GOLDFIELD: 15 Ways the Past Remains Present
Stopping in Goldfield is almost like a trip to Target—you think you’ll be there for an hour, just enough time to stop and see the Goldfield Hotel. But one original Tiffany Lamp, Paste Eater’s Gravestone, Goldfield Historical Society membership, and three days later you’ll head down the Free-Range Art Highway with a newfound respect for both Nevada’s once-largest city, and most haunted “living” ghost towns.
If you ever hear someone dismiss Goldfield as “that one weird ghost town where you’ve gotta slow down to 25 mph”, hit ’em with these 15 reasons to make that zero mph, then throw it in park, and have a look around.
Say Hello to the World’s Greatest Gold Camp
Ready to get to know one of most sensational boomtowns in the West? Make stop number one the Goldfield Visitor’s Center on the western edge of town. New to the Goldfield scene, this brand new, well-curated museum will help you get a lay of the land, plus the volunteers you’ll find behind the counter can probably dispense some Travel Nevada Pro Tips of their very own, so talk to them. Aside from straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth-style info you’re guaranteed to get your hands on, the Visitor’s Center brims with resources on the community, from Goldfield Historic Walking Tour maps, to info on specific properties, the lowdown on Goldfield’s shopping scene, and where you can sign up for historic or ghost tours.
Act Like a Local and Head Straight for the Santa Fe
Santa Fe Motel & Saloon
What’s better than a good old fashioned fashioned Sagebrush Saloon? One that was strategically located closest to the gold mines that made this place famous, that’s remained open for business for a continuous 113 years since, that’s what. Have you been wondering why not much remains in a city that was once the largest in the state, with more than 25,000 people living here? Well, a whole bunch of end-of-the-world-style natural disasters swept through town, destroying mostly everything but a few buildings. One survivor is the Santa Fe.
Not only was it primely situated on the outskirts of town to cater to prospectors at quittin’ time, but this is the very detail that saved the saloon. It was away from the floods and fires that devastated most of town, and one of the reasons you have the luxury of ordering a Wild Turkey, neat, here today. So go ahead, pick your poison and order up, pose for a pic in Julia Bulette’s bathtub, or shoot the breeze with locals who, over 100 years later, still remain on their way home from a day on the job. It’s the kind of place that’s cool because it just is, it doesn’t even have to try. Plus, if you can call it a night at a hotel that’s located only 10 feet from the bar itself any ol’ day of the week.
Meet the “Ghouls of the Night”
Goldfield Historic Cemetery
Ready for a good old fashioned dose of Weird Nevada? Head for the Goldfield Historic Cemetery on the western edge of town for epitaphs that don’t leave a lot of… well, mystery. At the Goldfield Historic Cemetery, count on crossing paths with victims who met their maker amid local mining accidents, a gunshot wound, or even this poor guy, who apparently died from eating library paste. Local historians have tried to track down the real story here, and apparently this guy was simply hungry, found some library paste that tasted sweet, and ate it… likely not knowing it contained an ingredient that would ultimately poison him. Maybe the real story is that he died doing what he loved?
Better yet, the place goes from great to grand when you learn the story of the “Official Ghouls of the Night” who played an important role in making Goldfield a less freaky place. Before they figured out that 90 million dollars worth of gold surrounded town, a modest community layout was already in motion. By the turn of the century, Goldfield’s small town center had been built, including a cemetery. Flash forward to a few years later when gold discoveries so pure made Goldfield the largest town in Nevada, where passengers found themselves disembarking between tombstones. Less than ideal, right?
So one night, in 1908, a team of men assembled to exhume and relocate all of the bodies to a new cemetery farther outside of town. And bonus: as you walk through the cemetery, be sure to zero in on names that reveal roots from all over the world—evidence of Goldfield’s endlessly interesting cultural diversity—a reminder of how gold fever attracted fortune seekers from all walks of life, each one hoping to grab onto their slice of the American Dream.
Say Hello to the Class of ’42
Historic Goldfield High School
In the center of town, you’ll find the second largest building in Goldfield: the one and only Goldfield Historic High School. As you make your way through the Goldfield Historic High School, this three story gem (including the basement…that’s also said-to-be very haunted) is so damn good it’s hard to pick the very best part of it all. That is, until you climb up the original, teetering wooden staircase to the second story and out from the cobweb-y shadows it emerges: a doorframe, with the individual signatures of each member of the Goldfield High class of 1942.
We know that it survived an end-of-days meteorological conundrum, but also refused to die through decades of abandonment. It was crumbling in such a state that locals were even making bets on which of the four major side walls would collapse first… that is, until a southern Californian rolled into town, realized a portion of our American story was about to be lost forever, devoted just about every waking moment—and has for the last 10 years. And its working. And just by stepping over that threshold to tour the property—ghost tour or not—your admission helps move Goldfield’s story forward… whether its funding a path to historic preservation and faithful restoration, or developing a new way—with historic integrity in mind, of course. Make sure you see it.
