The Ghostly Town of Bodie: Part 1… The Highway 395 Series

What better way to introduce the ghost town of Bodie than with a ghostly, tattered curtain. The Standard Mining Company mill can be seen in the reflection.

The history of the gold and silver strikes in the Old West of the mid 1800s is one of boom and bust. Large towns of several thousand people would spring up overnight in remote locations and be abandoned almost as fast as veins ran out and other strikes fired the imagination of miners driven by dreams of instant wealth. 

Some of the towns have lingered on into modern times. Diamond Springs, where I grew up in the heart of California’s gold country, is one. A 25-pound gold nugget found nearby in the early 1850s assured Diamond of its boomtown status. It was a sleepy, ‘one-horse-town,’ in my youth. Today, it is more like a sprawling suburb. Virginia City, Nevada, which we will visit next on my Highway 395 series, not only survived but worked to maintain its historical look and has become a successful tourist attraction.  

Bodie is another tourist attraction. It has survived as a ghost town, however— in arrested decay as the California State Park staff describes it. Only three people were living there in 1943, the year I was born. That number had plummeted to zero by 1950. (Plummeted being relative, of course.) Gold was first found in 1859 but it was in 1876 when the Standard Company found a profitable gold vein that turned the small camp of a few hard-core miners into a rollicking boomtown of 5-7 thousand people with over 2000 buildings. Sixty-five saloons dominated its mile-long main street. I have learned over the years that the number of saloons is always a mark of pride for Old West towns. (A substantial red-light district is another.)

Bodie was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961and a California State Historical Park in 1962. Today, just over a hundred of its original two thousand buildings remain. I arrived around 1:00 p.m. on my drive down Highway 395 and spent three rather warm hours wandering around checking out the buildings and other historical remnants left behind— and dodging fresh cow pies. There were so many tourists it was hard to get photos without them. But who wants photos of tourists in a ghost town?! I did photograph the free-range cattle, however. Now if only a ghost or two had made an appearance…

One big Mama and her calf. Free range cattle wander around Bodie like it belongs to them, leaving presents on the ground for tourists.
It isn’t that the cattle don’t have other country to roam in. Those are the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance. You can see a portion of the 13 mile road coming in to Bodie from Highway 395. The last three miles are dirt. Quivera, our small RV, whined about the wash board road the whole way.
My idea of what a ghost town should look like! Not much in the way of ‘arrested decay’ here.
The buildings the shack is attached to are more typical of what you find in Bodie, however. Sagebrush is the dominant plant, which speaks to Bodie’s desert environment. Mine tailings can be seen on the distant hills.
This house looked almost livable from the outside until you got up close.
A blue wash basin was sitting on the ground out front.
And a small garbage dump found nearby.
It’s looking inside houses that gives you the true feeling of being in a ghost town. Visitors are invited to be ‘peeping toms.’ Most houses look better than this.
Here are a few homes to give you an idea of the houses that remain in Bodie.
I was fascinated with the roof lines of the houses.
And check out the red brick chimney!
Weathered wood covers most of the cabins. My camera was attracted to this knot. Once upon a time it would have been a happy limb.
Several of the residents had used metal as well as wood to cover their homes.
One house had a rather fancy door.
Here’s the window with the ghost curtain featured at the top of the post. I think that is a honeysuckle vine on the left.
A street view in Bodie shows houses heading up the hill. The power poles are modern.
Here’s my choice for a ghost town power pole.
Now, let’s take a look inside some of the Bodie homes.
You would call the call the cops if you looked out your window and saw this!
Some even featured groceries left behind. This one had me checking Google to see if they were around in the 30s. They appeared legit!
Best Foods Mayonaise, Planters Peanuts, Campbell Soup and Pard dog food were all around.
A pot bellied stove! It gets cold in Bodie during the winter. And check out the dining table.
A bed, clothing, a trunk and a print of Gilbert Stuart’s famous painting of George Washington. Stuart painted this for Martha Washington but decided he wanted to keep it and use it for marketing purposes, so he left it unfinished. The painting would become the model for Washington on the dollar bill.
Outhouses were common in Bodie. This one came with a view!
It could be a little risky using it now, however… Propping up is part of the ‘arrested decay’ program.

