Bones in Them Thar Hills: Goldfield Cemetery

June 13, 2016 — The stones were bright white and uneven, like teeth pushing up from the desert, stark as bone against all the dead brownness. Words were painted on their surfaces in large red or black letters. It was a cemetery. Even if it did look like a fake cemetery that a bunch of morbid elementary school kids made for a class project. And that’s not even the best reason to love the cemetery.

The town of Goldfield, Nevada, was established in 1903. It was a mining town. For gold and silver, but mostly gold. The town’s name was a public relations move to attract more people to the area. Before that, the community was called Grandpa. I assume another reason was that the residents felt icky about saying that they lived in Grandpa.

Of course, Goldfield wanted people, and a side effect of that is dead people. So the residents made a cemetery as soon as they had a body to stick in it. And then they had to move the cemetery.

As the town grew, the location of the cemetery turned out to be kind of awkward. The train stop was right there inside of it, and its signature hotel was almost next door. The townsfolk didn’t want people’s first impression of Goldfield being a cemetery any more than they wanted to tell people that they lived in Grandpa, so one night when decent folk were abed, a group of duly appointed men dubbed “official ghouls” dug up the remains and reinterred them just outside of town. And that’s where you can see them today.

These days, the total number of living souls in Goldfield is 268, so even the people who call it home can blow through there without realizing they’re in a town. Its signature hotel, the Goldfield Hotel, survives to this day and is often on paranormal hotspot lists. Most of Goldfield Cemetery is modern and looks like your average southwestern cemetery, arid and colorless. But then you get to the pioneer section. Which also looks arid and colorless, but also somewhat whimsical. A tin plaque on a post tells the story of this section, which shields the town’s intrepid early residents from the baking and blistering sun. Some 70 are buried there, including “a few homeless & unknowns” and “a murder suspect who committed suicide in the Goldfield jail.”

But mostly the cemetery is full of miners, meaning both their lives and afterlives were/are spent underground. I know this because the occupations of the deceased are sometimes lettered on the white gravestones.

Volunteers keep the stones painted and looking nice, but it’s the epitaphs that really make the cemetery stand out.

Because in Goldfield Cemetery, epitaphs include a piece of information that I believe should be included in the epitaphs of every single modern gravestone, as well: cause of death. The cemetery in nearby Tonopah does the same thing. In the case of Goldfield Cemetery, those causes of death range from being shot to being shot to being shot, although there is a self-strangulation (which I assume is the jail suicide). There’s also the one cause of death that has probably single-stonedly made Goldfield Cemetery so famous among us taphophiles: “died eating library paste.”

The West was wild, man.

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