The little mining town of Bodie, California began life in 1859 during the Gold Rush fever when a couple of prospectors found gold. Twenty years later it was one of the largest boom towns in California. Mining companies came in and built stamp mills that pounded the ore to remove the precious metals. At it
s peak almost 10,000 people resided in Bodie with over 2,000 buildings, many thrown up as fast as wood could be delivered. The railroad transported the gold bullion from nine stamp mills to Carson City and San Fransisco. Along with its own newspaper, a telegraph was installed to connect Bodie with neighboring towns. Today you can see some of the original poles still standing and used for telephone lines.
As a bustling gold mining center, Bodie had a bank, four volunteer fire companies, a brass band, a railroad, miners’ and mechanics’ unions, and a jail. At one time over 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long, and it wasn’t uncommon to have several murders, shootouts, brawls, and holdups each night. With the mines running three shifts a day, the red light district at the north end of town was said to be busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the other end of town it was said that the respectable people of Bodie held Saturday night socials and dances. There were several restaurants and ice cream parlors.
By the 1880s the boom town has started to declin
e. By 1915 the pounding of the stamp mills had grown quiet and Bodie was already known as a ghost town. In 1920 only 12 people lived there and there were still residents until the 1940s. One of the mining stamp mills still stands as a reminder of Bodie’s glorious past. The town is in arrested decay now and what’s left of the bustling town is being preserved just as it was when people deserted it. Many of the houses have furniture and household items left in them. Stores still have merchandise stacked on shelves as if any minute someone would stop in to shop. Time has stood still for Bodie, and the ghost of the once booming town waits for the next tourists to walk its streets and bring back to life the stories of long ago.
(Bodie is located in the hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range between in California. It has an elevation of 8379 feet. When I was there at the first of October, the businesses in the neighboring town of Lee Vining on Mono Lake were already boarding up for the long cold winter. The
rangers who live full time at Bodie spend the winters with snow and the only transportation in or out is on snow mobiles.)
A 1927 Dodge truck sits silently at the old Shell gasoline pumps.
Relics of the past sit abandon around the ghost town of Bodie.
Only 170 building remain of the over 2000 structures built during Bodie’s boom.
Bodie has all the amenities of a booming town including churches, a school house, restaurants, livery stables, and barber shops.
Looking in the school house in Bodie you get the feeling that the children are out at recess and the bell will ring any moment. The rangers at Bodie said that more thousands of books, desks, and toys that were left behind are archived in a back room.
Deserted trucks, wagons and parts liter the deserted town.
Nine mining companies operated stamp mills in Bodie. The gold ore was brought into the mill and was pounded to separate the slag from the precious metals. Over $34 million was mined in Bodie.
These buildings were in the respectable part of town. Townsfolk held socials and dances in the union halls. At the other end of the mile long Main Street was the red light district.
Not many brick buildings were built in Bodie. Most were made of wood hauled in from Carson City and Bridgeport. This building could have been the Wells Fargo Bank.
There are no forests around Bodie, so wood had to be hauled in by wagon and later railroad from areas like Carson City and Bridgeport. They went up as fast as the wood could be unloaded. Fire struck Bodie in 1892 and again in 1932 burning most of the town.
Bodie is in arrested decay. That means that the structures are being preserved just as they were when the Bodie Foundation acquired them. Many of the buildings are literally falling over and care is being taken to prop them up and stabilize them.
In Bodie you’ll see remnants from the past along with signs of modern civilization. Telephone poles line the streets while old wagons and carts used in the early mining days stand idly by.
It is said that hundreds of people a day left Bodie when the stamp mills closed. They took only what they could carry and left the rest. Many houses still have household items in them waiting for the families to return. There are beds with linens, fully furnished kitchens, even pictures on walls. Storekeepers left stocked shelves. Thousands of items were left behind when Bodie was deserted. People literally walked out of their dwellings.
Park rangers live in Bodie full time. They’ve taken up residence in some of the more stable buildings in town. They have electricity and water, but not much else. In winter they said that they have to take snow mobiles to the nearby towns for supplies.
Bodie, California was once a thriving community with over 10,000 residents. The stamp mills ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The sound of the pounding from the mills could be heard from miles away.