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"Havens in a Heartless World" online exhibition features artifacts retrieved during excavations of historic Comstock saloons.
Photo: Courtesy of Online Nevada Encyclopedia
Members of the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office and Nevada Humanities’ Online Nevada Encyclopedia have forged a high-tech partnership, bringing 19th-century Nevada saloons to life with 21st-century technology.
Ron James, Nevada state historic preservation officer, and Karen Wikander, managing editor of Online Nevada Encyclopedia, have announced the premiere of an online exhibition dealing with cutting-edge archaeology in Nevada’s Comstock Historic District. The original exhibit, “Havens in a Heartless World: Virginia City’s Saloons and the Archaeology of the Wild West,” first opened at Carson City’s Nevada State Museum in March 2006, and subsequently traveled to Las Vegas and Virginia City. In 2007, the exhibit won a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History.
The award-winning exhibit can now be seen in its new “virtual” form, in three parts, at Online Nevada Encyclopedia. Howard Goldbaum, associate professor in the University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism, contributed virtual realities of both locations and artifacts.
“Thanks to the efforts of the Online Nevada Encyclopedia sponsored by Nevada Humanities, ‘Havens in a Heartless World’ can now be enjoyed online by an international audience,” James says. “And Howard’s work is a stunning addition to the exhibit, making this a cutting-edge online resource.”
The exhibit includes a variety of the best of more than 300,000 artifacts retrieved since 1993 during the excavations of four Virginia City saloons. The archaeology was completed in cooperation with Don Hardesty, chair of the Department of Anthropology at UNR.
The excavations uncovered the nation’s richest assemblage of saloon-related artifacts. Sites included an Irish saloon, a combination saloon/shooting gallery, John Piper’s Old Corner Bar (associated with his famous Opera House), and the Boston Saloon, an African-American establishment that operated between 1864 and 1875. The Boston Saloon excavation received international attention in 2002 when archaeologists announced the discovery of the world’s oldest known Tabasco sauce bottle from the site. A virtual reality depiction of the bottle is included in the online exhibit.
“The saloon is an American icon that has shaped our view of the West,” James says. “This exhibit has proven to have widespread appeal as it uses artifacts to explore the real saloon as opposed to the well-known Hollywood stereotype.”
“Havens in a Heartless World” was produced by Nevada State Museum staff, with Ronald James and Kelly Dixon, University of Montana, as co-curators. The Institute of Museums and Library Services provided funds for the original traveling exhibit in cooperation with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.