Formally attired revelers got a jump on the Nevada Day festivities Saturday at the historic Piper’s Opera House, dancing the night away in period clothing that evoked the heyday of this once booming mining town.
Hoop skirts, military dress and Victorian suits were the order of the evening at the Governor’s Ball, one of many events scheduled for the next several days in honor of the 149th anniversary of Nevada’s entry into the union.
Waltzing to the sounds of the Dennis Butterfield Victorian Orchestra with host “Dance Master Gus,” attendees enjoyed the historic atmosphere of the opera house, located in one of the great “ghost towns” of the West.
Despite the name of the event, Gov. Brian Sandoval and his wife, Kathleen, were unable to attend. Sandoval is in Israel on a trade mission.
But that did not put a damper on the evening.
Rae Owen, docent coordinator and volunteer organizer, said Virginia City has been home to a Governor’s Ball, off and on, since statehood in 1864. The ball has been held at Piper’s for the last several years, she said.
“It’s a special event,” Owen said. “Tonight I’m expecting about 120 people.”
In addition to enjoying the chance to party in the historic opera house that saw performances from the likes of Lilly Langtry, John Phillip Sousa and Al Jolson, the event was a fundraiser for the 1885-era performance hall as well. The venue, built by John Piper, was the third incarnation, with the previous two lost to fire. It was built with a dance floor and hanging balconies.
Dave Szabo and Della Fadel of Reno said they try to attend the event as often as they can.
“It’s a local event that draws a lot of attention to Virginia City,” Fadel said. “It’s just a wonderful old-time event that everyone participates in.”
“Wrangler Rich” and “Miss Sue” of Carson City said they enjoy the history of the area and like to participate in the Nevada Day events.
“I go to all these functions because it’s fun,” he said.
Jim Wilbanks and Kristine McNary of Fallon were ready to have an entertaining evening going back in time, at least for a few hours, to the boom days of Virginia City.
“It’s fun,” McNary said. “We like the time period.”
Attendees had the chance to learn some of the dances that would have been popular more than 140 years ago, such as the schottisches, kind of a slow polka, in addition to the waltzes and other more familiar dances.
Piper’s Opera House has been called the most significant vintage theater in the West and a remarkable survivor of the colorful mining era in Virginia City.
The Storey County School District recently took over possession of the historic structure, and is working with a nonprofit group to hold events to raise money to continue with an ongoing restoration. The Nevada Commission on Cultural Affairs has awarded several grants to owners of the property over the years to make much-needed improvements. It has received federal grants as well.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow @seanw801on Twitter.