Setting the stage for an interactive museum experience, ghost towns have often been a favorite site for tourists worldwide. Intrigued by the way of life so meticulously preserved from the past, they are given the unique opportunity to immerse themselves into a way of life so unlike their own.
Virginia City, a ghost town located in Montana, boasts just over one hundred people. With a population so small, its hard to imagine the city as the bustling mining district of its past, where over ten thousand miners and their families settled in, chasing hopes of hitting it big.
In 1863, prospectors exploring the area found the ultimate treasure of the time, gold. Shortly after their find, a mining district was established. Thousands of people participated in the population of the township of Verina that was formed and named after the area’s first lady of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
The town quickly became the capital of the Montana territory in 1865, although the capital was later moved to Helena in 1875. The first post was established in 1864 and the first school in 1866. As the town became more and more established, many more people were enticed into the area. The wave gave rise to an increase in merchants, including bars and prostitution operations.
Unfortunately, the wave of thousands of people also stemmed a dramatic increase in the amount of crime in the area. The newly formed township was without law or an established justice system, fanning the fumes of a criminal system in the making. Road agents killed hundreds on the trails. Robberies and murders quickly plagued the area as the search for money gave rise to lawlessness and chaos.
A group of Montana vigilantes decided that enough was enough and took it upon themselves to take back control of their bustling city. They began hanging perpetrators of crime and attempted to regulate the activity within their growing city. Calamity Jane is even rumored to have faced the vigilantes at one point, before escaping to safety.
As with all things, the times eventually changed and as gold thinned out, so did the city. It laid mostly in ruins, aging away until the 1940s when investors began pumping money back into the town. Tours began in the 1950s. Soon after, the town and surrounding area were designated a National Historic Landmark District and the Virginia City Historic District. Acting as an open air museum, the ghost town of Virginia City quickly became one of the top state owned tourist attractions in Montana.
Tourists enjoy visiting the area, restored to the time of prospecting days and trying their hand at gold panning. Another popular attraction is the Boothill Cemetery where bodies of those murdered, hanged by the vigilantes, or victims of other tragic deaths were laid to rest. Visitors can stay in a historic hotel, visit the Alder Gulch short line railroad, and even watch the longest continually operating live Summer theater company in the United States, making them feel like they are right back in the 1800s.
One thing making guests feel a little less at home are the wandering spirits of the original town’s founders. Through out the ghost town, people report strange occurrences, apparitions, and experiences. Most commonly, at the Bonanza Hotel, people describe an overwhelming feeling of dread and unshakeable feeling of being watched. Their hair stands on end when entering and chills go down their spines at the first sight of a shadow person.
Guests have reported a shadow cast by someone looking in their windows, only to disappear once discovered, apparitions in rooms, doors and windows opening and closing on their own, hearing the sounds of giggling children jumping on the bed only to open the door and see nothing, and ghostly footsteps despite being alone in the room or hallway.
One things for sure, people seeking the whole experience of living in the days of the Gold Rush will feel right at home amongst the aged buildings, antique furniture, and long term residents, ready to guide their guests on a blast from the past.