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…
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.