone.I have never been to Alaska.I never needed to. The Arctic winds are right here, blowing off that mountain, whistling through those canyons.It is just too cold to go anywhere, except one of the watering holes, and most of them are gone.How can a newspaperman make a living in this Virginia that still has the audacity to call itself a city?

Today's Virginia has camel races.Now that is something relative to my day.  We had our bull and bear fights, our boxing matches, not to mention our duels of honor and bang-bang rages of jealousy.Jumping frogs certainly were amusing entertainment for a miner who couldn't mine or even mind his own business.I will admit that just seeing these gangly creatures is laughter in itself, made funnier only when they run. For a moment, I feel right at home.

I took one last walk around town.I kept seeing myself in reflection, actually as an imitation.I enjoy the flattery but why must I always be represented as old, white-haired, and smoking a cigar.Do not get me wrong, I have always appreciated a good cigar.I guess these so-called historians best remember me in person rather than in prose.When I first showed up on the front steps of the Enterprise looking like a beggar, and actually not much more than one at that, I was skinny, dark-haired, and probably better kempt than the characters that now attempt my resemblance.

Heretofore, I take my leave and move on, passing the ghosts of Gold Hill and Silver City, wondering whatever happened to Devil's Gate, watching Ford's contraptions noisily shifting gears to climb or descend.A good horse was always a steady ride.I would even settle for that genuine Mexican plug.People come here from all over the place;  from California, Utah, Oregon, Texas, and New Jersey.I wonder how much these folks know about my old Virginia, other than the fact there was a silver strike here with half the humanity of that time climbing and digging all over these hills.I walk past museums and smile.The good old days, they call it, even though it was not for many.I got my bread.That was all that mattered.I had myself a good time.




Submitted: December 17, 2019

© Copyright 2021 John Ross Hart. All rights reserved.

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