So many oddities come hand-in-hand with a ghost town. They are sieve for oddity: anything normal comes and goes but the strange curiosities lodge in the town to stay. In the case of Virginia City, that means a Nickelodeon that still charges a nickel to watch Bawdy films of scandalous women show their ankles and get your fortune told.
Virginia City is the remnants of a gold rush that began in the 1860s in Montana’s Alder canyon. Where most old towns have been burned down or bulldozed, Virginia City was preserved thanks to the interest from Charles Bovey, heir to the General Mills flour fortune. With his support, the ghost town was turned into a seasonally buzzing tourist spot. The boardwalk along the main street leads visitors along an alternating collection of ice cream shops, pizza joints, and recreations of period businesses.
The Gypsy Arcade is one of these period businesses. At the front, there is an intricate music machine that is, sadly, out of order. Frankly, that is the case for several of the devices on display. These machines rely on very old mechanisms in easy reach of very young children. Most of the arcade is lined with classic peep shows: wooden boxes with hand cranks that viewers could look into and progress the animation by turning a crank. While some of them do warrant some adult consideration, many are child friendly.
But, perhaps the most remarkable part of the Gypsy Arcade is the gypsy fortuneteller booth roped off in the back. It is a nearly one of a kind relic of old classic penny arcades and fairgrounds. While other fortunetelling booths still exist, this one is notable for its intricacy and collectors such as David Copperfield have offered millions of dollars for the item. But Virginia City, whose historical commission oversees the Gypsy Arcade and most of the historic displays, will not sell. Without another wealthy benefactor like Bovey, the sale could do wonders for the cash strapped town. But that hasn’t swayed them yet. It’s a disappointment for eager collectors but a boon for lovers of the odd Americana.