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Mackay Mansion, Ghosts of the Comstock

Updated: Sep 10, 2019

The small town of Virginia City in Northern Nevada provides an array of unique cultural experiences – the livestock herding’s, the historic mines, the small-town events, and of course, the hauntings.

One of my all-time favorite things about Virginia City has always been the 19th-century historic designs and with it, the haunted buildings. So, when it came time to take our usual summer trip up north, we made sure to swing by the old mining town and we were excited to have the opportunity to tour the famous Mackay Mansion

Mackay Mansion is a stunning brick Victorian Italianate that preserves relics and the ambiance of a simpler, and lavish, time. 

Built by mining millionaire, George Hearst, and later sold to Irish immigrant, John Mackay, the mansion was constructed in 1859, the same year that silver was struck in what later became the Comstock Lode. 

Hearst resided in the mansion and ran his mining company, from the front room. Since its construction, it is one of the few estates that has never been left vacant and has had only a handful of owners over the years.

While the exterior is a grand spectacle in and of itself, the interior serves as a time capsule of the lavish lifestyle that Mackay possessed, as one of the four Silver Kings and the richest man to benefit from the Comstock, with over $100 million in assets (and that was millions of dollars in the 1800s.) 

During our tour we saw unique luxuries of the mansion, such as the first plumbed-in-toilet (which was gold-leafed), a gold guided mirror of priceless diamond glass, and custom-built furniture from around the world. We learned of the mansion’s original elite utilities, such as electric lighting installed by Thomas Edison himself, and one of the first residential telephones, installed by, who else, but Alexander Graham Bell. For years, the Mackay Mansion was the grounds for many lavish dinner parties, hosting such attendees as President Grant, Samuel Clemens and Thomas Edison. 

But the history of the mansion’s foundation and gatherings were only part of the tour’s attraction. The stories or ghosts and hauntings were what enticed me the most.

The tour began in the former mining office, where we were told of a figure’s presence seen in the reflection of mirror-backed cabinets. Moving next into the grand parlor, sat the original dining room table that once hosted the lavish dinners. It was here that the tour guide let us know of the hauntings and paranormal encounters that have been had in the mansion, including voices of two children, and an unknown growling coming from the nearby stairwell. Adding to the stories of hauntings, our tour guide shared some of the paranormal evidence that had been captured which she had on her phone. EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) and images of some of the hauntings and sightings, the most intriguing of which was that of children’s voices dimly heard in the background of conversations. Our guide also shared the unfortunate bit of information that due to the Ghost Adventure crew showing the world how to enter their attic on national television, they now have to padlock and secure their attic door to prevent guests from breaking in.  

After the first two rooms and ghostly introductions, our guide let us explore the upstairs of the mansion and the surrounding grounds on our own. 

The upstairs included the main master bedrooms, decorated in original Victorian style, the children’s bedrooms and a luxury bathroom with a grand tub inlaid in a mahogany cast. Each room was quite exquisite but for me the children’s bedrooms were the most captivating, with an old pedal car, toys, ornate chandeliers and embossed wall paper.

The grounds of the mansion were just as elegant as the building itself, with a beautiful yard and larger outdoor space that included a grand gazebo sitting atop of some of the city’s original mining tunnels. After hearing the ghost stories inside and wandering the grounds alone, I found myself overly startled when I stepped along the outside of the gazebo and was greeted to the sudden loud crowing of a rooster that was inside an unseen chicken coop in the corner of the yard.

While we didn’t experience any paranormal activity for ourselves on this trip, it was a beautiful estate to tour and the original furnishings were not only magnificent but interesting to see, since a lot has changed over the course of 150 years when it comes to design and fixtures. Simply walking through the mansion, surrounded by artifacts and original furnishings can cause your mind to imagine what life was like in the 1800s when Virginia City was a booming town. 

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