Carson City ghost tour highlights Silver State’s spooky history
No town in the Silver State is complete without tales of miners, madams and misguided pioneers who take occasional breaks from the spectral realm to visit our mortal coil.
So it should come as no surprise that Nevada’s capital has more than its fair share of ghost stories, many of which were explored at the 30th annual Carson City Ghost Walk earlier this month. The tour is organized in part by Reno’s Brüka Theatre, a not-for-profit theater company celebrating its 31st season in the community, along with the Carson City Culture and Tourism Authority and other partners.
The two-hour walking tour showcased some of the town’s haunted sites, all of which played their part in shaping the state’s history.
Guide Ken Beaton said the tour changes every year.
“There's different houses, there's different stories, but you still get to laugh,” Beaton told Nevada Independent reporters on the walk.
This year’s tour theme was “Zeitgeist - Sign of the Times” and explored ideas on spirituality and paranormal phenomena prevalent during the Victorian Era, which ran from 1837 to 1901 and included some of the most formative events of the state, including the founding of the capital city, statehood and the Silver Rush.
The Victorian Era saw the rise in Spiritualism, a belief system based on the idea of communicating with the spirits of the deceased, particularly through mediums.
These practices, including seances, spirit photography and spiritual healing rituals, were very popular during the late 19th century — between four to 11 million people in the United States identified as Spiritualists during the Victorian Era, according to The New Yorker. Today, there are still more than 100 Spiritualist churches across the nation.
Nevada achieved statehood on Oct. 31, 1864, in the middle of the Victorian Era, and several significant Carson City historical buildings and stories passed along from that time were featured during the Ghost Walk.
Among the stops included was the building now home to Comma Coffee. The structure that now provides lattes and chai teas for legislators working across the street was originally built in 1869 and owned by the Olcovich brothers — Joseph, Bernard, Hyman and Herman. It has housed Carson City’s first nickelodeon theater, a candy parlor and a campaign office.
It was also a mortuary for more than 80 years. The Victorian Era saw a large number of deaths because of the Civil War, the Spanish Flu pandemic, illnesses brought about by long travels westward and workplace deaths at various mines and railroads that were under construction at that time.
Adding to the Victorian theme of the tour, two actors demonstrated a “deathly makeover” showcasing beauty products that contained poisonous materials such as arsenic and lead that were popular during the late 19th century.
Afterward, attendees made their way to the Hyman Olcovich House, seen as a focal point for Carson City’s Jewish community during the 1860s and ‘70s. Members of the prominent family, who owned a significant amount of the town’s commercial property, lived close to one another so they could walk to each other’s homes during the High Holy Days when it is prohibited in Judaism to travel long distances.
After the Olcoviches’ moved from the house, Carson City developed a thriving Red Light District and the building became the oldest brothel in the state that is still standing — older brothels have been destroyed.
The Red Light District was eventually shut down in 1942 after a federal order, but Beaton said the women who worked in the sex industry at that time played a large role in Nevada history with their contributions to their local communities, including nursing miners back to health when the illnesses swept through the area.
Beaton said if you walk down Fifth and Third Street at the right time, you can still hear the cries of the women who worked at the brothels.
After a stop at the antique shop where actor Elliott Gould and singer Barbra Streisand were married in 1963, tourists made their way to the Krebs-Peterson House, where part of John Wayne’s last movie The Shootist was filmed in the mid-1970s.
Guests then went to the Nevada Governor’s Mansion, where they were greeted by an actress playing Mary Ann Curry, the widow of the founder of Carson City, Abraham Curry.
Curry explained that her elegant black gown was her mourning clothes, similar to the dress many Victorian women wore when they had lost a loved one. This included Mary Todd Lincoln, who had become invested in various aspects of Spiritualism — including spirit photography — after the traumatic death of her husband Abraham Lincoln, the president who proclaimed Nevada a state in 1864.
Curry also shared a ghost story of a woman and young child who roam the halls of the Governor’s Mansion, which was built between 1908 and 1909. After taking a look at the mansion’s decor, which included a portrait of Lincoln in his younger years and a collection of Mary Todd Lincoln’s dining ware, visitors traveled on.
At the end of the tour, Beaton put all the spectral visits into context.
Those who believed in communing with the dead included prestigious scientists and famous political figures such as American abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass, Queen Victoria and onetime Nevada resident Mark Twain, who all attended seances.
And they play an important role in a Victorian Era chapter of Nevada history that’s just a little bit spooky.
Editor’s note: This is a written adaptation of a segment that appears on a special Nevada Day edition of the IndyMatters podcast set to publish Tuesday afternoon.
Click here to listen.