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The Lonely Grave Under the Tumble Weeds

Exploring the Ghost of Mona Belle's Grave

On a dusty hillside of Rhyolite, Nevada, just at the foot of the abandoned mines and ruins of partial buildings that once made and broke the town lies a strange lone gravesite, adorned with mardi gras beads, mannequin heads, bottles of various liquor, and

a variety of cheap high-heels. A crude wooden marked with the name Isabelle Haskins stands in the middle of the pile of gifts left on the gravesite by tourists, paying their respects as if she was a Voodoo Queen.

The legend of Isabelle Haskin, or Mona Belle, begins when she was murdered in cold blood by Fred Skinner in January of 1908. Mona Belle, who was already married to another man from Nebraska, met Skinner, changed her name and eloped with him to Rhyolite, Nevada, then, a new booming mining town.

Rhyolite, a town that was built overnight, and taken down just as fast, got started by the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1904. By 1906, the town was a sprawling metropolis just at the foot of Death Valley. Investors in the company gave houses away to encourage a quick settlement in the town, installing a railroad, electricity poles, water mains, several banks that included a stock exchange, several hotels with restaurants, an opera house, and even a jail whose walls still stand today just several yards from Mona Belle’s gravesite.

Fred Skinner, a known gambler by trade, must have seen the opportunity to make some money in the town with low living costs. Mona Belle, his partner in crime, is the legend of having worked as a prostitute in one of the town’s hotels. She was rumored to have been so beautiful that she attracted the attention of most of the town’s men, warranting jealousy from all of the town’s wives. For such an isolated town, the gossip would have been brutal.

By 1908, the money began to dry up. Fueled by the earthquake of San Francisco and the financial crash of 1907, investors had the mine surveyed and began to pull out when the results were unfavorable. As the mine defaulted people began to leave the town in droves. Those that stayed would have experienced an economic slump, making it difficult to put food on the table. By 1910, the town was completely abandoned, so much so, that the people of the nearest town of Beatty, salvaged the materials that constructed the buildings to sell. They too had a mine that failed.

Mona Belle and Fred Skinner, among those that stayed, is rumored to have fought over money. Fred shot Mona. Mona, who was a known prostitute and dancer was supposedly buried in a lone grave just outside of town behind the jail, where Fred Skinner would have spent the next few weeks awaiting trial. Skinner was an unsavory character who made a living by cheating at cards, spending time in and out of jail for theft. The town’s Christian people, who thought the couple worldly and scandalous, did not want Mona Belle buried in the town’s cemetery.

However, Mona Belle’s real name was Sadie Isabelle Peterman. Records show that her body was taken back to Battle Creek, Nebraska by train during Fred Skinner’s trial for murder, where she was buried by her surviving parents. Fred Skinner, who was shot that night in the stomach, claimed that he shot Mona Belle in self-defense. He was finally sentenced to fifty years in prison in Tonopah, Nevada. Mona Belle was shot three times at just 21.

So who does the grave belong to if Mona Belle is not buried here? According to historical records, no one is buried here. Interestingly enough, I did some recording at the gravesite and remains of the jail and caught two EVPs at this gravesite. One is of a female voice that says, “come lie with us.” The second, which comes through overtop of the first EVP, is the voice of a male that says, “this is the end of us.” Are these the voices of Fred Skinner and Mona Belle? What do they mean? Are they saying to join them? Do they mean the town has ended? Why did I capture EVPs on an empty grave?

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