Bodie is a ghost town east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California, United States, about 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe. It has been administered by California State Parks since becoming a state historic park in 1962, and receives about 200,000 visitors yearly.
In 1859 William (a.k.a. Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold near what is now called Bodie Bluff. A mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow. It started with about 20 miners and grew to an estimated 10,000 people by 1880! By that time, the town of Bodie bustled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters and prostitutes of all kinds. At one time there was reported to be 65 saloons in town. Amongst the saloons were numerous brothels and ‘houses of ill repute’, gambling halls and opium dens. Needless to say that there was entertainment for every taste.
After a long day working the claims, the miners would head for the bars and the red light district to spend their earnings. The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would often prove fatal. It is said that there was a man killed every day in Bodie. Presumably, the undertaker never had a slow day.
There’s a story about a little girl whose family moved from San Francisco to Bodie. Depending on who tells you, or where you read it, she wrote either: “Good, by God, I’m going to Bodie” or “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie”.
Look to the hills.
The first signs of decline appeared in 1880 and became obvious towards the end of the year. Promising mining booms in Butte, Montana; Tombstone, Arizona; and Utah lured men away from Bodie. The get-rich quick, single miners who originally came to the town in the 1870s moved on to these other booms, which eventually turned Bodie into a family-oriented community. Two examples of this settling were the construction of the Methodist Church (which currently stands) and the Catholic Church (burned about 1930) that were both constructed in 1882. Despite the population decline, the mines were flourishing, and in 1881 Bodie’s ore production was recorded at a high of $3.1 million. Also in 1881, a narrow gauge railroad was built called the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company, bringing lumber, cordwood, and mine timbers to the mining district from Mono Mills south of Mono Lake.
In the 1940s the threat of vandalism faced the ghost town. The Cain family, who owned much of the land the town is situated upon, hired caretakers to protect and to maintain the town’s structures. Bodie is now an authentic Wild West ghost town. The town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and in 1962 it became Bodie State Historic Park. A total of 170 buildings remained.
Today, Bodie is preserved in a state of arrested decay. Only a small part of the town survives. Visitors can walk the deserted streets of a town that once was a bustling area of activity. Interiors remain as they were left and stocked with goods. Bodie is open all year, but the long road that leads to the town is usually closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall, so the majority of visitors to the park come during the summer months.
A storm rolls over Bodie.
In its lair.
I’ve been interested in cowboy ghost towns since I was a kid. In 1999 I took a guided bus tour around the American West, chiefly because the brochure promised us a stop in a real abandoned ghost town. We started in Los Angeles and went North to Seattle over a period of 2 weeks, taking in Vegas, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, a Utah cowboy camp where I shot a gun and learned how to lasso, and other famous and beautiful spots. It was a stunning experience, but unfortunately the ghost town stop got stricken from the rolls. Our tour guide decided to ‘treat’ us by taking us instead to his parent’s lodge, where we got to sit around a camp-fire and take it easy. At the time I didn’t realize he was doing it, but when the last few days of the tour rolled around it became clear we weren’t going to go.
Normally I’m a low confrontation guy, but I went after the tour guide quite strongly for cutting out ‘the one thing I really wanted to do!’ He was apologetic, and as small consolation took us to an old, but not abandoned, mining town on the way to our terminus in Seattle. Ever since then I’ve felt cheated of my ghost town experience. I’ll get out there some time myself though for sure, hopefully before the Chevy rusts into the ground.
Location – Bodie, California (38.212222, -119.012222)
Highlights – 1937 Chevy.
RUINS / HAIKYO
You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:
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