Appreciate Goldfield’s Glory Days
Goldfield Historic Equipment Park
The people in Goldfield are friendly. Most of the folks in Goldfield have spent their whole lives there, and can trace their ancestry back to their grandmother who worked at the Goldfield Hotel, or father who worked at the Tonopah Air Base. The people who’ve hung on through it all are here because they’re not only connected to it in a personal way, but trying to protect what remains, stabilizing it for generations to come.
And if someone approaches you, talk to them. Because chances are they’re going to show you something that’s not on the internet…like the Goldfield Historic Equipment Park. The relics here help tell the story of the Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad—which formerly connected down to Beatty. Original pieces of the railroad can be found here, along with other machinery (and other funny mementos like “One Holer’s”) that played a role in pumping out the millions of dollars in ore that propelled the development of the West.
Tune in to Jackalope Hour on 89.1
The instant you roll into town, better get that tuner dialed to Goldfield Radio on 89.1 FM. Featuring programming like Jackalope Radio, Wandering Minstrels, Calling all Cowboys by Chuck-A-Roo the Buck-A-Roo, and the Desert Rat Show… is there any better soundtrack to your Goldfield adventures? Tune in while exploring town, and definitely make sure you’ve got that thing dialed when driving out to the Historic Cemetery, Car Forest, or Florence Mine.
Tour the Florence Mine
Florence Gold Mine
Stand right in the center of town on Crook Avenue. Now look north. You see that big ol’ mountain, that probably has some modern-day digging happening? That is Columbia Mountain—the place where millions of dollars in gold was extracted, making Goldfield one of the most famous towns in the American West. Take a drive out there—this is where all the former working class folks lived and worked while the boom was, well, booming. Keep your eyes peeled for foundations from several communities that stood out here, like Columbia, Diamondfield, Jumbotown, and Milltown. Best yet, lots of these roads you’re rambling on were where former trackline stood for Goldfield’s five railroads… transporting the gold-laden ore from the mines to the stamp mills, then hauling away for out-of-town profit.
Before you head back to town, be sure and tour the Florence Mine. This claim was once one of Goldfield’s most famous mines because it cranked out the most valuable gold ore. Plus, the Florence Mine has the only remaining hoist house in the entire Goldfield Historic Mining District, which just so happens to be one of the best preserved in the entire state.
Meet the Goldfield Burros
A nod to Goldfield’s roots, burro bands are rolling DEEP in Goldfield—always have, always will. Keep your eyes peeled for their very distinctive ears on the horizon as you are on the outskirts of town, they’ll be there. Burros are such a fixture in the Goldfield experience that it was more common to see a kid riding to school on his pet burro than riding around on a bike, if you can believe it. Make sure to stop and snap a picture from afar, and if you’re lucky, you may just get to meet Florence Mine operator’s pet burros when taking the tour.
See the Goldfield Historic Fire Station, and the Irony Within
Goldfield Historic Fire Station
The million-dollar question on everyone’s mind? Just where in fiery hell was this fine establishment during Goldfield’s town-leveling fire? Right where it’s always been, in the heart of downtown Goldfield, and one of the very few buildings that somehow survived the town’s fiery fate. While it’s easy to assume its central location would make for prime puttin’-out-fire proximity, the town’s growth actually swelled so far beyond what they planned for that it ended up gridlocking the firemen’s access to all outlying parts of town. If a blaze erupted on the outskirts (say, from an illegal bootlegging operation gone awry), they had many a tough time getting there before things went from bad to worse.
Some of Goldfield’s best preserved relics can be found at the Historic Goldfield Fire Station… like a 1907 Seagraves Ladder Trailer, a 1917 American LaFrance Tractor, and one of the most impressive historic ambulances we’ve ever crossed paths with. Visiting the Fire Station is a way to connect with Goldfield’s past, but if you want to zero in on the group of badasses who manned the department, beeline it across Crook Street to the Courthouse, where historic records euphoria awaits.
Explore a Real-Deal Time Capsule
Esmeralda County Courthouse
Aside from the Santa Fe, the Esmeralda County Courthouse you see before you is sure to be Goldfield’s most consistently used historic building. Unlike many Nevada courthouses that were built and later abandoned with mining boom-and-bust cycles, this one has hung tough—and is all the way in service. Even though this is where Goldfieldans go to pay a ticket, get their drivers license and more, the folks who work inside welcome anyone who’s curious to stop in.
Inside, you’ll find things like handwritten marriage records dating back to the 1900s, original Tiffany and Co. light fixtures, and a frozen-in-time courtroom on the second floor.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Take in Boxing Holy Ground
Gans vs. Nelson Boxing Match
Picture this. It’s 1906, the height of Goldfield’s most prolific boom years. It’s also a huge time for boxing in American history… a sport that was still illegal in many parts of the country, and notorious where it was legal. Rumors were sweeping the nation that two young lightweight boxers were publicly, and not-so-publicaly challenging each other. Oscar “Battling” Nelson, who’d been snatching lightweight titles left and right, was going after Joe Gans, an African American underdog, exploiting plenty of disadvantages that came with being black in this era. For a while, organizers let buzz build up about a fight to be held somewhere in the American West, although Nevada—which had legalized boxing just a decade before—was a shoe-in. Since Goldfield was the then-richest and largest town in Nevada, it was a natural fit to host such a sensational match.
