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.
34 thoughts on “The Ghostly Town of Bodie: Part 1… The Highway 395 Series”
Great captures & I love Bodie!
Thanks Cindy. Pretty much everybody who has been to the town agrees, I’m sure. –Curt
A great little settlement. And where are the people now; all gone long ago?
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
A step back in the time machine!! I love it !!!
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
I agree, better to be photo-bombed by cattle than tourists.
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
It is a very interesting place, Stevie. Definitely worth a side trip for anyone traveling down Highway 395. Thanks for commenting. –Curt
Both creepy and intriguing!
And one supports the other, Lexi. 🙂 –Curt
Lots to love!
Darn those tourists, they get in the way everywhere! Beautifully shot and captured. Looks like it won’t last much longer…
🙂 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
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
Seems like I’m the only one not to have heard of Bodie. Looks like an interesting place to haunt.
Not your usual, haunt, eh Dave. But it is very interesting place if you are ever down that way. –Curt
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
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
Wow. If a ghost or two had made an appearance, you would have jumped out of your skin!
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
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
“Anything man can do, nature can undo, and ghost towns are a good reminder.” Not always a bad thing considering some of the things we’ve done to nature, James.
Did you ever make it to Pompeii? It has always struck me as a ghost town’s Ghost Town, especially with the plaster cast bodies. –Curt
I have been to Pompeii Curt and I hope those folks were dead before the lava got them. I really liked the illustrations for the menu at the cat house. Funny stuff and nothing’s changed.
The latest Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article on Pompeii, James. I also found the cathouse, amusing. Did you make it into the museum in Naples with their R rated room. Much more amusing stuff. 🙂
No I missed the R rated room Curt, and I’m sorry that I did. It sounds like it would be right up my alley … no pun intended 🙂
If you get back to Naples, be sure to include it!
Really enjoyed this.
Such poignant places.
Glad you enjoyed it, Thom. It’s one of my favorite ghost towns! –Curt