The promise of gold lured people to the Bodie Hills, the betrayal turned Bodie into California’s most infamous ghost town.
At its peak, Bodie bustled with over 12,000 residents who came in search of gold. But by 1940 Bodie would have just 3 residents and they too would soon pack up and leave.
Bodie sits within the picturesque Mammoth County, just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. It’s a 5-hour drive east from San Francisco or 6 hours north of Los Angeles, in either direction it will take you on a journey through some California’s most scenic areas.
Once you leave Highway 395, it’s 3 miles of unsealed dirt road that leads you to a town long deserted.
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bodie was a movie set, the kind that you’d expect to see on a Hollywood movie lot- wooden houses scattered throughout the valley and a line of buildings that marked out the once a thriving main street.
Some say Bodie was cursed, a fire in the late 1800’s wiped out a large part of the town. A further fire in the 1930’s caused by a local boy who was playing with matches, almost wiped out what was left. Murders, alcohol fuelled fights, shootouts and stagecoach robberies made Bodie a rough and dangerous town.
The residents, having enough of the lawlessness, formed a vigilante gang called the 601 and they dealt a brand of justice that was swift and unforgiving. The notation 601 is rumored to have been derived from “6-feet under, 0-trial, 1-rope” The old firehouse that still stands today was where justice was delivered. Looking up at the wooden beams I wonder how many of Bodie’s more notorious characters met their end there.
If lawlessness didn’t make Bodie hard enough, the climate made life that much more difficult. Blizzards, freezing weather even in the summer months and 100mile an hour wind raced across the valley floor. When you look at the small wooden homes scattered throughout the valley, you wonder how the residents lasted for as long as they did.
Walking around Bodie, you also can’t help but imagine the characters that occupied her streets. Like poor old Rosa May, Bodie’s resident prostitute. Despite her primary occupation, Rosa also cared for the men of the town during the many epidemics. Despite this, when Rosa died the residents weren’t keen for Bodie’s resident prostitute to be buried in the same hallowed ground, so they buried her outside the fence instead. Time has forgotten her final resting place, only the ghosts of Bodie know where she is now.
As the mines failed, Bodie’s residents deserted her for more promising strikes elsewhere in Arizona and Utah. Bit by bit, Bodie’s fate was sealed. As new efforts to revive the mines failed, along with it went Bodie’s future. The Post Office stayed for as long as it could, the railway line was ripped up and the iron sold off.
What is left behind is now part of the Bodie State Historic Park. The only “resident” now is the Park Ranger. Despite the harsh climate, Bodie’s dwellings have been well preserved and 110 of her buildings still stand. Nature has now reclaimed much of Bodie’s once bustling streets.
Walking up to the houses in Bodie and peering into the windows is like looking back in time, it’s as if people just got up and walked out! Cups and plates now covered by years of dust still sit on the tables where they were left; personal effects line the window sills.
The old mining site is too dangerous to enter, but its corrugated iron sheeting is almost out of place amongst the wooden buildings that make up Bodie. The general store still has goods lined up on its shelves, covered by dust. The old fire station where the hangings took place, the schoolhouse and the church, all stand today, weathered by the years, but standing as a testament of a time long gone and a life much harder.