The main street promenade in Virginia City stretches as far as the eye can see.
Just up from the main street, Doug Gist has his hands full with history.
“The oldest item we have is actually a document from 1714,” Gist, President of the Silver State National Peace Officers, said.
The story behind the police museum inside the old Storey County Jail is as unique Gist’s father, Walt Gist, who unintentionally started the massive collection inside long before anything was on display.
“My father was the first generation of this family to go into law enforcement, but he just had a passion for this. There’s one badge in the collection today that he picked up at a flea market in the Bay area, with a bunch of junk jewelry on a table. Turned out that badge was a very, very antique, invaluable law enforcement badge and his first thought was somebody wore with pride and it should be preserved and not thrown away,” Gist said.
That was in 1954.
“He purchased that badge and that was the start of the collection and now we’re somewhere around 10,000 badges,” Gist said.
Badges only scratch the surface of all the items now in the Gist collection.
Of the more popular items visitors come to see is a casting made of John Dillinger’s face. Dillinger’s crimes in the 1930’s garnished him the nickname ‘Public Enemy Number One’ and was the most wanted man at the time by the FBI. The plaster cast was made shortly after Dillinger was killed in 1934 and is one of five in existence.
“These are things that bring people through the door, absolutely,” Gist said.
It took Gist and a group of volunteers three years to turn the old county jail into what is currently available today. Much of that history is still preserved inside cells that once housed local criminals, and, inside cases, the stories of the men and women who brought them to justice.
This collection is a national collection, there are things from all of the country here but it's also very, very extensive Nevada law enforcement collection. We've got a huge, actually, multiple exhibits on the Reno Police Department, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office, Sparks Police, the Nevada State Police, Highway Patrol and Virginia City Police.
As a former Washoe County Sheriff’s Office Deputy, Gist takes a particular interest in preserving his former employer’s past, including the tools and techniques that were once used.
“One of my favorites is a sheriff’s badge. It’s made from a $20 gold piece and it was worn by three Washoe County Sheriffs through history beginning with Jay Frank Emmett in 1882, William Collin in 1891 and then Charles Farrell in 1904.
Each year the annual peace officer memorial parade down the main street marks the beginning of the museum’s season, which runs May 1 through October 31.
“That's a very important part of this museum and what it's about. We had a grand opening parade when we opened the museum in 2009 and that was such a success that every year in May we have an annual police memorial parade in conjunction with the memorial,” Gist said.
Since opening, Gist has noticed a decline in visitors, which he chalks up to their lack of attracting foot traffic from the main street – not the quality of what’s inside.
“I’ve never had anyone be disappointed after coming here. Most people are fascinated with what we have to offer,” Gist said.
With continued support, Gist hopes to go on sharing the proud past of American and Silver State heroes.
“There's no other collection like this anywhere in United States and there's no other museum like this in United States and it’s right here in northern Nevada for everybody to enjoy,” Gist said.
Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October. Admission is $5 for adults, children thirteen and younger are free. For more information call (775)847-7800.