restricted access 9. Death and the Material Culture of the Final Chapter
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111 9. Death and the Material Culture of the Final Chapter On January 21, 1867, firefighters formed an escort for the funeral procession of Julia Bulette, the murdered prostitute described in chapter 6. Their path took them switching back and forth from the home of Engine Company no. 1, south on B Street, down to C, traveling north to descend again to D Street, past theaters, saloons, and the brothels and cribs of the entertainment district. As they passed the mighty hoisting works of the Gould and Curry, the procession turned again, heading east on Flowery Street. But it was a cold winter day, and the fireman retired at that point, turning away from the sixteen carriages that proceeded with the body and fellow ladies of the red-light district to complete the long trek to the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in the Flowery Mining District. Once there the undertaker lowered the murdered prostitute into the ground. In all likelihood a simple wooden headboard marked her place of eternal rest. Bulette was one of the last to be buried in the old graveyard in the Flowery District, an accident of history that would contribute to her becoming an icon of her profession, wrapped in the myth of the Wild West. The community had matured, and across the ravine it was establishing an innovative institution called the Silver Terrace Cemeteries. Many loved ones eventually moved their dead to the new grounds, but the remains of those forgotten or without family stayed where they rested . Bulette continued her repose in Mount Pleasant because there was no one who cared enough to pay for her relocation, and after all, the graveyard continued to be respectable for many years.1 The development of the Silver Terrace Cemeteries on the north side of Six Mile Canyon was part of a fresh approach to memorializing the dead. The location was also a response to the fact that many felt Flowery Hill was too far away from Virginia City. In the mid 1860s Wilson and Brown, local undertakers, consequently planned for a different sort of 112 Death and the Material Culture of the Final Chapter place closer to the edge of town. The material remains associated with the two burial grounds provide a final way to understand a former time, and Virginia City’s cemeteries tell a powerful tale of change in the West and in the nation. While everyone eventually dies, not everyone who lived in Virginia City died there. In fact, most did not, and this affected the way residents viewed their cemeteries. The Comstock Mining District was a transient place. The majority of people came for a few months or years and then left, having secured a fortune or failed utterly. Most who called Virginia City home at some point during its heyday from 1859 to 1880 left long before dealing with their own demise. It is easy to imagine this affecting the way nineteenth-century Comstockers viewed their cemeteries. For the average person living in a stable community, it was possible to regard the local cemetery as his or her final resting place. Residents of the mining West, however, were more likely to live elsewhere at some point, and transience made one’s future gravesite unknowable. While a cemetery in a rural agricultural community served as a reminder of the inevitable cycle of life, people in Virginia City could look at their graveyard as an expression of bad luck. The ironic antithesis to this is that almost everyone who lived on the Comstock during that period experienced death in one form or another . Illness and accidents claimed adults and children on a regular basis. Death was an ever-present part of everyone’s life, and Victorian-era society embraced it with an enthusiasm that is alien to modern America. A popular fascination with the entire process of dying, burial, and grieving placed the final act of life prominently on the stage. A cemetery is an obvious source of insight into attitudes associated with death, but it is not the only path to follow for this inquiry. Records stand ready to inform the historian. Taken together the two sources speak eloquently on the subject. Still, it is important to remember that death ways are customs followed by the living, not the dead, and many aspects of day-to-day life pointed the way to the final chapter. Furniture stores also sold coffins, and salesmen sometimes doubled as undertakers. The many fraternal organizations also...


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Subject Headings

  • Virginia City (Nev.) -- History.
  • Virginia City (Nev.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Virginia City (Nev.) -- Antiquities.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Nevada -- Virginia City.
  • Silver mines and mining -- Nevada -- Virginia City -- History.
  • Gold mines and mining -- Nevada -- Virginia City -- History.
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