NEXT POST: We will continue our exploration of Bodie by checking out some of the commercial buildings that still stand including a ghostly old mortuary with caskets. There are also several abandoned vehicles in various states of decay and some interesting mining machinery left behind.

34 thoughts on “The Ghostly Town of Bodie: Part 1… The Highway 395 Series

    • That it is Gerard. As for its former inhabitants. Most are certainly gone. There still might be a person or two around if he or she was a child there in the 30s. And maybe a few ghosts are still hanging out. 🙂 –Curt

    • There is a reason why Bodie is the ‘official ghost town’ of California, G. It is fun that it has been preserved. And while I whined a bit about the number of visitors, their (our) entrance fees help maintain the park. Glad you enjoyed it. –Curt

    • Right! And being that it is an ‘Old West’ town, the cattle do seem to fit right in. Now, if they could only be trained to poop elsewhere, or at least off the trails. 🙂 But a cows got to do what a cows got to do, I guess. –Curt

    • 🙂 Being one, I sometimes get in the way myself. I have to watch photos I take in windows to avoid capturing myself, unless it is deliberate.
      The ‘arrested’ part of the process is to at least slow it down. The leaning hothouse was in the same position it was in when Peggy and I visited Bodie a few years ago! Thanks, AC. –Curt

  1. I love these pictures! A crowd would have ruined them. I’ve visited a couple of ghost towns — one a touristy place and the other the economically-depressed boarded-up ghost towns on old roads through Alabama. They’re all so appealing for some reason. Makes us want to know what happened, I guess.

    I’m getting ready to head to a mining town in Montana. It’s not a ghost town, but there’s plenty of history to explore. I can’t wait!

    • When Peggy and I have visited in the past, Juliann, it had been off season. Maybe there were a half dozen other people around. It was like having Bodie to ourselves. Enjoy the mining town! –Curt

  2. This post left me with the oddest feeling. I know I’ve never been to Bodie, and yet I kept recognizing things: the tin on the walls, the dining table, particular buildings. Finally, I remembered. A SoCal blogger who focused on California history visited the place and posted about it — with lots of photos, too. I’m glad I finally remembered his post, or I might have been a little unnerved, wondering if I’d visited the place in a different life.

    Just as an aside, I got the Union Pacific Steam schedule for UP 4014 in an email today. It might very well be in a place where you could see it, if you were so inclined. I’m anxious to see where it’s going after El Paso. If it comes any farther east, I could be tempted.

    • I’ve posted before on Bodie as well, Linda. So there might have been some leak over there. The photo of Peggy was taken from that post.
      I’ll need to look at our trip and the UP’s schedule. I’ve ridden on steam trains at least twice. Sacramento has an incredible train museum based on it’s history of being the western terminus for the Transcontinental Railway and runs short steam train trips out of their regularly. It also has the giant train on display. –Curt

  3. An interesting post, no doubt. And a place we’d love to see. We both love old barns in various stages of decay throughout rural East Tennessee, and many a time I’ve conned Bert into pulling off the side of the road for just one more shot! But having the buildings open as they are in Bodie so you can see how people really lived would be fascinating. I might not be as brave as you are, however. I’m really scared of snakes!

    • I love old barns as well! And many are the times I’ve stopped to take their pictures. I don’t imagine that Bert is that hard to persuade. 🙂
      Looking inside is half the fun! Not much worry about snakes. The trails are wide and clear. I’ve never seen any snakes there. Now, ghosts… –Curt

    • My father showed up as a ghost, briefly, Cynthia. Or at least lights and water faucets turn on without help. Scare the heck out of me! 🙂 So, yes, I would have been jumping out of my skin. —Curt

  4. Curt, these are great, evocative photos. I’ve only seen a couple of real ghost towns, and while I really enjoy visiting them I always come away feeling a bit strange and unsettled. Anything man can do, nature can undo, and ghost towns are a good reminder. ~ James

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