The Ultimate Ghost Town

Bodie, Mono Co., CA



Gary B. Speck




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 Lakes, CA, and there she fell deeply in love with the backcountry.  Like big brother (me), she developed a love for ghost towns and visited the magnificent ghost of Bodie many times.  She moved to San Diego, CA around 1982, and remained there for the next 20 years.


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 Mono Lake.


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 Death Valley (180 miles to the south) hits it for the highest temperatures.  Despite the horrid weather and the ever-present wind, Bodie managed not only to survive, but to thrive.  Hands down, it is the best-preserved remaining ghost town in the country, and is a MUST visit for all followers of Ghost Town USA.


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 Mono Lake, placer gold was discovered in 1857.  Word spread, and within two years Dogtown had become the first mining camp in the Eastern Sierra region, even predating Nevada’s fabulous Comstock Lode at VIRGINIA CITY.


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, Mono City was in full bloom with 900 residents, and some 31 commercial buildings lining Rattlesnake Gulch.


In general, 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” Taylor discovered rich placer gold about 15 miles northeast of Monoville.  This small discovery prevented Bodey and Taylor from disappearing into the anonymous wrinkles of history.


By March 1860, Taylor and Bodey's food supplies had run low, so they headed to Monoville to restock.  On the way back to camp, a blizzard screamed through, and Bodey stumbled and fell in the waist-deep snow.  Taylor tried valiantly to no avail to find his fallen friend and partner.  Since they were close to the cabin, Taylor fought his way back, started a fire and changed into warmer clothes.  He plunged back into the howling storm to try and bring his friend back.


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 Bodey and Taylor’s find got out, and by mid-1860, a mining camp sat on the spot, and the Bodey Mining District had been organized. 


There are several versions of the naming of the camp. Take your choice...


  • One is that in October 1862, a misspelled sign on the "Bodie Stables” changed the name of the struggling little gold mining camp forever.
  • Number two claims that the citizens of the booming town wanted the name to be pronounced correctly so the spelling was changed to reflect the pronunciation.  BODIE is actually pronounced BOW’ DEE.


Whether the 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 as Aurora, its booming 1860-1865 neighbor across the state line in Nevada’s Esmeralda Mining District. 


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.


Unlike many 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 Mono Lake, and west of present-day Bridgeport.


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. 




Main Street turned into a charred memory.


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 America’s gold mines to close.  Bodie staggered but a few die-hard families remained, keeping an eye on the old town. The Cain family purchased much of the town site, keeping the old mines cleared and ready to reopen once the government order was lifted.  After WW II ended, the Klipstein-Rosecrans mill was about to begin processing low-grade ore, when it burned to the ground. 


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 California. 


On September 12, 1964, Bodie was reborn as a California State Historic site, later graduating to a State Historic Park.  The buildings have been stabilized, left in a state of “arrested deterioration” and not restored. 


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.


Click here and here and here for virtual visits to Bodie.  BODIE also has its own state park website.

For more information contact either Bodie State Historic Park or The Friends of Bodie at:


PO Box 515

Bridgeport, CA 93517



* 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 USA’s


Home Page | Site Map | Ghost Town Listings | On the Road Again | Photo Gallery | Treasure Legends

CURRENT Ghost Town of the Month | PAST Ghost Towns of the Month

Ghost Towner's Code of Ethics | Publications | Genealogy | License Plate Collecting


A few LINKS to outside webpages:

Ghost Towns | Treasure Hunting | License Plate Collecting | Genealogy



E-mail Us








FIRST POSTED:  October 01, 2002

LAST UPDATED: May 06, 2012




This website and all information posted here-in is
copyright © 1998-2015
by Gary B Speck Publications

ALL rights reserved