Reno Mythbusters

by Ron Andersen, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Sep 24th 2010 08:18 PM

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Reno Mythbusters

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Evil demons, (sort of) friendly ghosts, and lost gold are just a few of the urban myths surrounding Reno, Nevada. What's a Water Baby? Who's in room #5 at the Gold Hill Hotel, and whatever happened to the boot full of gold? Reno mythbusters set out to answer these questions and more. Although Nevada is a relatively young state, its Wild West past is fertile ground for scary urban legends.


The Water Babies of Pyramid Lake


One of the most enduring urban myths in the Reno area involves Pyramid Lake, located just a few miles north of town on the Paiute Indian Reservation. Call it a myth at your discretion - nearly every spring an unlucky fisherman, angling for a record-sized cutthroat trout, disappears. Their bodies are seldom recovered. Some attribute their disappearance to the 350-foot depth of the lake, while others claim, "It's the Water Babies."

Just who, or what, are the Water Babies? Since no one has lived to tell the tale, it all depends on who you ask. It is an established fact that before the white man arrived at Pyramid Lake members of the Paiute tribe threw ill-formed or premature babies into the water. The tribe members felt that this was a necessary task to keep the tribe strong in the harsh desert environment.

According to one version of this Reno urban legend, the angry spirits of the unfortunate infants took hold of the lake over the centuries. Now, nearly every spring, these tormented spirits take their revenge on lake dwellers.

The Paiutes who live near the lake, however, tell a different story. According to staff members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center, this urban myth began with a family vacation, of sorts, to the California coast. While there, one of the Paiute sons met and fell in love with a mermaid-like creature. He was determined to marry her, and brought her back to Pyramid Lake with him to meet his fellow tribe members. Upon seeing the strange creature, the Paiute tribe members insisted that he take her back to the ocean. But before they left, the rejected creature put a curse on the water.

Shortly thereafter, two sisters were washing clothes in the river. One sister had a small infant who she left in the shade of a large tree while she did her chores. Unbeknownst to the sisters, a serpent emerged from the river, eating the baby and assuming its form. When the young mother went to feed her child, the demonic infant began to devour the young mother. After the poor mother's sister and several tribe members failed to make the baby release its grip, a Medicine Man was summoned. A fateful deal was made: the demon would be free to inhabit the lake if the young mother was restored to health.

Reno mythbusters and ghost hunters are still baffled by the paranormal presence that looms over Pyramid Lake. People still report that they hear the dejected cries of an invisible baby or the laughter of ghostly children. Such noises constitute a bad omen, according to the Pyramid Lake natives. As one Paiute man tells it, "If you hear it, it's bad news; if you see it, you're dead!" All I can tell you is if you're planning a trip to Pyramid Lake, it's best to fish near the shoreline. Better yet, admire the beauty of the lake from a far yet safe distance, and move on.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitor Center
709 Hwy 446
Nixon, NV 89424
Mon, Tues CLOSED
Sun, Wed-Sat 10:00AM-4:30PM
775-574-1088


The Ghosts of Gold Hill


Nevada has become notorious for its association with ghost towns. Many of these towns are marked only by broken bottles and twisted bits of iron. Wood planks, nails, and window glass had to be shipped in from many miles away. When the mines played out, the miners customarily disassembled their huts and houses nail by nail to be rebuilt at the "new diggin's." Only if the mines lasted long enough would there be any buildings left today.

A few miles to the southeast of Reno is Virginia City, which is said to be the most haunted city in America. Many of the scary urban legends that you'll hear about this city are created purely for the entertainment of tourists.

But just down the road in Gold Hill, NV, within yards of the old Yellow Jacket Mine, sits the Gold Hill Hotel which has served as a haven for ghosts for over 100 years and become a classic Reno urban legend. The hotel's eerie reputation traces back to the early morning hours of April 7, 1869 when a fire swept through the Yellow Jacket and two neighboring mines. 37 miners and firemen lost their lives that day. This tragic fire remains one of the worst mining disasters in Nevada history. In fact, some of the men are still entombed there.

During the mining era, the Gold Hill Hotel served as a boarding house for the miners. It was known by the miners as the place to relax, indulge in a cold drink and a hot meal, or enjoy the comforts of a real bed. And, apparently, some of these very miners still stop in for a visit–even after all these years.

The most notable of these spooky dwellers is a man known only by the name of William. He seems to prefer room #5, although he has been spotted in many other parts of the hotel. He was once fireman and, for the most part, is said to be a friendly and amiable spirit. If you don't mind a little "bed shaking," or some scratching at the door in the middle of the night, you might like to stay the night with William and his friends at the hotel. Bear in mind, however, that the hotel staff has the good sense to sleep elsewhere. There is no night clerk at the Gold Hill. In the off season, it could be that you're the only guest in the building. Well, maybe not the only guest...

The Gold Hill Hotel
1540 Main Street
Virginia City, NV 89440
775-847-0111
Sun-Sat 9:00AM-9:00PM


The Lost Gold of the Overland Express


It wouldn't be Nevada without a tale of lost gold. The site of the Great Train Robbery of 1870 is located just six miles west of Reno, and it has become a prime location for Reno urban legend.

On the night of November 4, 1870, five masked men held up the Central Pacific Overland Express train on its way to Reno, obtaining over $40,000 worth of gold coins intended for the Yellow Jacket mine's payroll. It was reported that, besides the traditional saddlebags, they carried the stolen coins in old boots that they tied together–a crafty solution. The outlaws escaped to the northwest, some making it as far as Loyalton, California. They were quickly rounded-up, sentenced, and in the Nevada State Prison by Christmas Day. All of the money was recovered except for 150 $20 gold pieces.

At today's prices, those gold coins are worth an estimated half million dollars. While it sounds like these pieces of change are worth the hunt, there are some circumstances to take into account. First of all, there are a lot of rocks lying around between Reno and Loyalton that make for good hiding spots for a boot full of gold; the stash could be anywhere. Also, after serving their sentences, four of the five robbers were never heard from again. Did one of them uncover his stash, or did he lose track of it? $3,000 was a lot of money back in those days, so it is unlikely that it was spent in the short time spanning the getaway. In any case, you may want to keep your eyes open for an old boot.
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Timber Downey

LOL My parental units used to scare the bajeebies out of us when we were kids and camped at Pyramid Lake... they would tell us the tale at night about the water babies... and then send us to our tents and say "Dont come out at night or the water babies will get you." LMAO I am still totally scarred from that!

August 04 2011 at 7:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
melmelnv1

Agreed. Great stories. Nevada has such a rich history. More stories needed.

July 24 2011 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Maria V.

Great article. It was very interesting. It would be interesting to learn more about Nevada's history.

September 27 2010 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dick Andersen


Great article! We need more stories about Nevada!

September 27 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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