GOLDFIELD, Nev. -- Goldfield, Nevada which is 180 miles north of Las Vegas exemplifies the boom and bust cycle so common in Nevada's history. Rich gold deposits made it the biggest city in Nevada at the beginning of the 20th century.
Everything changed 89 years ago today when a deadly fire raced through the town, wiping out 25 city blocks. Today, fewer than 250 people live there.
Reality TV ghost hunters think Goldfield is one of the most haunted places in the country, and now some civic boosters want to put that reputation to work.
Anyone with an interest in Nevada history has a soft spot in their heart for Goldfield. Once, a fabulously wealthy boomtown. Today, it's just barely hanging on. 8 News NOW has reported before about magnificent Goldfield Hotel believed -- by paranormal investigators -- to be one of the most haunted buildings in the west. But there's another grand old building that is every bit as spooky.
The public rarely gets to look inside the ominous Goldfield School, but that's changing thanks to history buffs who think the ghosts might even save Goldfield.
The windswept cemetery outside of town, Goldfield's Boot Hill, is testament to the death and tragedy that marred the city's short tumultuous heyday. Some of the world's richest ore sparked a boomtown built to last with more than 20,000 people at a time Las Vegas was a dusty speck.
It was the biggest city in the state and there was talk of making it the capital. But a pair of deadly fires, followed by killer floods, wiped out nearly everything. Those who weren't killed left when the gold ran out.
"When you walk through the building, it really shows the prominence of the town at that time. Goldfield was a great city," said Esmeralda County Commissioner Dominic Pappalardo. As a big city transplant, Pappalardo has taken on the task of restoring Goldfield's greatness, one building at a time, starting with the once magnificent high school.
By night, the school looks like it belongs on a hillside behind the Bates Motel, large and ominous. It is rarely open to the public, has been ravaged by time and cannibalized by the district, but hints remain of what it once was. The names of each graduating class in graffiti on the walls, a Christmas greeting from the last senior class (1947), and teacher lessons still on the blackboard.
Pappalardo has spent hundreds of hours in the school, repairing it brick by brick, room by room, and has seen enough, heard enough, to believe he hasn't been alone.
"There's spirits and entities and all of them lived here in the past and they have a reason why they were here and when they were alive," Pappalardo said.
He claims there are more than a dozen people. He has seen wispy glimpses of a young girl in what used to be a lavatory. And there's a spot on the second floor where others have seen the once stern principal.
"I had a medium here recently tell me he sees Mary McLoughlin, the principal of the school, standing here watching students, making sure they do what they are supposed to be doing," he said.
"It's nothing hostile. It's more like, hello, I'm here," said John Cushman, a ghost hunter. He is leader of the G-Tops, that's Ghost Town Operations. Cushman and his team travel Nevada's outback, looking for ghost towns with real ghosts.
"You say Goldfield, that's all you need to do. People learned it from television. Oh yeah, that's where the ghosts are," he said.
Television ghost hunters have repeatedly focused on the massive Goldfield Hotel. Paranormal amateurs have taken to break-ins so they can connect with the other side. That gave Cushman and Pappalardo the idea that ghosts might save Goldfield, which now sells all sorts of spooky merchandise.
But restoring the school is a key goal, and for that, they stage Dinner with a Ghost once a month. A team of volunteers led by a Las Vegas chef whip up a four-course gourmet meal in a makeshift kitchen, and serve it to guests in an elegant but spooky setting inside the school. Infrared cameras record any anomalies, KDWN radio broadcasts the proceedings. Guests are encouraged to ask questions of any spectral visitors and a device called an Ovelius Box picks up words from somewhere.
Throughout the school, the team sets up objects they hope will trigger a reaction, and they've recorded some pretty weird stuff.
"We've encountered a lot here. I think, in my own opinion, they get used to you. They know when you're here," Cushman said.
All proceeds from the dinners go into the non-profit that is restoring the school. The hope is that interest in the dead will keep Goldfield alive.
"We want to save our history and our heritage because this is all we've got," Pappalardo said.
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