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

This old International truck in Bodie is retired, a ghostly reminder of what it once was.

We can thank James Stuart Cain for the fact that the ghost town of Bodie, located 13 miles off of California’s Highway 395, is something more than a few derelict buildings sinking into the ground. Cain arrived in Bodie in 1879 as a young man of 25 with a new wife and towering ambitions. He began his rise to being Bodie’s number one citizen by importing lumber across Mono Lake to build the town’s mines, businesses and homes. He would go on to own the town’s bank and the Standard Mill. Eventually he would own most of the town, which he and his family would love and take care of— an effort that included hiring on-site security. When he passed away in the late 1930s, his family continued to maintain the vacant town and security right up until the time they passed it over to California in 1962 for a state park.

The J.S. Caine residence at Bodie State Historical Park in California.
I took this photo of Cain’s home on an earlier visit to Bodie when my wife Peggy (standing in front of the house) was with me.

I featured Bodie’s ghostly homes in my first post. Today I will feature other buildings that remain standing in the town, vehicles in various stages of ‘arrested decay’ and mining machinery.

The Methodist Church, peering out here from behind several homes, is one of Bodie’s most attractive building.
A closer look at the Methodist Church.
One of my favorite ‘perspective’ photos from Bodie.
A look inside the Methodist Church— it comes with a fun story. Can you name the Seventh Commandment? Did “Thou shall not steal” instantly leap into your mind? (Or did you have to look it up like I did.) Anyway, a copy of the Ten Commandments once hung in the blank space at the front to the church. And, as you probably guessed, somebody stole it!
Okay, it’s time to get back to the ghostly part of Bodie! You are looking in the window of the local mortuary, complete with a casket with a convenient viewing window. I wondered if the book was a how-to-manual for the mortician— either that or Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”— based on how thick it is. I am sure if you stare at the wallpaper long enough, you will see ghosts.
Nearby was a hearse that also included a casket. I was assured that the casket was empty. Hmmm. Not sure I would want to be in either place on a dark and stormy night by myself.
This is another of Bodie’s iconic buildings where ‘arrested decay’ means propping it up to keep it from falling over! Once upon a time it was a hotel. Rooms should be cheap now.
A few shops still stand on Main Street. This is an inside view of a mercantile store that was filled to the brim with a little bit of everything.
Shave and a haircut, two bits! And more ghosts in the wallpaper. I am pretty sure that the guy on the right got a bad haircut.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows’ hall. I’ve always found the name “odd fellow” intriguing. The urban dictionary defines it as “a person who acts in a confusing or bizarre manner,” which would fit my idea. My guess is that the English had something else in mind when they founded the fraternal organization in the 1700s. Maybe my followers from England can enlighten me.
I liked the unique look of the front of the shop on the left.
Early mining towns had a tendency to burn down. Often. Diamond Springs where I grew up, managed it three times. Having a firehouse was important. This is one of three that Bodie once had. My guess is that the other two burned down.
The fire trucks. I wouldn’t be overly optimistic when they pulled up in front of my burning house.
The schoolhouse. Impressive.
An old globe inside the Bodie schoolhouse. When I focused in on the blackboard, I learned that 6-3=2. Somebody had some fun with that.
There isn’t much left of Cain’s Bank, another victim of fire. Apparently he had a fireproof safe. Note how many layers of brick there are.
I looked inside and found the safe.
These ruins were found next door to the safe-house. I assume that they were part of the bank. I walked through the door and looked out.
And was treated to a view of the Standard Mill.
There were several mills at the height of the gold rush. The Standard Mining Company mill is all that is left at Bodie today.
You have to sign up for a special tour of the mill property but I was able to wander around and take photos from the outside.
Machinery used in the mining operations can be found throughout the park.
Geared up for work!
A Shell gas station once provided service at Bodie. I couldn’t help but wonder if some disgruntled miner had shot the sign full of holes when the gas jumped up to $.20 a gallon!
Several vehicles in various stages of falling apart are found in Bodie. This 1927 Dodge Graham truck is ‘waiting for gas.’ No doubt it still is.
This one is beyond gas.
No gas was needed for this old mine cart. You wouldn’t have to worry about flats either. Wonder if you could hook it up to one of the fat cows wandering the property?
No gas was needed for this large ore cart either. But it might take the whole herd of cows to pull it. No bull.
Besides a ranger— the cows, a few prairie dogs, and these cliff swallows were the only inhabitants of Bodie I could find. I had a strange feeling that someone was watching me, however. Could it be a ghost?
Every old ghost town of the West needs a wagon wheel, so I will close my two posts on Bodie with this one.

NEXT POST: Timber! A one post break from Highway 395. Never-ever did I expect to see logging trucks using my driveway. Plus some other recent happenings at the Mekemson household. After that we will journey back to my road trip and the silver town of Virginia City.

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.