What should you know before visiting the Bodie ghost town in California? At least the fact that you can only access in the summer months, and that you should not take anything from Bodie with you. Nothing! Now you might ask: “Why is that?” Well, if you jump down to our Labor Day weekend trip in California, you will soon find out.
A few weeks ago we did a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. We visited places like Yosemite National Park, Devils Postpile at Mammoth Lakes and Mono Lake. After we stopped at Mono Lake to see its famous tufa towers, we ate lunch at a local restaurant and headed north on Highway 395. We didn’t have to drive too far when we saw a sign for the Bodie State Historic Park. The road to the park took us up to Bodie Hill, and there wasn’t much to see on the way there. We only saw a few cows eating grass far away. Eventually the road turned into a gravel road and we had to drive slower until we reached the park entrance. Finally we were there! We were ready to see this ghost town and maybe some ghosts too!
THE COLORFUL HISTORY OF BODIE
The history of Bodie started when William S. Bodey found some gold in the Bodie Hills in 1858. Gold miners started to move in, and soon there was a whole village full of people living there. During the years the name Bodey changed into Bodie, and nobody knows for sure why. But the town began to grow, and it was not only the gold miners who lived there, but also many families, business owners, prostitutes and even robbers. During the boom years of Bodie, there were 65 saloons on its main street. Bodie even had its own China town. After a hard day’s work the miners often went to the “red district” to spend their time and money.
Life in Bodie was hard. Just like in the western movies, shootings were common, and many couldn’t resist the temptation of alcohol. Winters were cold in the mountains and the houses were not properly insulated. The road to Bodie was often closed due to the snow, and people were stuck up in the Bodie Hills. What a life!
In the 1880’s people from Bodie started to move to new mining locations, and the population of the town started to decrease. By the mid 40’s Bodie was completely empty, and had become a ghost town. The families who were last to leave Bodie, took only the things they were able to carry with them. So most things like furniture, tableware, curtains and such like were left behind in the empty houses. Even the general store was left looking like it always was, full of goods on the shelves. So Bodie got totally abandoned for twenty years, until it fist became a Historic Landmark, and then a State Park in 1962.
BODIE STATE HISTORIC PARK
Nowadays about 200,000 people visit Bodie every year. Considering that the Bodie State Historic Park is only open part of the year, that is quite a lot of people. I think that the harder it is to visit a place, it often just gets more attractive to people. For example, we have been wanting to visit Bodie for a few years now, but there just hasn’t been a good time for that. The longer we waited, the more we wanted to see it.
Bodie still has 170 buildings which is much more than any other ghost towns I have visited. They are not renovated, the buildings are only preserved in a state they are now in. So in that sense, you can really call this an authentic ghost town. Make sure you have enough time to visit Bodie, since it is actually quite a wide area and you can read the stories from the brochure while you visit the houses. In one house they show a half-hour film telling about the history of Bodie.
We walked around and peeked in from the doors and windows, since only some of them were open for visitors. But it was amazing to see how people who left Bodie had left everything behind them. The beds and sofas were now broken and china in the kitchen was full of dust, but they were still there. In the main street, they have a small museum where you can find personal items of Bodie people found from the houses and from the park. They had for example old letters, photos and money.
Bodie really can be a little bit creepy. The wind moved curtains around in the houses through broken windows, and the thunder made loud warnings about the coming storm, but we still had a great time visiting the park!
THE CURSE OF BODIE GHOST TOWN
It is nearly impossible to visit Bodie without hearing about its bad luck and the curse. As I mentioned earlier, many robbers used to live in Bodie, and they often had bar fights or shootings like in the wild west. Also the weather in the mountains was harsh and took many lives. It can change so fast and even we witnessed a sudden thunderstorm with lightning and rain. We quickly ran under the front porch of the general store to escape the rain. Someone said that there is always a dark cloud above Bodie. And that was true at least the day we visited.
On the other side of the road from downtown Bodie there is a small cemetery where you can see and remember all the people who died there. All those whose luck ran out in this town.
Also the miners living in Bodie had bad luck. In 1882 they got the first electrical transmitter of the time to transport electricity to the mine. Only after one year in use, an avalanche destroyed the plant that transmitted electricity to Bodie.
When visiting Bodie, it really feels like you have stepped back in time. After you have been walking around and peeking into the houses, you will soon start to notice things on the ground. On the little paths you can find some rusty nails, pieces of glass or china, or even coins. But consider yourself warned; by taking them, you will also take home the curse of Bodie. The rangers will be happy to tell you more about it if you ask, and can show you things that people have sent back to the park. People who took items from there soon faced bad luck. Some got in to fights, some into accidents or fires, which made them return the things to the park. Some of them are showcased in the museum in Bodie. Not only will you get bad luck, but It is also against the park rules to take anything home from there.
So here was the story of the Bodie Ghost Town. It was a very fascinating and interesting place to visit, in spite of the dark side of the town. I wish we could have stayed longer, but the weather was really not co-operating with us. We headed north, to Bridgeport where we had booked a hotel. It was time to leave ghosts and abandoned houses behind us. Have you ever visited a ghost town?