Secrets of the Graveyard

VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. Tucked away in the in the mountains of the Virginia Range, Virginia City is a monument to days past. But no where is history more real than in the Silver Terrace Cemetery.

Comprised of several different cemeteries separated by race and social order, at first glance, it looks like a disused, forgotten plot of land. Take a glance at the broken head stones, overgrown weeds, and missing fences, and it's hard to believe it was once know to those in the area as the 'Garden Cemetery'.

Candace Wheeler, executive director for the Comstock Cemetery Foundation, a group dedicated to the preservation of the graveyard, says the town's original residents were looking to bury their dead in place that looked a little more like home.

"The miners fully irrigated 30 acres of land," Wheeler said. They tore out sagebrush because to them, the desert was very ugly, and they planted it with grass and clover."

Now, the desert has returned, but the cemetery remains the most visited site in the old mining town.

"I think it's so interesting to read about each individual person," Pam Smith, a visitor from Oregon said. "There's so many babies, and young people who didn't make it."

It's a ghost hunter's paradise. The graveyard and accompanying ghost stories have been the subject of countless television shows and myths.

"We have a lot of myths and rumors that make for some good tales," Wheeler said. "There's a story of a glowing head stone or a undertaker that jumps out and tries to grab you."

But in reality, the true stories of the graveyard are sometimes more haunting.

In the Catholic cemetery, under one of the graveyard's only commissioned pieces, lie a husband and wife who couldn't be separated -even by death.

"The husband got very, very sick and died," Wheeler said. "According to reports, they were very much in love, and the woman just couldn't go on, she died less than a year after him."

Not too far from the husband and wife, is the grave site of Ellen Diamond. The 21-year-old woman died less than two months after her wedding in 1874, Diamond died of typhoid fever.

"They say her funeral was one of the largest in the area."

Flash forward to 2008, the Comstock Cemetery Foundation was restoring Diamond's headstone when they made an unique discovery.

"We unearthed a small, delicate metal rose," Wheeler said. "It was made out of tin, and obviously with love."

The rose now is on display at the Foundation's cemetery exhibit.

The tales of lives lived are what draws most people to the graveyard. Some people are searching for popular sites, like a group of nameless orphans buried in the Catholic Cemetery. But while walking past and over graves, visitors often miss some of the graveyard's more unique qualities.

One several iron fences and head stones, a weeping willow can be found. While the name of the tree implies sorrow, the meaning behind its use is much more inspiring.

"It's one of the very few trees you can cut a branch off and it grows back," Wheeler said. "So the Victorians used it as a symbol of being resurrected."

Next time you're in the cemetery, look for small wooded markers at at the foot of some graves. Family members would bury pets with loved ones when both passed on.

About 6,000 people were laid to rest in the Silver Terrace Cemetary. Now, only about 1500 headstones remain. That's partly time's fault, but vandals are also to blame. The Comstock Cemetery Foundation works hard to keep the graveyard presentable. They continuously restore headstones and pull weeds. They even spent time straightening every broken fence and marker in one of the cemeteries.

"We were so proud," Wheeler said. "But then when we stepped back to look at it, and it looked completely wrong because everything around it was crooked, including the buildings in the background.

Now the Foundation only restores what's in danger of being lost, but they try to keep the forgotten feel every visitor loves. There is; however, a master plan to restore some of the graveyard's former glory. The Foundation hopes to restore the gardens in front of each of the different cemeteries. Wheeler says they will fill the gardens with the vegetation originally planted in the graveyard.

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