Amateur promoters, like Tex Rickard, began promoting what would become the “Fight of the Century”, which was an easy sell to those back east, enchanted with the desert mystique of western mining camp towns. Goldfield had already outgrown its britches before it really even boomed, and a town maxed to capacity somehow hosted an additional 15,000 people and national media. How, we’ll never know… but it’s safe to say that the place was packed. Before the fight, Joe Gans’ mother wished him good luck with some encouraging words: “The eyes of the world are upon you, you bring back the bacon.”
Well, 42 brutal rounds later—still the longest boxing match in modern history—Joe Gans followed through on his mother’s advice, and became the Lightweight Champion, as well as the very first American-born, black sports champion. Naturally, after the Gans won, he had made all kinds of American history, as all eyes of national media was upon him. Once they caught wind of his mother’s advice, well, it’s safe to say it caught on, and is still part of our everyday jargon when it comes to closing deals. To this day, Joe Gans is still considered to be the greatest lightweight boxer who ever lived… and still bringing home that bacon, albeit posthumously.
See the Tex Rickard House
Goldfield Historic Walking Tour
You know that boxing promoter mentioned above? Well, turns out, he cut his teeth in Goldfield when it came to learning to promote. Tex Rickard originally rolled into Goldfield with quite an affinity for boozing and gambling, and fittingly, ended up owning the Northern Saloon. There were tons of other bars in town—TONS—but the Northern drew the most dramatic crowds, with help from the 14 tables, 24 dealers and 12 bartenders per shift. Naturally, Tex built his home not far from the bar—a moderately-sized but pretty posh brick house, outfitted with leaded windows and some seriously fancy furniture.
He kept doing the bar thing for a while, but as Goldfield grew, the increasingly refined businessman wanted to attract even more national attention. Tex promoted the Gans vs. Nelson fight, and went on to promote Jack Dempsey and other famous American boxers, founded the New York Rangers hockey team, and was even the brains behind Madison Square Garden. Although he left Goldfield when everyone else did, his home still stands in the center of town in all its glory—make sure and see it on Goldfield’s Historic Walking Tour. If you need a booklet, grab one across the street at the Goldfield Historical Society offices.
Snag a Selife at the Most Legendary Open-Air Gallery in the Silver State
International Car Forest of the Last Church
Perhaps Goldfield’s most popular modern-day stop, a visit to this living ghost town isn’t complete without seeing this Weird Nevada landmark. Almost hidden in plain sight from the highway, the Car Forest is on the southeastern edge of town. Here you’ll find the Silver State’s largest open-air gallery, brimming with junk cars, busses, and trucks forcefully anchored into the ground and some perfectly balanced with boulders.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Get to Know the Artists of Goldfield
Rocket Bob’s Art Cars & Enigmata Esoterica
Two words, baby: Rocket Bob—creator of the original art car park. Regular attendees of Burning Man already have the lowdown on their souped-up version of psychedelic art cars… or rather, “mutant vehicles.” Tons of hours of engineering and design goes into these things, transforming these flame throwing, neon-ified creations, living up to their very name in every sense of the word. But Rocket Bob’s style of “art cars”—despite weathering some brutal high desert elements for years—are hidden in plain sight right in the the heart of the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.” A piece of Black Rock City, right in the heart of Goldfield—who’da thunk?
Better yet, the caretaker of Rocket Bob’s Art Cars and the Car Forest live next to, and just behind these mutant vehicles, running Goldfield’s latest gallery: Enigmata Esoterica. Equal parts Western flair and mystical energy, stop by for all kinds of custom turquoise and silver jewelry, cabochons, stones, books, and even bones.
The Goldfield Hotel
Ahh, the best—or at least spookiest—for last. Maybe the Goldfield Hotel continues to intrigue because the place has been boarded up and off-limits to anyone interested for decades, or the fact that some of the Silver State’s most glamorous history went down under this roof, or because it’s the most haunted place in Nevada. Whether you’re here for the history or the ghosts, make sure you stop by this paranormal landmark before you hit the road.
Once the fanciest, most prominent building in Goldfield and all of Nevada, the Goldfield Hotel welcomed world-travelers, the state’s most prominent businessmen, famous gunslingers, and ladies of the night at once—a place so fancy it had one of the only elevators west of the Mississippi, ran on steam-powered heating from an on-site power plant, had crystal electric lights, leather-adorned furniture, elaborate tile flooring, gold leaf ceilings, and mahogany-paneled everything. The Goldfield Hotel opened right around the same time as The Mizpah—if only it had the same caretaker, it might have been preserved with the same integrity. But, since the 1940s, the Goldfield Hotel has sat abandoned—the only one getting through that front door are the ghosts.
Visitor access changes as fast as the weather in Goldfield—sometimes you’ll stop by to find tours being offered, while most other times require a lot more imagination. Whether or not you can tour this famously haunted hotel—so haunted it’s said to be a portal to the underworld, attracting every ghost show from Ghost Adventures to Ghost Hunters and beyond—be sure to pull over the car and have a peek through the windows. You’ll be glad you did.