Midway between Reno and Las Vegas, in the town of Tonopah, a Vestige of the Old West is Getting a New Life
The historic Mizpah Hotel — the setting of colorful rumors and ghost stories as well as real Nevada history — opened its doors again in late 2011.
The century-old building had been closed since 1999. “The hotel itself is a magnificent edifice,” owner Nancy Cline said. “It stands as a testimony to the pioneers that went before all of us and paved the way for us.”Cline and her husband, Fred, bought the Mizpah in early 2011 and opened it later that same year. Today, Mizpah has 47 rooms, two restaurants and — according to the business’ website — a couple of friendly ghosts. Plans are to open the Mizpah’s casino in spring 2012. “The first priority was to open to the hotel,” Cline said. “Now we set our sights on the casino area.”
For the Clines, who also own Cline Cellars winery in California’s Sonoma County, opening the Mizpah was a chance to reconnect with family history: Nancy Cline, who was raised in California, had a great uncle who lived in Tonopah, and a grandmother who lived in nearby Goldfield. Her father told her about it, Cline said, “but he didn’t go into much detail.”
Years later, as an adult, she picked up the story again. Traveling with her husband and children on vacation in Death Valley, she saw a sign that read ‘Harry Ramsey discovered the town of Skidoo’. “I said to Fred, ‘that’s my great-uncle.’”And Skidoo — now a ghost town — was the site of a gold strike in the early 1900s. Tracing the story of her prospector great uncle and other family members over the years led to an appreciation of Nevada’s stark landscape — “we love the high desert,” Cline said — and the serendipitous purchase of the Mizpah.
Originally, the Clines wanted to buy the Goldfield Hotel, but that didn’t work out. Another opportunity presented itself: An acquaintance told them the owners of the Mizpah in Tonopah, the town 27 miles north of Goldfield, were interesting in selling. Initially unsure, they were convinced after seeing the hotel. Some renovations were required, Cline said, but a previous owner had already done extensive restoration work. “We truly believe that we can make it a successful venture,” Cline said. “It’s been a project we’ve been passionate about.”
Cline’s passion for the Mizpah goes hand-in-hand with her interest in Tonopah and its place in Nevada’s mining history — “a part of our history that a lot of people don’t know,” Cline said.
Miner Jim Butler’s discovery in 1900 of gold and silver in what would become Tonopah ushered in Nevada’s second big mining boom. At that time, the state was in an economic depression, as the famed Comstock mines in Virginia City had played out some years before. With Butler’s strike and subsequent discoveries in the area, another gold and silver rush was on.
Into this lively environment the Mizpah Hotel opened in 1907. The five-story building was among the first in the state to have electricity and an elevator. Throughout the 20th century, rumors grew up around the Mizpah: gunfighter Wyatt Earp frequented the place, boxer Jack Dempsey worked there, U.S. Sen. Key Pittman died on the premises and Howard Hughes married Jean Peters on the site.
Former state archivist Guy Rocha debunked those tall tales in his “Historical Myth a Month” series of columns, but he left the ghost stories for Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” travel show, which tried to connect with the Mizpah spirits, including two miners and “the lady in red,” a woman who was supposedly died in the hotel.
Cline, who said she hadn’t seen the “Ghost Adventures” episode on the Mizpah, takes her hotel’s purported supernatural properties in stride.“I’m happy to accommodate any friendly spirits,” Cline said. Adding that the Mizpah project so far has been “unbelievably wonderful,” Cline jokingly attributed that serendipity to otherworldly forces, happy that the hotel is open, once again.