Before summer’s end, I finally got to visit the Bodie ghost town, known officially as Bodie State Historic Park. Today, only about 5% of the buildings remain from the town’s 1877-1881 heyday, most having fallen victim to time, fire, and the elements. Designated a California state park in 1962, it is now preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” This means that buildings’ roofs, windows and foundations are repaired and stabilized, not restored.
Following the 1849 Gold Rush, mining declined along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Prospectors, ever hungry for the next big strike, crossed the Sierra Nevada to prospect the eastern slopes.
W.S. Bodey, from Poughkeepsie, New York, discovered gold here in 1859. He died months later in a blizzard, never seeing the town that honors him. Bodey’s bones were re-discovered in 1879 and then “misplaced” after burial. His final resting place is now thought to be somewhere on the hill above the cemetery, which I skipped, but could see from the dirt road leading to the parking lot. The town‘s name came to be spelled “Bodie.”
Mining in the district progressed at a slow pace until 1875, when a mine collapse revealed a rich body of gold ore. Word spread fast, and Bodie’s boomtown days began. While period accounts estimated Bodie’s population as high as 8,000 and later writers claimed 10,000, census records do not reflect these high numbers. Bodie’s peak population probably ranged from 7,000 to 8,000.
During 1877 – 1881, Bodie’s mining district included 30 different mines and nine stamp mills. Along with miners and merchants, Bodie attracted a rougher element, who gave the town a reputation for bad men and wild times. There were more than 60 saloons, many near Bonanza Street prostitutes’ “cribs” and opium dens in Chinatown. The boom years were over quickly as unsuccessful mines began closing. The population dropped quickly and continued to dwindle into the 1900s. Mining continued until 1942.
The family of Bodie’s last major landowner, James S. Cain, hired caretakers to watch over the town and protect it from looters and vandals. In 1962, California State Parks purchased the town to preserve the historic buildings and artifacts.
I enjoyed my visit to Bodie.