City’s Prehistoric Human Footprints—In the late 1870s,
convicts working at the quarry at the Nevada State Prison began uncovering fossils
as well as unusual footprints in the stone. In 1881, Warden William Garrard wrote
to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to request help in determining
the source of the footprints. While his letter went unanswered, a year later,
W. J. Hanks, sheriff of Storey County and a former prison employee, met with
Charles Drayton Gibbes, the academy’s geologist, who agreed to investigate.
along with H.W. Harkness and several California University professors, visited
the quarry later that year. In a follow up report, Harkness noted that the site
was most likely once a pond or lake and that “we see the footprints
of a variety of animals, among which we recognize those of the mammoth, the deer,
the wolf, of many birds, of a horse, and most important of all, the imprints
of the sandaled foot of a man.”
The news generated considerable attention
as Harkness noted that the human footprints measured 19-inches long, eight inches
across, and appeared to indicate a stride of two to three feet—about that
of a six-foot man wearing sandals. Other scientists studied the prints and came
to different conclusions. Several noted that the prints resembled those of an
extinct gigantic ground sloth, which often appeared to walk on two legs because
its hind feet fell almost exactly over the prints of it forefeet, which also
served to lengthen the size of the print.
In 1919, paleontologist Chester Stock,
who had aided in the excavation of the Rancho Le Brea asphalt deposits, finally
solved the mystery. After studying the tracks, Stock said the Carson City prints
were nearly identical to sloth prints found at Rancho Le Brea. Additionally,
he examined fossils uncovered at the quarry and found that they included sloth
bone fragments. He said this “removes
still further the possibility that the Carson footprints are to be attributed
to a member of the Hominidae (human race).”
Mystery of the Ferris Wheel—One of the most popular
stories told in Carson City is how architect George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.,
who grew up in Carson City, was inspired to invent the Ferris Wheel after recalling
the many afternoons he spent watching the large water wheels used by local mines
and imagining what it would be like to ride in one of the buckets. Many historians,
however, aren’t so sure that this is the case because Ferris himself never
cited the water wheels of his youth as his inspiration and instead said he thought
up the idea one day while scribbling on a napkin at lunch.
|State Capitol in 1871
photo courtesy Nevada
The State Capitol Fence Myth—For many years, a popular
legend about the iron fence around Nevada’s State Capitol was that when
the construction of the fence was bid, the contract was awarded to a woman, Hannah
Keziah Clapp, because the Capitol Commissioners did not recognize her initials,
H.K., and believed they were giving the job to a man.
That story, however, isn’t
true. According to Nevada historian Guy Rocha, in 1875, when the contract was
awarded, Carson City had only about 3,200 residents and Hannah Clapp was very
well known member of the community. She was a long-time educator, who operated
the Sierra Seminary with her partner, Eliza C. Babcock, and had lived in the
community for more than 15 years. As additional proof, Rocha notes that the May
4, 1875 Daily Appeal reported “let there be no further complaints about
the non-employment of their rights by the women of Nevada.
The contract for the
furnishing of iron fencing for the Capitol Square has been awarded to Misses
Clapp and Babcock, Principals of Sierra Seminary; their bid $5,500 in coin for
the delivery of the fencing upon the grounds is the lowest by some hundreds of
|White House Hotel
photo courtesy Nevada
The Great Carson City Stagecoach Robbery—In the 1930s,
a story began circulating that sometime in the late 1860s a stage filled with
$60,000 in gold bullion was robbed outside of Carson City. According to the story,
the stage was traveling from Virginia City to the Carson City Mint when it was
stopped a few miles east of Carson City by armed gunmen, who escaped with the
A posse quickly formed to hunt the robbers and gave chase. They soon overtook
the thieves, killing three in a gun battle, and capturing the fourth, a man said
to be named Manuel Gonzales. They didn’t, however, recover the gold. Gonzales
was sentenced to 20 years in prison and refused to reveal where the booty had
been hidden although he reportedly remarked that he could see the location from
his prison cell window.
After eight years, Gonzales was granted early release
from prison for health reasons. According to the story, a local butcher befriended
him and convinced him to lead him to the hidden loot. But just before they could
reach it Gonzales had a seizure and died. The treasure is supposedly still buried
somewhere near the State Prison.
Historian Guy Rocha has researched this tale
and traced its roots to a book called “Pots
O’Gold,” published in 1935 by former prison warden Matt Penrose.
According to Rocha, it’s unlikely that a stagecoach would have been used
to transport gold from Virginia City to the Mint in the late 1860s because the
Mint didn’t open until 1870, and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad began
operating between Virginia City and Carson City that same year. Additionally,
Rocha found no mention of such a significant robbery in any newspapers, historical
records, or other primary sources of the time. His conclusion? It never happened.
|Robinson Street from the Governor's Mansion
photo courtesy Nevada
Carson City’s Ghost Stories—A handful of historic
buildings in Carson City have been the subject of colorful tales involving specters
and ghosts. One of the best known “haunted” houses is the Governor’s
mansion. For many years, staff and overnight guests at the Governor’s mansion
at 600 N. Mountain Street have reported seeing and hearing a woman in a long
white dress followed by a young girl wandering the second floor. Despite numerous
sightings, no one is quite sure of their identity or why they haunt the mansion,
although some have speculated that they are former First Lady Una Dickerson and
her daughter, June Dickerson, the only child ever born in the house. Additionally,
it is said that sometimes when a person stands in front of an antique Grandfather
clock on the first floor of the mansion, he or she can feel a mysterious cold
air or cold breeze.
The Brewery Arts Center is also the subject of ghostly reports.
Several visitors to the building have reported that they have felt as if they
were being watched or talked to, and heard unexplainable noises. One witness
claimed to have seen a man dapperly dressed in a brown checked suit with a vest
and yellow tie. The ghost is believed to be James P. Maar, a one-time officer
in the local Masonic Lodge (which met for many years in the building) who was
in charge of keeping order in the building. It is said that he is always polite
and acts like a gentleman.
The Edwards House at 204 N. Minnesota St., is another
haunted residence that, according to local lore, houses a ghostly housekeeper.
In the late 1800s, Mrs. Maria Anderson served as the housekeeper and nanny for
the Edward family. It is said that her favorite furnishing was a piano that was
shipped around the Cape to Carson City. The piano never needs dusting—even
the ghost of Mrs. Anderson continues to keep it clean. Additionally, several
people have reported seeing Mrs. Anderson sitting in the home’s big bay
windows—like she once loved to do when she was alive.
Yet another ghost
story involves the Ferris House, boyhood home of George Washington Gale Ferris
Jr. In the early 1900s, a lavish wedding party was being held in the home. Several
guests at the party spoke to a woman dressed in a wedding gown, who was not the
bride, near the back gate. The guests later asked the confused father of bride
why there were two brides at the wedding. He said there was only one bride despite
their claims to having seen a second one. Later, it was discovered that there
had been a wedding party in the house years earlier. It is said that the ghost
of the first bride returned to watch over the party.
|King St., Carson City
photo courtesy Nevada