A Walk through Old Bodie – a Real Ghost Town

16 Apr

It was a glorious spring day with beautiful blue skies and wispy clouds when Diana and Jack asked me to join them and son Jim and their two dogs, Lucy and Molly, to go to Bodie, an old mining town. Never one to turn down an outing, this promised to be a lot of fun as I hadn’t been to Bodie in about 25 years.

But first a bit of background from the Bodie State Historic Park Guide:  Bodie was named after Waterman S. Body (aka William S. Bodey), who discovered gold there in 1859. The change in spelling of the town’s name has often been attributed to an illiterate sign painter, but it was a deliberate change by the citizenry to ensure proper pronunciation. (Bo-dee)

What's left of the boomtown of Bodie, CA. (Don't forget to click on the photo to enlarge it)

Bodie once had a population of about 10,000. (Don’t forget to click on the photo to enlarge it)

 By 1879, Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen and “the worst climate out of doors.” One little girl, whose family was taking her to the remote and infamous town, wrote in her diary, “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.” The phrase came to be known throughout the West.

Bodie lies about 13 miles east of Highway 395 and about seven miles south of Bridgeport, CA. I think one reason the town in such good shape is that it’s far off the beaten track and part of the road is dirt, gravel and some rocks. One has to make an effort to get there and the road is not open for several months of the year. The climate is still wicked during the winter. I surely wouldn’t want to be there in the winter with the wind howling and snow drifting all over. A picture in a brochure showed men standing on the roof of a store and snow is just a few feet from their boots.

Designated as a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park in 1962, the remains of Bodie are being preserved in a state of “arrested decay”. Sadly, only about five per cent of the buildings it contained during its 1880s heyday still remain.  Today, it stands just as time, fire and the elements have left it—a genuine California gold mining ghost town.

The Lampe family, who owned Jack and Diana’s property during pioneer days, used to take a wagon to deliver cheese, eggs and other goods to the Bodie miners. It took them three weeks to get there from Gardnerville! Apparently it was worth the trek as they made some good money doing that. It took us just a couple of hours to get to Bodie. I think I like our transportation better.

Of course, one of the first buildings I peeked into was the school, built in 1879. Originally the Bon Ton Lodging house, it became the school when an early-day juvenile delinquent burned down the first school.  You can see electric lines and poles. Electricity was available during late 1800s from a hydroelectric plant built about 13 miles from Bodie.

The school is the building with the spire on the right side of the street.

The school is the building with the spire on the right side of the street.

Looking west toward the Miners Union Hall, to the right of the large building (that looks like two buildings) in the center of the picture

Looking west toward the Miners Union Hall, to the right of the large building (that looks like two buildings) in the center of the picture.  The morgue and undertaker’s office is to the right of the Union Hall. Caskets are still inside of it.

The Standard stamp mill where much of the processing and refining process was done.   Jack and Lucy are in the foreground.

The Standard stamp mill where much of the processing and refining process was done. Jack and Lucy are in the foreground.

The bank vault.

The bank vault.

The Stuart Kirkwood Livery Stable and blacksmith shop. Note the size of the bellows behind the hood. Many wagons and literally hundreds of horses, mules and other draft animals were required to haul in tons of goods daily.

The Stuart Kirkwood Livery Stable and blacksmith shop. Note the size of the bellows behind the hood. Many wagons and literally hundreds of horses, mules and other draft animals were required to haul in tons of goods daily.

Only one prisoner escaped from the Bodie jail

Only one prisoner escaped from the Bodie jail

The town jail was a busy place what with killings occurring almost daily.   A minister in 1881 pronounced Bodie as a “sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.” Bail for “guests” was $5.  Joseph DeRoche was taken from here by the Bodie “601,” a vigilante group, and hanged.  He must have done something terrible to rile up those vigilantes like that.  Probably one reason the jail was busy was that there were 65 saloons in Bodie.  There were many opportunities for the miners to find R and R after a hard day’s work and then possibly find trouble.

People had other needs, too. This was a two-holer that has sunk into the ground.

People had other needs, too. This was a two-holer that has sunk into the ground.

The Mastretti Liquor Warehouse is in ruins now but we could see very thick brick walls and a vault-like door that would have protected the booze from thirsty miners.

The walls were five - six bricks thick

The liquor warehouse walls were five to six bricks thick

Boone Store and Warehouse, erected in 1879.  Harvey Boone was a direct descendant of Daniel Boone.

Boone Store and Warehouse, erected in 1879. Harvey Boone was a direct descendant of Daniel Boone.

An old coffee grinder in the Boone Store.  It was amazing how much stuff was left in that store.

An old coffee grinder in the Boone Store. With so much stuff on the shelves, it almost looks as if the store could open up tomorrow.

The Methodist church was erected in 1882 and was the only Protestant church in Bodie.

The Methodist church was erected in 1882 and was the only Protestant church in Bodie.

E.J. Clinton of San Francisco restored the Methodist church and held the last service in 1932.  Since then, the interior has been badly vandalized, and the Ten Commandments painted on oilcloth which once hung behind the pulpit (“Thou shalt not steal”) has been stolen.  A Catholic church, also built in 1882, burned down in 1928.

Cars, trucks, wagons, carts, wagons and equipment are strewn all around Bodie. I bet this 1937 Chevy coupe was a hot car in its day.

Cars, trucks, wagons, carts, wagons and equipment are strewn all around Bodie. I bet this 1937 Chevy coupe was a hot car in its day.

A clever poet could write a requiem for these abandoned vehicles and pieces of equipment. It just seems sad to seem them sitting in the dust.

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IMG_6417Our last trek was to the cemetery, which is actually three cemeteries; Ward’s (the first undertaker), Masonic and Miners’ Union. We were free to wander around the graves and had to be careful not to disturb any of the little colored flags that we could see between gravestones. Those flags depicted unmarked graves that human remains detection dogs had alerted to.

One of the weather-beaten grave markers in the cemetery

One of the weather-beaten grave markers in the cemetery. The smaller one at the foot of the grave might have been for a child.

Bodie’s Cemetery:  Lives Within told several stories about some of the inhabitants of the cemetery.  A.C. Robertson died 1880. Tried to thaw out frozen powder in his oven.  Chatto Encinos, 1880. Killed by Sam Chung for raiding his vegetable garden.  James Kennedy, 1880. His fumbled draw and bad aim put him six feet under.  One headstone is outside the fenced cemetery. That is of Rosa May, a prostitute, who died in 1911 or 1912. To this day, people leave money on and around her headstone.

The visit to Bodie was enlightening and I am very glad that no one is allowed to move, pick up or take anything from the park. It’s great to see these artifacts in situ and to imagine folks going about their daily business during the mining booms.

One Response to “A Walk through Old Bodie – a Real Ghost Town”

  1. Scott B April 17, 2015 at 3:54 am #

    Outstanding!!!!!

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