“And now my comrades all are gone; naught remains to toast. They have left me here in my misery, like some poor wandering ghost.” ~ unknown
Bodie, the best preserved ghost town in California, perhaps even in the country, was once a bustling gold-mining town, but soon became the town that man could neither tame nor sustain, as you will soon see.
Approximately 75 miles southeast of Bridgeport, at an elevation of roughly 8400 feet, Bodie began her existence in 1859 after prospector W. S. Bodey discovered gold near Bodie Bluff. Sadly he did not have the chance to see his namesake erected, as he lost his life in a blizzard before the town’s foundation was laid, or so the story goes. And no, I did not misspell Bodey’s last name. Credit for the town’s name being spelled differently will have to go to the painter who erected the “Bodie Stables” sign.
As we have read in the history annals, times were tough back then, and Bodie was no exception, the extreme temperatures being one of the major obstacles – blazing hot in the summer, well below zero in the winter, with strong winds whipping across the plains. If that were not enough reason to label life as challenging, just walking across Main Street could shorten your life, or at a minimum cause a debilitating injury thanks to the 65 saloons lining this mile-long street in her heyday. Yep, Bodie was about as wild and lawless as they come. Barroom brawls, shootouts, robberies and murders were commonplace and the red light district and opium dens were plentiful, debauchery enough to spread around!
Lest you think that this was all Bodie had going for it, not so. At its peak, with about 10,000 residents, 2000 buildings in town, and the Standard Consolidated Mine running at full tilt, Bodie was a town of many amenities – a Wells Fargo bank, four fire stations, a railroad, several newspapers, miner’s union, and one jail (probably could have used a few more of these). Telegraph lines connected Bodie with Bridgeport and Genoa, Nevada. Life looked promising or did it?
As early as 1880, when mining booms began developing in Butte, Montana, Tombstone, Arizona, and parts of Utah, the men of Bodie began to be lured away and Bodie’s reputation for being a rough-and-tumble booze-swilling town settled into that of a family community, with schools and two churches being erected. The Methodist Church still stands today and, should you have a mind to be wed in this ghost town, that can be accommodated.
Bodie enjoyed a brief revival until ~1912, which was when the last newspaper was printed and the Standard Consolidated Mine followed the winding down of the town by closing its shafts in 1913. The hardiest of souls stayed on through most of the 20th century.
Enter James S. Cain, a man intent on resurrecting Bodie. He bought up much of the land around town but even this could not save her so instead he turned his attention to hiring caretakers to ensure Bodie’s buildings were not vandalized. Although only ~5% of the town’s buildings remain, his efforts may have had an impact in salvaging these. Bodie could now be classified as the “real deal” Wild West gold-rush ghost town.
Today Bodie is maintained by the California State Parks system. Self-guided tours allow you to peek into windows and walk through some of the buildings, which remain intact just as they were left, stocked with goods and personal family items, all in a state of “arrested decay“. Wander into the Bodie Museum/Visitor Center and you will find many interesting artifacts, as well as a t-shirt you can buy that reads “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie”. Legend has it that these very words were found in a young girl’s diary whose family moved her from San Francisco to Bodie.
I have read that there is still as much gold sitting underneath Bodie as has been removed. Perhaps time for a resurrection? Probably not as this is the town that man could neither tame nor sustain.
Although we are no longer on our road trip and will be wintering in Southern California, I will be creating some posts from our past adventures, a little blast from the past.
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