They said there was gold in those hills, and he struck pay dirt. He staked his claim. In 1859 William (Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold in the central California hills, near the Nevada border. Mr. Bodey didn’t have much time to revel, though, for in November that same year he died in a blizzard.
Today, Bodie State Historic Park, Calif., is a ghost town, “preserved in a state of arrested decay.” Interiors of the 110 remaining buildings are untouched as they were left. It looks like someone hollered, “Scram!” and they ran, leaving dishes on the table, coffeepots on the stove, a shirt across the bare springs of a cot, children’s toys on the floor.
Even the store is stocked as it was.
Bodie, just north of Mono Lake, a salt lake, is located at Bridgeport, Calif., near the Nevada border, just below where the eastern border of the state bends to the right. Bodie is northeast of Yosemite and about 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe, on the high, open Bodie Hills. The 1973 Clint Eastwood movie High Plains Drifter was filmed at Mono Lake. The production company built a large façade town at Mono Lake just for the filming, and tore it down afterwards. No remnants remain on the site. But remnants of Bodie, a real ghost town, remain. Bodie’s a photographer’s gold mine.
The photo above is the rich man’s house. None of the other houses in the town was as big.
In 1861 a rich strike was made at Bodie and a mill was built. Over the next years the railroad and the telegraph came and the population swelled from 20 to 10,000. It is said there existed three breweries, 65 saloons, an abundance of brothels, a Chinatown, opium dens and a Wells Fargo Bank. There were gunslingers and shootouts. It was a full-blown Wild West town. Bodie became the second or third largest California town and one of the earliest United States towns to acquire electricity.
The big strikes were soon depleted, though, and the town slid into decline in the 1880s. Miners moved on to Tombstone, Ariz., and other legendary places. Bodie was officially labeled a ghost town in 1915, after the last newspaper closed. The ghost town was designated Bodie State Historic Park in 1962 when the final residents left.
Even in its boom days, I wonder how residents survived Bodie winters. It is one of the coldest places in the U.S. Up in the Eastern High Sierra Nevada Mountains, elevation 8,375 feet (2,554 m.), where the winds sweep through (up to 100 miles per hour, according to Wikipedia), Bodie has a subarctic climate — temperatures even on summer nights can drop below freezing. The most snow recorded in one month was 97.1 inches in January 1969. Bear in mind, the snow doesn’t melt until spring. That’s when they discovered William Bodie’s body, in the spring. The population of Bodie is now a few park rangers and assorted ghosts. The rangers use snowcats to get around through the deep snow. The park is open in the winter, but only to those with skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles. I have visited Bodie in the daytime, in the spring, on a blustery day in May. I dream of returning with a digital camera to take a nighttime Ghost Walk.
A California Gull came by to graciously pose for photos. Well, maybe looking to get fed.
Bodie Ghost Town is a National Historic Landmark.
Thanks for writing about Bodie. I’ve never visited a ghost town. It looks really interesting. The photos are great! I’m not sure I’d want to do the night tour, though,
Well, I most definitely would not go alone at night, Susan, but I think it would be, well, intriguing, as well as fun.
Thanks for coming by and for you compliment.
How very interesting, Samantha. This is historical gold, to have this place preserved so well. I have never visited, but in looking at the images, which I scrolled though several times, I can almost get a feel of how it must have been. Even walking on that road, closing one’s eyes and being able to reconstruct the past in our mind’s eyes. Not a great time, I imagine, for the inhabitants, but amazing to see in our days. And talk about bad luck for Mr. Bodey to die the year he struck gold …
Thank you. Enjoyed going back in time for a minute.
Thanks, Silvia. The photos do convey the feeling. The place is so photogenic and the feeling comes through. I’d like to go back and take better pictures, now that I have an idea of what’s there and how my photos turned out; this time, digital. 🙂
The other interesting thing about Mr. Bodey is that he left a wife and child behind in the East to strike out for gold. He was a respected member of his community. He was gone several years already, when he struck gold.
You never know….
The first pictures look so interesting. It seems those rooms are being preserved exactly how they were left. Is it open to ‘tourists’ and those who visit the Historic Park? Well, you say oit is if they use use the tight kind of transport. But if it gets so awfully freezing then maybe it is not such an attraction? But it’s good to know that ghosts reside .. and the occasional ranger.
Thank you Samantha, amazing photos! What a pictorial record, let alone its history.
Bodie is open for tourists, Susan, even in winter if you have skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles. You wouldn’t be able to get there by car; the snow is too deep. Bodie is open year-round, even at night for ghost walks. Many photography tours and classes are held there. Bodie is very near Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort as well as Yosemite. So, there’s plenty of tourism, though there’s no charge to visit Bodie and while there you might not even see a park ranger, but you probably will see a few other tourists. You drive down a long, graded dirt road three miles to get to the town.
I took an English couple there on tour once and at the end they invited to visit them in England, gave me their address and phone number. Sweet.
Yes, the park has been preserved in a state of arrested decay, as I have quoted. That’s why some of the rooms are screened off, so people won’t come in and take stuff. They also repair the buildings so they don’t collapse. They keep them just as they were the last residents left. Bodie IS the historic park, a state park, and is now also a National Historic Landmark.
I read through your post about Bodie and found myself becoming sad. The people just got up and left, but why? Were there no other options to keeping the town going? I think that greed and progress sometime tend to strip us of our ability to care.
Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.
Patricia @ EverythingMustChange
It was just a rush on gold, Patricia. As soon as that mine was depleted, they moved on to other places, like Tombstone, as I said. There’s another ghost town very near Bodie — Aurora, Nevada. They’re all over the west. Some of them have been restored by artists, like Jerome, Ariz. Tombstone, disappointingly, has gotten too commercial. In other ghost town locations, you’d never know there was a town there; there’s nothing left but wide open space.
That the inhabitants stayed as long as they did in Bodie, and there were only a handful, amazes me, because Bodie, up in the hills, out in the open is so exposed to that harsh climate. The park rangers love it, though. But they’re equipped.
Bodie was just a lawless, Wild West town, with more brothels and bars, some say, than homes. The ones who made the real money on the gold, anyhow, were those who sold picks and axes to the miners. Moreover, they left because, there was no other source of income; they were out in the middle of nowhere.
It’s romantically nostalgic; bittersweet. And a very intriguing place to visit. The lore and allure of the West.
Fascinating post. You really had fun exploring California! I’ve never been to that area of the state and didn’t know the history existed. Thanks for the education and pictures!
Wine country next, Gwynn. 🙂 I’ve never been in that part of the state.