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Nevada History Comes To Life In Elko Cemetery

Elko Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 10,000 people. Their souls are rested, but their stories come alive once a year. 

In celebration of Nevada Day, Historian Jan Petersen unearths pieces of history while preparing for her annual cemetery tour. 

“One evening I came across school boys who knew I’ve been in Elko forever,” Petersen recalls. “They wanted a story and I told them a story of Elizabeth Potts, the only woman legally executed in the State of Nevada dated back in 1890.”

Two days later, these boys came back with other names and dates from the gravestones. Petersen showed them how to look people up in old newspapers.

“I figured if you can get eighth-grade boys hooked on looking at dead people’s lives, you can get anybody,” Petersen says.

And that’s how it all started. Some of the gravestones date back to the late 19th century, while the oldest stone from the cemetery dates back to 1869. 

Petersen’s interest in cemeteries was sparked by her grandmother, who used to take her there, telling colorful tales about lives of those who were buried at Elko Cemetery. 

The cemetery has never been an isolated and eerie place for Petersen. On the contrary, it is a source for fascinating stories of ordinary people. 


Jan Petersen, historian

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