Part 1 in a series of 6 reports on Nevada City’s secret mine shafts.

Nevada City, CA — In Nevada City, beneath the façade of charm and rustic elegance of the historic National Hotel, lies a network of abandoned mining tunnels, relics of the gold rush era. These mine shafts or tunnels have been the subject of hushed conversations and speculative whispers among the town’s oldest families for years. Yet, despite decades of inebriated revelry of holiday gatherings, lips remain tightly sealed, guarding a secret as volatile as the dynamite rumored to be abandoned within the labyrinthine corridors below.

This is the first part of the six-segment Broad Street Beacon investigative series into a clandestine affair that started with an anonymous tip that suggested the existence of a secret society, a group of steadfast locals who have, for over 150 years, been the silent custodians of the mine tunnels. According to whispered accounts over the years, these guardians have maintained a long-standing tradition of meticulously delivering provisions into the depths of the earth. The nature and purpose of these offerings, however, have remained as obscure as the identity of their recipients.

Reverend Wilford E. Shank Rears his Head Again

Wilford E. Shank in a wood engraving from 1864 in his Grass Valley, CA Church Street location, just 3 years before his death from dysentery.
Wilford E. Shank in a wood engraving from 1874 in his Grass Valley, CA Church Street location, just 3 years before his death from dysentery.

The enigmatic Reverend Wilford E. Shank is central to this narrative, a figure whose involvement with the tunnels is as speculated upon as unconfirmed. Reverend Shank, known for his charismatic yet inscrutable presence, is rumored to play a pivotal role in the secretive operations of the tunnel society. Whether he is the architect of this underground endeavor or merely a pawn in a larger, unseen game remains a matter of conjecture.

The reverend’s demeanor projected an aura of spiritual solemnity, and his actions suggested a man deeply entrenched in the dealings of the subterranean society going back to 1869. Unconfirmed reports at the time pieced together from overheard conversations, and the cryptic musings of the town’s more loquacious spirits paint a picture of a man who stumbled upon the town’s underground legacy quite by accident—or fate, depending on whom you ask.

Legend has it that Reverend Shank inadvertently discovered an entrance to the labyrinthine network of tunnels while routinely exploring his church’s ancient foundations. Initially driven by a historian’s curiosity and a theologian’s wonder, he delved into the archives, unearthing dusty tomes and forgotten scriptures that hinted at the existence of the tunnel guardians. Captivated by the tales of dedication and secrecy, the reverend was inexorably drawn into the fold. It wasn’t long before he emerged as this secretive cadre’s de facto leader, the chosen steward, or an unlucky (or lucky) crank.

Reverend Shank’s transformation from a humble man of the cloth to the enigmatic linchpin of the tunnel society was as swift as it was shrouded in mystery. Some speculate that his ascendancy was guided by a higher power, a divine hand shaping the town’s destiny through its subterranean veins. Others whisper that the reverend’s role was born of necessity, a response to the pressing need to safeguard the town’s hidden history and its even more hidden inhabitants. Regardless of the true genesis of his involvement, Reverend Wilford E. Shank stands at the center of this unfolding narrative, a figure as compelling and inscrutable as the secrets he is rumored to keep.

A Breakthrough Revelation

A breakthrough in our investigation occurred unexpectedly at the Mine Shaft Saloon, a Broad Street locale steeped in local lore and libations. Here, Toby “Doob” Carnvale, a character as colorful as the town’s history, unwittingly divulged details that would thicken the plot of this subterranean saga. In an unguarded moment, fueled by the saloon’s potent spirits, Doob spoke of inhabitants in the tunnels—beings whose existence has necessitated the continued sustenance provided by society.

Inside the Mine Shaft with Toby “Doob” Carnevale.

In the dimly lit confines of the Mine Shaft, where the past lingers in the air as tangibly as the scent of aged whiskey, the patrons of Nevada City share their theories on the enigmatic inhabitants of the tunnels. Each theory, as colorful and varied as the characters who propose them, paints a picture of the town’s unusual folklore and conjecture.

At a corner table, under the glow of a flickering light, sits Jeb “Old Timer” Callahan, a man whose family roots in Nevada City run as deep as the mines themselves. Nursing a glass of the saloon’s finest, Jeb leans in, his voice barely above a whisper.

“Now, don’t go spreadin’ this around, but my great-grandpappy used to tell tales of a hidden enclave of Sasquatch living right beneath our boots. Says he saw ’em with his own eyes, big as life and twice as hairy. They’re down there, alright, protected by the old dynamite stashes that’d blow sky high if anyone dared to disturb their sanctuary.”

Across the room, by the glow of the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale sign, Mabel McKinney, a no-nonsense woman known for her sharp wit and sharper tongue, scoffs at Jeb’s tale.

“Sasquatch? Hogwash! The real story, the one my ancestors passed down, is about a lost tribe of miners. ‘Got trapped down there during the big cave-in of ’69 and never found their way out. Over the years, they adapted and learned to live in the dark. Why, it’s said they’re still mining, chipping away at the heart of the earth, waiting for the day they can emerge and reclaim their rightful place above ground.”

At the bar, sipping on a mysterious concoction known only to the bartender and himself, is ‘Cosmic’ Carl Jennings, the town’s self-proclaimed ufologist and extraterrestrial expert. Carl gestures expansively, “You’re all missing the bigger picture. Those tunnels aren’t just old mining shafts; they’re a cosmic crossroads, a meeting place for beings not of this world. You think Nevada City’s prosperity during the Gold Rush was a coincidence? Think again. It was the aliens, sharing their otherworldly technology with those lucky enough to encounter them. And they’re still down there, guiding us, shaping our destiny from the shadows.”

Well, What’s Going On?

Despite the outlandish nature of these theories, one undeniable truth persists: Nevada City harbors a secret veiled beneath layers of history and folklore. Once veins of gold and ambition, the tunnels now pulse with an enigma that intertwines the town’s past with its present. The society of guardians, a silent testament to the town’s unspoken heritage, continues its vigil, ensuring that the legacy of the tunnels and whatever they conceal endures.

The story of Nevada City and its subterranean secrets is a tapestry woven with the threads of history, mystery, and community. As the guardians of the tunnels persist in their silent watch, they serve not only as keepers of the past but as custodians of a narrative that defines the very essence of this Sierra Nevada gem. As for Reverend Wilford E. Shank and Toby “Doob” Carnvale, they remain, whether knowingly or unwittingly, integral characters in the unfolding story of Nevada City’s underground enigma.

And our journey into Nevada City’s subterranean lore is far from over. In our next chapter, we dive deeper into the mystery’s heart: the secret society’s origins, the offerings’ true nature, and the ancient pact that binds the surface to the depths. Keep your lanterns lit and your wits about you, for the tale of the tunnels is about to take a turn into even darker, more twisted corridors of the unknown. Stay tuned for the 2nd of six installments of this enigmatic series, where the past is alive, and every echo tells a story.

Part 2 of 6: How ‘The Keepers’ Have Watched Over Nevada City’s Underground Secret Mine Shafts