The trustees of the Comstock Firemen’s Museum/Liberty Engine Company No. 1 are also the custodians of the Virginia Exempt Fire Association Cemetery in the Silver Terrace cemetery complex on the north end of Virginia City. The Comstock Firemen’s Museum/Liberty Engine Company No. 1 is represented on the board of the Comstock Cemetery Foundation along with representatives of other organizations and religions historically connected to sections within the cemetery complex. The foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit tax exempt organization whose purpose is to preserve, protect and interpret the historic cemeteries located within the Virginia City National Historic Landmark for the benefit of the general public.
Firemen’s cemetery projects include restoration/repair of grave markers and surrounds; installation of a wooden fence around the firemen’s cemetery similar to one that existed in the 19th century; removal of brush and grasses; restoration of walkways; installation of an historic marker, flagpole and entry area landscaping and other improvements.
The Virginia Fire Department purchased the cemetery for $50.00 in May of 1868. The first recorded burial of a fireman after the cemetery was acquired by the fire department was that of John J. Morehouse of Virginia Engine Company No. 1 in October of 1868, although members of John Giandoni’s (Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5) family were buried there in 1867.
When the Virginia Fire Department disbanded in 1877, following creation of the Virginia Paid Fire Department by the Nevada Legislature, the deed to the cemetery was transferred to the Virginia Exempt Fire Association. This organization was comprised of former members of the Virginia Fire Department who had at least three consecutive years service in the old department, or who had been granted “exempt” status during their active membership in the Virginia Fire Department. Following the death of the last active member of the Virginia Exempt Fire Association around 1916, responsibility for care of the cemetery passed to the Virginia City Fire Department and its successor Storey County Volunteer Fire Department-Virginia City District. The fire department transferred responsibility for the historic cemetery in 1978-79 to the trustees of the Comstock Firemen’s Museum after the parent organization, Liberty Engine Company No. 1 became a 501(c)3 non-profit tax exempt organization.
Although the cemetery is the resting place of members of the fire companies of the Virginia Fire Department and Gold Hill Fire Department, it also contains the grave of William Mullen, a San Francisco “Exempt fireman.” Or, was he? Read the story behind the Mullen grave by visiting the Guardians of the City - San Francisco Fire Department website.