Pine Nuts: Twain bookstore helped ease Sam into 21st century

McAvoy Layne

McAvoy Layne takes a moment to ham it up a replica of the literary icon at the Mark Twain Bookstore in Virginia City.
Courtesy photo |

Tell me it ain’t so, Joe! Virginia City’s pride and joy, the Mark Twain Bookstore, is closing her doors. Joe and Ellie Curtis have been keeping Mark Twain’s Comstock presence green for several decades, and Joe’s mom, Paula, watered that plant with the Mark Twain Museum before the Mark Twain Bookstore was born.

In fact, it was that regal and mysterious Paula Hardy who first welcomed me to Virginia City as the Ghost of Mark Twain some 25 summers ago.

She summoned me to her inner sanctum that lay buried deep inside the Mark Twain Museum, whereupon a door opened on its own, revealing her majestic aura.

Ms. Hardy interviewed me a full 15 minutes before extending her hand and welcoming me to the Comstock Lode.

Joe and Ellie would soon extend the same gracious courtesy, along with Chic DiFrancia and his bride to be, “Comstock,” Virgil Bucchianeri, and Carol Piper Marshall, who asked me to present 200 shows over four months time at Piper’s Opera House, probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.

The rest of the town was not as quick to welcome a Ghost of Mark Twain.

Sheriff Del Carlo once stopped me on the boardwalk and warned if he saw me pointing to Piper’s Opera House with my cigar he would arrest me under the old pandering law.

To this day I do not know if he was kidding or not, though I do tend to believe he was kidding, because when I received word that my son was about to be born at Washoe Med, I started down Geiger Grade at a pretty good clip.

Sheriff Del Carlo was parked on the side of the road and I pulled up beside him. “Hey, Sheriff, my son’s being born at Washoe Med … catch me if you can.”

He didn’t bother, and that was his chance if he really wanted to arrest me.

Ten years ago, then Sen. John Ensign was due to speak at Piper’s Opera House and the city fathers (Joe was one) thought it might be appropriate if the Ghost of Twain were to introduce the soon-to-be-censored senator.

The house was full, and after a few opening remarks, I launched into what I suspected the Republican senator and town fathers might not want to hear…

“Senator Ensign, I would ask that you take a message to President Bush from the Ghost of Mark Twain: ‘I do not like to see our eagle’s talons on any other land. If we do not find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Jay Garner is going to find the Ghost of Twain sitting on his desk in Baghdad.’”

Not a popular opinion in Virginia City at the time.

The senator took the stage with a thin smile. As the program came to a close, Joe Curtis saddled up alongside me and asked with a grin, “Sam, can I give you safe passage out of town?”

Joe, it’s too late to thank your mom, but I’d like to thank you and Ellie for your support in helping me launch what has now been a wonderful 25-year journey.

Thanks for all the good Comstock energy you have provided and for giving us the Mark Twain Bookstore. We wish you every success in your next exciting venture … to buy you a sarsaparilla.

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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