In the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, down a side road off US 395 (last three miles graded but not paved), lies the town of Bodie, shown here in the Twenty-first Century. A part of the California State Park System, it is preserved in a state of “arrested decay.”
Like many ghost stories, the story of the Bodie ghost town is based on a death.
There are several versions of what happened, but it is generally accepted that in the summer of 1859, W. S. Bodey** found gold and silver in what became the Bodie mining district. That Fall/Winter he died in a blizzard and the body was found the next Spring. Tales of the gold led to the Bodie mining camp.
Map circa 1877, courtesy of the Calif. State Library
By 1890, Bodie had changed from a rough mining camp to a thriving town for families
(Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)
Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Brodie, 1890 (Public Domain; Library of Congress)
Sadly, Bodie suffered two major fires, the first in 1892 and the second in 1932. Most of the residents of Bodie gave up and left town; by 1910 the population had already dwindled to approximately 698, and by 1920 to 120.
During World War II, the War Production Board ordered conversion of industries to war production which led to the last mine closing in 1942, followed by the closing of the US Post Office.
Reno Gazette Journal, November 26, 1942.
By 1962, Bodie was a ghost town, and the largest land owners, the Cains sold their holdings to the State of California.
A visit to Bodie is a step back in time, whether you want to believe the legends or the research. But keep in mind, Bodie is one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states of the US, based on Western Regional Climate Center records. As of 2012, the record high for July was 91F (33C), but the record low for July was 12F (-11C). The record low was -36F (-38C) in February.
Readings store postcard dated 1911. Courtesy of California State Library (Public Domain, published before 1922)
So shall we wander down a few of the streets in town to see some of the roughly 200 structures still standing in Bodie today?
James Stuart Cain and his wife, Martha Delilah Well, lived here. A lumber merchant and banker, he bought many of the properties in Bodie.
The only church left standing in town, the Methodist Church was built in 1882.
Interior of the church today.
The Standard Consolidated Mining Company operated this stamp mill where ore was crushed to remove gold and silver deposits. The first mill on the site burned in October 1898 and was rebuilt, starting in 1899, adding corrugated steel siding and roof to the wood frame. Future U.S. President Herbert Hoover’s brother, Theodore was Superintendent of the Mill, circa 1905.
The vault of the Bodie Bank; the contents of the vault survived, but the building was destroyed by 1932 fire.
Boone Store and Warehouse, with Shell gas station to the right.
The wooden firehouse in a town known for fires. It was rebuilt by the California Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The schoolhouse, built in 1879 as the Bon Ton Lodging House; when the last families with children moved away in November 1942, it closed.
The Swasey (or Swazey) Hotel (center) was probably a brothel. The Wheaton & Luhrs (or Wheaton & Hollis) Hotel is to the left across Green Street; it had various incarnations as land office, store and hotel. The confusion of names comes from overlapping painted signs where the paint is fading.
Through the window at the Wheaton and Luhrs.
Left to Right beginning with brick building: DeChambeau Hotel (built as the Post Office in 1879); Independent Order of Odd Fellows building; Miners’ Union Hall (built 1878), Morgue (smaller building on right)
A peek in the window at the morgue.
Goodbye, God, we’re going to Bodie***
*There are lots of books and internet sites on the history of Bodie, and a lot of it is based on legend. If you want real history, the best I’ve found are http://www.bodiefoundation.org and http://www.bodiehistory.com. My blog isn’t intended to be as in depth as the history of town and mining deserve; I am only trying to give you a “taste” of Bodie!
**The spelling of his last name was somewhat inconsistent, some versions are Body & apparently his mother used Boddy; “Bodie” is supposed to be a mistake made by a sign painter. Even his first name has been cited as Williams, Waterman or Wakeman. The story of finding gold and Bodey’s death wasn’t recorded until 20 years later.
*** Legend has it that a little girl in Truckee in the 1870s learned her family was moving to Bodie, “a sea of sin,” and was overheard saying her prayers: “Goodbye, God, we’re going to Bodie.” When various newspapers picked up the story, the Bodie paper countered that it was a grammatical error and should have read: “Good, by God, we’re going to Bodie!”