In Virgina City, NV, there is an old school that has been turned into a museum. It is called the Fourth Ward School and has 4 levels, only two of which are open to the public. If you were a child in public school in Northern Nevada during the 80’s and into the 90’s, you have been there. Fields trips to the former mining town and current tourist trap were yearly, and since it was an old school, of course the teachers had to take you there to show you how much better you supposedly have it now. Unfortunately, their plan usually backfired with us because the building is actually very nice, didn’t have to have the cafeteria shut down an entire year for asbestos removal, and there were little wood stoves in each class room as opposed to the worthless central heating system we had that was supposedly more efficient. The little desk/chair combos were more like the ones we had in high school, only they were made of real wood and metal, rather than MDF and plastic. We all wish we had a school as non-institutional looking as the Fourth Ward School.
Across the street from the school now sits a hill. At the time my combination 4th and 5th grade class went for our yearly Virginia City field trip, that hill was an open-pit mine. Though most of the silver that still exists under Virginia City (And there is a lot left) is not worth extracting due to the low price of silver, there is some gold in dem dar hills, but you can’t just go down in the mines that snake below the city and hope to grab a nugget. No, this is micro-gold which means you have to dig a huge pit, extract tons of earth, leach the gold out of the earth with cyanide, clean the ground, and then return it when you are done mining. And that’s what they were doing. Now it is a hill. Then it was a pit. Before it was a pit, the street went a little further, and there was a hospital.
Our entire 4th grade went on that field trip. 2 other classes, and my combo-class. That meant that all my friends would be there. As we piled off of the buses, we stuck together so that when we were divided into the three groups (so as to be more manageable for the chaperones and business owners) we would be able to stick together. Our group was about 15 kids, all of my friends, and one parent chaperone who had no idea what she was getting herself into. We started through one end of Virginia City on C street, and walked through the businesses and toward the other. Our first stop was the graveyard. It is off of C, but just a couple blocks, right when you get into town from Gold Hill. It is amazing to imagine the way that mining boomtown was when the people who now filled those graves were walking through it. I also find it fascinating when they list their cause of death. After that we walked through the streets of tourist souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars. We then went into one where they had a section of mine we were able to tour. Through a door in the back, we walked into the square timber mine, going pretty deep into the ground under the city. All the deeper paths were blocked but we still had a good, long walk through part of a mine. We exited a couple blocks away through a big, steel door, and all grabbed a little rock with some silver in it (though we were told not to).
And eventually, we found our way to the Fourth Ward School. We entered at ground level, and one of the other groups of our schoolmates was upstairs. We looked around at the place, and got bored pretty quickly. “Yeah, neat, an old school, oh look, they used chalk, wow pictures, oh how exciting,”
And as the other group of kids came down the stairs and filed out the door, we were told by our chaperone to look around the upstairs. Apparently, she decided to hang back and talk with the guides. So we went to the upstairs and looked around there. Okay, nothing special. Just another classroom. Until we went to look out the windows.
I was sure we were looking out the windows towards the front of the school, but instead of seeing an open-pit mine, we were looking at a large building. And then we say them, people looking back at us. Very sad-looking, very odd. My friend Shasta asked to the old tour guide who had just come up the stairs why they looked so sad.
“Well, dear, that is the miner’s hospital. Maybe their loved ones are sick or injured and they are worried about them,” replied the nice old tour guide, who then turned and walked back down the stairs. We took that as our queue that we were supposed to get back to our chaperone, so we walked down the stairs. On the wall, beside the staircase were some pictures of classes from the 1800’s when Virginia City was in its heyday. And in one of the pictures, I noticed the teacher behind the rows of children.
The nice old tour guide who told us about the mining hospital.