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The Specter of Silver City

Looking at Silver City from above, it looks like the ghost town could still be inhabited.

Looking at Silver City from above, it looks like the ghost town could still be inhabited.

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It is quiet now on the porch of the Idaho Hotel, once the premier place to stay in one of the state’s wealthiest and most tumultuous communities. A chill wind, an early premonition of fall and winter isolation, lifts the brittle cottonwood leaves from Jordan Street into a thin scrim of dust and yellow. This is the center of Silver City, the indestructible dowager queen of American ghost towns, just four hours from the Wood River Valley. Silver City, with its 70 surviving buildings, is an astonishing relic of a brief but fascinating period in American history—a town where early Americans . . . entrepreneurs, desperadoes, plucky immigrants, naïve farm boys . . . struggled to get rich quick. Most failed miserably, and then, short on grub or a promising mine shaft, eventually descended to the flatlands and inadvertently, perhaps reluctantly, joined in the creation of the American West.

Jordan Street, like Silver City itself, is virtually deserted. But good history is never quiet. You can literally feel it. The stormy sounds and flashes tumble down through the decades like thunder and lightning, illuminating the past, giving voice to those grand characters who preceded us. We marvel at their courage and accomplishments. And cringe at their sometimes monstrous behavior.

On April 1, 1868, for instance, Silver City was unusually fractious and foul-tempered. The earth here clung possessively to its rich cache of gold and silver. The imperative of the town was the prompt liberation of that gold and silver. The get-rich-quick fever inflamed many of Silver City’s 2,000 residents and the resulting tremors could be parlous.

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