The Ultimate Ghost Town
Bodie, Mono Co., CA
Sometimes events beyond our control make tremendous changes in our
lives and cause us to sit back and re-evaluate our perceptions of life and
family. Nearly ten years ago, on
September 23, 2002, one of those life-changing events happened in my life. My baby sister, Barbara
Jo “BJ” Speck passed away at the age of 49. Never married, she had a wide circle of
friends and family who loved her, and mourn her loss. BJ shared my love of exploration and
discovery, which was probably a genetic gift from our parents. After graduating from high school in 1971,
she moved to the summer/ski resort of Mammoth
This article is dedicated to my little sister: BJ, this one’s for you. ENJOY!
“And now my comrades all are gone;
Naught remains to toast.
They have left me here in my misery,
Like some poor wandering ghost.”*
About 20 miles
southeast of Bridgeport, Mono County, California the century-old gold mining
ghost town of Bodie is the most visited, most written
about and most photographed ghost town in America. And it’s not because this place is real easy
to get to either. Yes, Bodie is passenger car
accessible but it’s 10 paved, and 3 winding graded
dirt miles east of US 395 north of
What is it about this ramshackle collection of chocolate-colored wooden buildings, dirt roads and dry “weeds” that invites people to visit, returning time and time again? This one-time mining city once had possibly as many as 20,000 people, is only a skeleton of what it once was. Major fires in 1892 and 1932 reduced the standing buildings to only 5% of what once stood here. But that 5% still includes over 150 structures, the vast majority of which are wood.
Squatting in a
sagebrush covered bowl at an altitude of 8400', Bodie
frequently makes the weather reports as the coldest place in the nation:
sometimes on the same day that
The story of Bodie begins innocently enough less than a decade after the
California Gold Rush began. On a quiet little creek in the hills north of what
is now called
As the story goes, on July 4, 1859, a Dogtown man had a bit too much liquid celebration, and wandered over the hills to the east. As he stopped to rest (or recover) he found placer gold. Upon his return to Dogtown, he spilled the story, and soon Dogtown became the first ghost camp in the Eastern Sierra.
News of the new
diggings spread, with miners flocking to the rich new discovery. By September, 700 miners had gathered at the
burgeoning placer camp, and three months later a post office was
established. During that first brutal
winter less than one-fourth of the people stayed, but come spring of 1860,
prospectors are a wandering lot, and quickly get itchy feet. Even though Monoville was flush with gold excitement during 1859, an
unknown New Yorker and his partner(s?) wandered out, meeting history head-on.
Waterman (William) S. Bodey (Body) and “Black”
By March 1860,
After the now-melt in May, Bill Bodey’s bones and weapons were found by Taylor, who buried what remained of poor old Bill. Grief stricken over the loss of his friend, Taylor left the area.
Somehow word of
There are several versions of the naming of the camp. Take your choice...
camp named for Bodey changed names due to a sign
painter's error, or the vote of its citizens doesn’t matter. It marked this town for eternity. Bodie was a tiny,
struggling gold-camp living the successes and failures of outlying camps such
In 1874 Bodie’s future changed. Deep inside the old Bunker Hill-Bullion Mine, a cave-in exposed fabulously rich ore. Fortunes changed, and the rag-tag, 15-year old mining camp was now a full-on boomtown.
Bodie was the West's newest sweetheart. By 1877, Bodie’s mile-long main street with 65 saloons and daily killings, caused a local pastor to comment about the new town as sitting in “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.” The extreme isolation appealed to the seamier side of humanity; prostitutes, gamblers, and other assorted riff-raff arrived to fleece whomever they could for a quick buck or two.
At its peak in 1879, Bodie was rough, uncultured and uncivilized.
It was wild.
It was rich.
mining towns, Bodie grew in an organized manner. Streets were laid out in grids to allow
orderly expansion. Growth demanded wood,
and since Bodie sat in a treeless basin, lumber was hauled
from the thick forests south of
By 1882, the boom subsided a tad. The mines still employed 400-500 men, and there was enough activity to support a population of a few thousand. Even though the big boom was over, Bodie was a long ways from taking a dirt nap.
Unlike most of its contemporaries, Bodie went 30 years without the scourge of fire. That ended on July 25, 1892. Black smoke enveloped the business district as fire raced from Mrs. Perry's Restaurant, ripping through the wooden heart of Bodie. The pride-and-joy volunteer fire department raced to the rescue, hooked up their hoses and turned on the water.
Recovery began as soon as the ashes were cool. However, since the boom was long past, recovery consisted of clearing charred debris, and relocating undamaged structures from back roads to the main streets. When complete, Bodie was visibly smaller, but alive.
Through the 1890s, electric power and cyanide processing of ore kept the old town alive, but the excitement was gone and the population dwindled. In 1899 the Standard Mill burned to the ground, but was rebuilt.
Over the next 30 years Bodie continued fading. New mine owners came and went. Investors bought and sold. Folks came and went – mostly went. But, the gold kept flowing, albeit slowly.
On June 24, 1932, a young lad playing with some small wooden friends in an abandoned shack changed the face of the community – a second time. A few hours later 70% of Bodie was a smoking memory.
Reeling from its second major fire, a national depression, and aging mines, Bodie barely clung to life. In October 1936 the Roseclip Mine reopened, and in 1939 Bodie still had 125 people according to the WPA.
In 1942 the
U.S. Government ordered most of
That was it.
Bodie's death knell sounded, and the near-90-year
old town rolled up its sidewalks. After
producing nearly $100 million in gold, Bodie died.
Most of the remaining folks left Bodie languishing in
the ever-present wind, sunshine and brutal winters until 1962 when the site was
purchased from the Cain family by the state of
12, 1964, Bodie was reborn as a California State
Historic site, later graduating to a
That is how this magnificent ghost survived to greet its countless thousands of summertime visitors from all over the world. Bodie IS the “Ultimate Ghost Town”, and IS a must stop for all followers of Ghost Town USA! Hands down, this is THE best-preserved ghost town in the entire country, and is a MUST SEE! Bodie is also California Historic Landmark #209.
Two ways of taking in the interesting buildings that remain are by standing at the south end of Main Street, look north and enjoying the scenic shadows playing on the fronts of the buildings, or from the west end of Green Street and look across the heart of the old town towards the mill buildings on Bodie Bluff.
For more information contact either
* Quote from the front cover of the Bodie State Historic Park walking-tour guide.
This is one of the towns featured in my newest book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM.
This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for October 2002.
It has been modified and numerous photos from our journey there in July 2011 have been added.
It was reposted as our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for March/April 2012.
· Junction of corners Sec 8, 9, 16, 17, T4N, R27E, Mount Diablo Meridian
· Latitude: 38.2121401 / 38° 12’ 44” N
· Longitude: -119.0120874 / 119° 00 44” W
Visit Ghost Town USA’s CALIFORNIA Ghost Town Pages
Also visit: Ghost Town
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FIRST POSTED: October 01, 2002
LAST UPDATED: May 06, 2012
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