THE GHOST TOWN
Elevation: 8,375 feet
WHAT TO DO IN BODIE
Some Favorites From Our Expeditions
Look at the child-sized coffins in the morgue.
See if you can spot a ghost at the Cain House.
Peer in the windows of the schoolhouse and imagine what it must have been like to be a kid in a remote, rough-and-tumble mining town.
Check out the abandoned bar at the Wheaton & Hollis Hotel, complete with a dusty, unused billiards table and creepy stuffed deer head.
Examine strange pioneer-era artifacts in the Miners Union Hall (now visitor center and museum). Some of the best include an anti-venom kit for snake run-ins and a tear-catcher/weeping bottle. This is also where you can read letters sent by people who fell victim to the Bodie Curse after taking home artifacts.
A Unique Tourist Opportunity: Arrested Decay
Bodie was once — briefly — a booming mining town. After the Comstock Lode was discovered near Virginia City, NV, in 1858, the search for riches shifted from where gold was first discovered on the Sierra’s west slopes to the previously untapped East Side. Gold was discovered in Bodie the same year (by Waterman S. Body, hence its name), and by 1880 the town was home to some 10,000 people.
Today, Bodie is a California state park managed in a condition of “arrested decay.” Everything is suspended in time by a policy to maintain, but not restore (i.e., keep what remains standing protected from further deterioration). That might mean a new roof, resealing or replacing windows, or making other repairs to keep Bodie looking just as it did when the last residents departed, but no other improvements.
What visitors see at Bodie today is just a small part of the town that once was; it’s only about 5% of the buildings that stood there at its height. (A fire allegedly started by a child playing with matches claimed much of it in 1932.) What’s left includes houses with furnishings and belongings left behind, a store still stocked with goods, a church, school, bank, hotels, the morgue, a barber shop, a fire house where the bell tolled often to note a death, a bar, and the remains of Bodie’s Chinatown, which once had a Taoist temple.
Though there were families here, most miners were bachelors — and rowdy ones at that. “Bad men” gave Bodie a widespread reputation as a violent and sinful place to call home. Murders were common, as well as robberies and fights. To keep its brutes entertained (or perhaps placated), the town had 65 saloons, a red light district with brothels, and opium dens in Chinatown.
Bitter Winters in the Desert
Bodie’s boom was brief, enduring only a few years. The population count of 10,000 lasted just a few months, and by 1888, it had fallen to 500. A short-lived period of growth came again in 1890 after cyanide processing was invented as a way to more easily extract gold. The method was put to use in the Bodie Hills to capture any treasure that possibly remained in tailings (the leftover rock after gold was extracted). After Bodie’s best-producing mine (The Standard) closed in 1913, the number of dwellers dropped below 100. Though there were people living here into the 1950s, Bodie was already well on its way to being a ghost town with fewer than 10 people.
When mining dried up, Bodie’s weather solidified its fate of abandonment. If it weren’t for the gold here, it might never have been settled because — as inconceivable as it seems given its hot summers — Bodie has some of the harshest winters in the United States With no trees to stifle them, winds are bitter, and temperatures can drop to 55 degrees below Fahrenheit. (Waterman S. Bodie himself froze to death.) Add to that heavy snow. Bodie is situated at a high elevation, and winter brings a deep layer of white.
Bodie State Historic Park is open year-round, but very isolated in winter given the challenges of reaching it and the inhospitable climate. Rangers serving as caretakers during these months see very few people. The snow makes it practically inaccessible. Even in summer, three miles of the road to Bodie from Highway 395 are unpaved and rough. But in winter, driving in is impossible, and the only way to get there is with a snowmobile, skis or snowshoes.
Ghosts of a Ghost Town
Imagine how rangers must feel during those isolated winter months when their main source of companionship could well be the ghosts rumored to linger in Bodie. The most common tales surround the Cain House, where multiple people have reported sightings of an apparition that looks to be an Asian woman.
The Bodie Curse
Thieves beware: though some may be tempted to sneak a Bodie artifact as a souvenir, Bodie’s museum displays several letters the park has received over the years from people who claim that misfortune followed after they did just that.
The less forthcoming send back rusted nails, pieces of glass and the like with no such confession and in packages with no return address to identify the spooked kleptomaniacs.
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