Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Aurora Ghost Town (Odds and Ends)

(AKA R.I.P. Aurora!)

It is time to wrap this whole series up on Aurora. I began this whole thing by mentioned that I absolutely love Aurora. It has a great history to it. It is somewhat difficult to get to these days because it is out in a remote location. I enjoy the times I have been there. The problem is there is very little there these days. That made it much more difficult to present because I do not like just showing open fields. Once in a while someone will e-mail me telling me I should do something at someplace because some movie was filmed there. Then when I look into it there is nothing left so it makes it difficult to motivate me to do it. There has to be some trace left of what was once there for me to want to do it. Since Aurora has been reduced to open fields it gets close to this, but at least I have some background mountains and roads to guide me. Some of the foundations and debris is helpful, but I can only wish it were not like that these days. So, that was the challenge of trying to show what Aurora was once like in this series of blogs.

I spent most of my time just showing what the main street of town would have been like since that is where most of the action of the town would have been. Much more of the town can be explored. It is interesting to point at that it was only in 1999 that a tin can was found in the foundations of the schoolhouse that was a time capsule of events 135 years earlier. When this can was opened they found newspapers from Aurora and Massachusetts (many Aurorans were from there) and notes from that time period. Those items are now preserved in the Nevada State Archives in Carson City.

Speaking of the connection between Aurora and Massachusetts, in 1845 a 50 pound piece of gold and silver ore was exchanged for a piece of Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. That piece of Plymouth Rock was attached to the Aurora Courthouse. Since that time many searches at the courthouse have taken place to find that rock. In fact, the story of Plymouth Rock at Aurora was made into a story for the tv show Death Valley Days. No one knows where the rock is. It could have been stolen a very long time ago, or it could still be there, but that is very unlikely. The book by Shaw I will list below spends a few pages on this in discussing the courthouse.

There is one engraving that I mentioned in the last blog that goes way back to the boom years of the town. It is the oldest engraved sign in the whole Eastern Sierra region:

You may recall that I was on the Wide West Street a few blogs back as I was walking near Last Chance Hill. The Wide West Mining Co. was by that street and owned a mine on that hill. In fact, that is where Mark Twain said he and his friends failed to make the claim in his book.

It turns out that the above engraved granite sign is not found at Aurora these days. You can see it at Bodie as a stepping stone right in front of the museum. How many people in Bodie each year have stepped on this stone and had no clue what it represents? If for some reason they have examined it they probably thought it was a Bodie relic. No, it has Aurora written all over it. BTW, if you want to see it on video, I show it briefly in one of the videos I did on Bodie last year; it should be the second one.

Like most mining ghost towns, Aurora had a few years where it boomed and then it declined. It was estimated the town made a total of 16-30 million dollars based on the recollections of people that were there. However, Shaw notes in his book that records indicate that only 2-3 million were made during these years. That is really dramatic because towns like Virginia City made 300 million dollars in its 20 years of boom, while Bodie made around 15-18 million in its 10 years of being a boom town. Shaw concludes, along with some older writers, that so much was invested into this town during that time that the reality is Aurora ended up being one of the biggest scams in Nevada mining history. Possibly, one of the biggest scams ever. That was typical of the Gold Rush Era before it. Tons of people came out west hoping to make their riches, but only a smart few who sold out quickly made their money. There are a few stories of people making it rich, but those were rare.

So, to sum this one up, everyone always talks about Bodie and I understand why. They can have it. They can keep taking pictures of the exact same things from the exact same spots that were done by others decades and decades ago. They can keep paying the rising entrance fees that were not there a few decades ago, and the rates that have gone from per-car to per-person. Like the boy that cried wolf, each year the state threatens to close that park and the one at Mono Lake until funds are restored. Then new fees are created instead. Funny, there was a time when these "fees" were not needed. That was a different time though. As for me, I love and prefer Aurora. It was because of what happened at Aurora that the preservation of Bodie exists today. On one hand it is sad what happened to Aurora, but on the other hand there are things one does not have to put up with when going there.

Let me give an annotated bibliography of the essential books about Aurora:

1)McGrath, Roger. Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). This is the one you want if you want to read about the violence involved in Bodie and Aurora. It also covers the Paiute Indian War of the 1860's that took place in the Eastern Sierra. As a university pressed book it is scholarly with many footnotes from a variety of primary sources.

2)Stewart, Robert. Aurora: Nevada's Ghost City of the Dawn (Las Vegas: Nevada Publications, 2004). This is a good book that gives you an overall understanding of the town. Everything from the mining to historical issues to Mark Twain. This is the main book about Aurora that I have seen in most of the gift shops or books stores off of HWY 395. Stewart had a much smaller earlier book. I own that one too, but this one corrects some errors of the previous book and is longer book. So, be sure you get the 2004 book. Note: Amazon.com currently mixes both versions when people try to sell it used. Ask before you buy it anywhere used because you might end up with the shorter 47 page 1996 version. The current 2004 book has twice the amount of pages and information. I have read that he might be doing another edition with more information.

3)Shaw, Clifford Alpheus. An 1864 Directory and Guide to Nevada's Aurora. (Create Space, 2009). This one is really good. It gives you a good description of all the places that existed in the town and where they were located at. It can stand on its own, but you might want to have the above two books before this one. If I were prepping myself to visit the town again this is the one I would take. Funny thing though, I had seen this at a store and expected to buy it before visiting Aurora the last time. They did not have it when I went! So, I got it after visiting Aurora.

After reading it there were things I wish I knew going into the trip the last time. In fact, it was probably over a year ago when I was reading through the book I read about the Exchange Saloon and saw that it was different than the Merchant Exchange Hotel that also had a saloon. For all these years with McGrath's book I was using "Exchange Saloon" as a synonym for the same place when they are actually two places. I forgot about that, and last week after writing up the blog I realized something was not right. I double checked Shaw's book and looked at his maps. The blog was quickly changed, and an annotation on the video was needed because of this. So, each time I go to Aurora I learn something new and these books have been extremely helpful in my studies of the town.

The books I mentioned a few blogs ago about the Marden family are very good too, but they are not primarily about Aurora. There are some mentions of the boom years in them, but the family lived there later. The family tragedy with the four children was over a decade after.

Other books about ghost towns in Nevada sometimes have chapters dedicated to Aurora. You will have to look at those. Sometimes old library books like this can be found. Really to get the best and current information you want the above three books.

All my Youtube videos on this series can be found here (along with my Bodie "Christmas" Videos).

My vimeo versions of the same videos are found here:

Aurora Ghost Town: West Pine Street

Aurora Ghost Town: East Pine Street

R.I.P. Aurora

The title of the music I used for all the ghost town videos is called Smoking Gun by Incompetech which can be found HERE.

The title for the background used in R.I.P. Aurora is called At Rest which can also be found at Incompetech right HERE.