It was 4:30 PM when we reached lake Mono. To be honest, the idea was to be here much earlier and use the afternoon to visit the ghost town Bodie some fifty kilometres away. Now, with sunset rapidly approaching and our next stop being in the Death Valley, 3 hours drive in the opposite direction, that plan didn’t seem all that excellent. Besides, Bodie itself is only open till 6 PM. Crap.
I was almost ready to give up on the whole thing when Katja looked at me and said, “Hey, let’s just go!” I thought about it for a second, and figured – hell, why not? I don’t think I would’ve ever forgiven myself if I missed a chance to see a real Wild West ghost town. Death Valley could wait.
Google suggests spending 2 to 3 hours in Bodie. We only had 45 minutes, but trust me, it’s better to spend even half an hour in Bodie than not spend any time in there at all. Even that short of a time is quite enough to feel the ambiance of the place, its unique atmosphere of a place once full of live but long since abandoned. Bodie will never make it to the list of the most beautiful places we’ve seen during our trip of Western America, but it’s easily one of the most memorable.
Bodie is located in the hills east of Sierra Nevada. These days it’s a State Historic Park, a National Historic Landmark and an official ghost town. Nobody lives here except for a few park rangers that permanently reside here for convenience. Town history dates back to 1859 when a group of prospectors discovered gold here and set up a camp. One of them was W.S. Bodey and the town that soon developed was named in his honour (opinions on the actual first name vary with most probable options being Wakeman, William and Waterman).
Unfortunately, Bodey himself never had a chance to enjoy his glory, as he perished in a winter storm in November of the same year, when he figured it was a good idea to venture to a nearby town Monoville to get some food and provisions during the snowfall. The only other thing history can tell us about W.S. is that in 1849 he left his wife and two kinds back in New York and traveled west in search of gold, adventure and better life. I guess it’s funny how you can actually make history without doing anything much in your life. But, I digress.
For a few years Bodie remained a basic camp that attracted only lone adventure-seekers. But it all changed in 1876 with the discovery of a large gold mine. People from all over California rushed into the town trying to make some easy money and already by 1879, towns population grew to a solid 5000-7000 people. Soon Bodie had two churches, its own red light district, a Chinatown, a bank, a railway station, and a gas station. It even had two local newspapers.
At its peak, Bodie’s main street, only 1.5 kilometres long, featured a whole 65 saloons. Nightly shootouts and murders were a common matter. A near perfect example of a Wild West town, pretty much.
However, by the beginning of the 20th century Bodie has started to decline. Adventure-seekers moved on to newer, richer pastures and only large companies remained, but their revenues started shrinking too. By 1920 only 120 people still remained in Bodie, mostly families who didn’t want to move. To make things worse, a strong fire of 1932 destroyed a large part of the city centre.
The end came in 1942 when US government issued a decree to close all non-essential gold mines for the duration of the war. The war ended in three years, but mining in Bodie never resumed. Some still believe there’s quite a few gold left untouched in the hills around the town…
Today’s Bodie is empty streets, wind howling between the old slanting structures, rusty cars and empty bottles. Hollow windows watch rare visitors come and go.
It’s very interesting, exciting but yet a bit creepy to walk the streets and look through the windows. Some buildings are very well preserved with interior left almost intact. One can see exactly how a church, a saloon and a grocery shop looked a 150 years ago. There’s also a cemetery nearby.
As any abandoned place, Bodie attracts all sorts of myths, legends and superstitions. The most famous of them, also known as The Curse of Bodie, states that anyone who steals anything from the city would suffer the most grim misfortunes. This streak of bad luck would last until the item is returned back to the town. Park ranges keep getting letters that include all kinds of things – nails, rocks, bottles. The most interesting of those letter are on display in the local museum. People write about how they lost their job, got in a car accident, got sick and prey to the spirits of Bodie to forgive them and accept the item returned. A fascinating read.
Reports of supernatural activity in Bodie are nothing unusual either. Some claim to have seen a woman figure in the empty window of a second floor of an abandoned house, others hear children laugh nearby. A wife of one of the ranges living in Bodie once told that some unknown entity tried to suffocate her in her bed at night, and one of the visitors swore he has seen his little daughter play with an invisible friend in the town’s cemetery.
Personally, we didn’t see any ghosts and heard no weird sounds. We never experienced any curse either (although that might be due to us not actually taking anything). Granted, Bodie is deserted, silent and a bit creepy, but that’s the deal with any abandoned place. It’s actually more interesting and exciting that frightening, though I wonder what spending a night in such a place feels like. Some rangers do it all the time, so my bet is that it’ll be calm and peaceful, nothing more. At any rate, Bodie is an unique place and very well worth a visit should you ever find yourself around the area – you won’t regret it.