An American Ghost Town
The discovery of gold in California and Nevada during the latter half of the 19th century started a population growth and the overnight creation of a number of mining towns. Most of the towns saw the gold quickly evaporate away, and those towns - abandoned with the depletion of the precious ore once found there - became an empty shell of the civilization that built them. Save for rusty hinges swaying in the wind, the sounds of humanity vanished from these places many years ago. These oasis of humanity in the wilds became the ghost towns of the west. Of the many ghost town, Bodie is the most popular. Like people, towns and cities have thier own individual character and personality. To visit them without knowing something about thier history introduces you only to their outer layer; thier skin so to speak. Knowing its history gives you a glimps into the towns soul. So here is a brief look into the soul of Bodie, California.
How the town got its name
Life in Bodie
Bodey in the 20th century
Bodey - Historical Park
The history of the town of Bodie begins with the tale of two prospectors who, like so many others, came west to find thier fortune in gold. William Bodey and E.S. "Black" Taylor (reportedly half Cherokee) had set up a cabin near the spot where they had found gold. When they ran out of supplies, they would trek to down to Monoville for supplies. In November of 1859 Bodey and Taylor made their way to Monoville on foot to replenish thier dwindling food supplies. While returning to their cabin they were overtaken by a blizzard.
The miners lost thier way adn Boedy, his strength failing, began to fall behind. He eventually collapsed from fatigue. Taylor, too weak to carry Bodey, wrapped his companion in a blanket and told him they were not far from the cabin and that he would come back soon. Taylor eventually did find the cabin and - after food, coffee, a warm fire and a change into dry clothes - went out again to find his friend, who was now buried under several feet of snow. After three days the weather cleared and, although he went out several time to find Bodey, in the spring Taylor found the bones, knife, pistol, and blanket that marked the spot where Bodey had vanished. Taylor wrapped the remains in the blanket and buried Bodey where he had found him. He continued prospecting alone and eventually moved to the settlement of Benton, where he again took up the search for gold in an isolated cabin. There he was killed by an Indian war party.
The locals who remained in the area to take up the mining called the camp "Bodey's Diggings" in honor of the discoverer. But, because no one was sure of the spelling, prospectors recorded thier claims with a variety of spellings, including "Body", "Bodey", and "Bodie". The mining district was officially organized as the "Body" mining district on July of 1860. Today the proper spelling of the name is "Bodie". One story of the change in spelling is that an illiterate sign painter took some artistic license when painting the sign to identify the town because he thought
it looked better spelled that way. However, it was changed by the towns people to ensure proper pronunciation, and by 1863 it had come to be the accepted spelling.
In 1863 the Bodie Bluff Consolidation Mining Company was formed, organized in San Francisco. But the venture brought in insufficient capital and within a year and a half the real estate was sold to a New York enterprise - the Empire Gold and Silver Mining Company. News that Bodie would become the site of a large scale mining operation brought eager workers to the area. The mine paid them well and with the organized gold mining the town of Bodie began it's growth spurt.
Hotels, saloons, and brothels sprang up almost overnight. There were more people arriving in the town than the mine required to maintain its workforce, and many new arrivals found themselves jobless and pennyless, living in the streets. Winters at Bodie were espeically harsh, and many froze to death if they could not find the money to pay for a nights accomodations.
The mines were run by the wealthy, and Bodie had much to offer those who could afford it; the finest clothes from Europe, the best liquors, and comfortable homes. Workers found themselves in homes that were much less opulant. Those that didn't have homes slept in the streets. In the winter they would try to scrounge a nickle and spend the night nursing a beer at one of Bodie's 65 saloons. There they could sleep at one of the saloons tables, or stay near the fireplace to keep from freezing during the bitterly cold and dreary winters.
For the workers, mining was hard and dangerous work, often resulted in dibilitating injuries and death. In a time without insurance, any injury that affected production resulted in the loss of your job. But the Bodie mines paid well, and with so many unemployed looking for work, it was easy for the mines to fill any open positions they had.
By 1879 Bodie had a population of about 10,000 who often found entertainment and relaxation in any one of its saloons or numerous bordellos. And with the neighborhood came crime. Shootings were a common (almost daily) occurance and the law - if that is what it could be called - turned a blind eye to the goings-on in that part of town. The day following a shooting, when the victims were buried, the fire bell would ring out the ages of the deceased.
If You Go: Take U.S. 395 seven miles south of Bridgeport, take State Route 270, an eastward winding two lane blacktop road that turns into dirt road after about 10 miles. Continue on the dirt road (which can be rough) for about three miles.
The park is open year round from 9 AM to 6 PM in the summer (May 15 October 31) and from 9 AM to 3 PM in the winter (November 1 - May 14). However, roads may be closed due to hazardous travel conditions, so call for current road condtions if you are concerned (1-800-427-7623). During the winter, the only way to reach the park is often only with skis, snowshoes, or snowmobile.
There are no food or gas stations at Bodie, so make sure you arrive with plenty of gas. There are, however, toilets and a picnic area at the site, near the parking lot, but camping is not allowed at Bodie. During the summer it can get hot so stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
There is an admission fee to access the town. Cost is $7 for adults and $5 for children age 16 and under. Guided tours are available on a first-come-first served basis.
During World War I the cost of gold mining escalated sharply. Mercury, used in extracting the ore, was in demand for the war effort, and the cost of the element became too expensive to make the mines as profitable as they were before the shortage. However, a new method of extracting the ore was found, using cyanide. Unfortunately, this method turned out to be a failure, and it was recommended that the one of the shafts be extended to 900 feet, where the mining engineer thought they would find a new ledge rich in gold. They went instead only 700 feet deep and mined there.
The mine did find some additional gold and managed to stay in operation - at least for a while. After four years, the expenses became too much and they finally closed that shaft down.
Then, in 1932, the town was nearly obliterated in a fire started by a small boy play with matches. Few of the building carried any insurance and, with the loss of the towns structures and dwindling profit margins, the towns population quickly dimminished.
In 1935 new money was infused into the town with the construction of a half million dollar mill to work the low-grade ores. But with World War II the mines were again closed and lay idle until 1946 when about 30 men tried to re-establish the gold mining business. They had just gotten started when another fire burned the new facility to the ground. The insurance was insufficient to replace the plant, and the mine shut down for good.
The owner of the town (J.S. Cain Company) posted a watchman to minimize plundering of historic artifacts by visitor and some of the returning former residence who believed that there was still a bonanza of wealth just below the ground. Such was not the case, but the thefts of anything of value continued. Included in the list of stolen items were: childrens caskets from the mortuary, headstones from the cemetary, and the firehouse bell (which was stolen and recovered twice).
By the early 1960's the shotgun toting watchman - often half drunk as he drove around in a Model A Ford - was replace by one who wore a Mono County deputy sheriff star.
Due to the high cost of protecting the town, J.S. Cain company had been exploring ways of turning the town over to the State of California. The State of California declined all offers, because of the potenitially high maintenance and restoration costs. Officials finally accepted that Bodie should not be restored, but rather should be preserved as a ghost town, and agreed to take possession of the property.
After 1962 the town became a California State Historical Park, which today hosts visitors from across the country and all parts of the world. It remains in a state of "arrested decay" for all to enjoy.
J.S. Cain Residence
Truck & Gas Pumps