Bodie Gold Mining Ghost Town
The most fascinating ghost town I’ve ever visited is Bodie, an historic gold mining town in southern California that once had a bustling population of between 7,000 and 8,000.
Wandering through any abandoned town is eerily interesting, but what makes Bodie fascinating is that the people who lived here didn’t just abandon their town, they abandoned their possessions! What you see in Bodie today aren’t just empty dilapidated buildings, but decaying homes and businesses still full of furniture of all sorts, kitchens with pots and pans and dishes, and living rooms with pictures still hanging on the walls.
The rise and the fall of Bodie didn’t happen all at once. But why did the residents just leave all their stuff behind?
The Rise and Fall of Bodie
The story of Bodie starts back in 1859 when W.S. Bodey and his prospector pals discovered gold in a placer mine site they were working – placer mining is washing the gold ore from the gravel by panning, washing or dredging.
The Bodey team was supposed to keep the claim a secret but apparently Bodey himself didn’t do so. The word got out after his fateful supply trip to Monoville some 25 miles away. The town’s namesake never ended up reaping any rewards from the find – he died in a blizzard on the way back to the digs.
Gold mining didn’t really take off here until the mid-1870’s when a huge strike of gold and silver ore was discovered in a mine cave-in by what was to become the Standard Mining Company.
The rush was ON! By 1877 Bodie was a real wild west boom town!
Stores, saloons, hotels, and dancehalls sprang up as Bodie’s population exploded with all types of people pouring into the town to make their fortune. Bodie’s reputation as a lawless town began.
A good week was one without a killing.
Bodie’s boom only lasted a few years.
By 1889 the rich mines were depleted and the disappointed people left town in droves to seek better fortune elsewhere, leaving only about 1500 people hanging in there with the few remaining mines.
The Standard Mine
For 30 more lean years the Standard Mine, in the hill above the Standard Mill, was one of the remaining mines that still supported a population of about 800.
Even with the introduction of the cyanide process to extract the ore AND electricity instead of wood-fueled steam power to run the machines in the gold mill, Bodie never again boomed. The deepest levels in the mine were never reopened.
The end finally came in 1942 when the last mine closed due to World War II and the War Production Board order that shut down all nonessential gold mines.
Exploring Bodie State Historic Park
Part of the California State Parks system since 1962, Bodie is preserved in a state of “arrested decay” – that means that the buildings’ roofs, windows and foundations aren’t restored, but merely repaired and stabilized. Everything else in the old mining town is just slowly deteriorating.
The Methodist Church
The first structure you come to on the path from the parking lot is the Methodist Church, built in 1882 and the only church still standing.
The Miller House
You can go up to and peek in the windows of all the homes, but one home you can enter is the Miller House. You’ll see furniture, pots and pans, dishes set on the table …all left behind with now a thick layer of dust. Like the owners just got up from the table and left.
Boone Store and Warehouse
Canned goods, equipment, tools… it boggles the mind that all this stuff was just abandoned.
Lottie and Eli Johl House
Next door to the Boone Store, the Johl House looks like any other from the dirt packed Main street – until you peek in the window! This evocative parlor complete with pictures on the wall will have your imagination spinning.
Even with only 10% of the buildings remaining from the original town, it’s still a huge place to wander through. 50 of the structures are numbered with descriptions on the Park Brochure, available at the park entrance or the museum.
The extensive museum has all types of fascinating artifacts from abandoned homes, barns, warehouses and businesses in Bodie. As you peruse the plethora of stuff that was abandoned, you can only marvel – why did they leave all this stuff behind?
One of the museum’s items you won’t want to miss is the binder full of letters from visitors who’ve taken something from Bodie…only to return it.
The Stamp Mill Tour
The Standard Stamp Mill Tour was the the most fun, fascinating, and informative hour we spent in Bodie!
The history of the town, tales of the citizens and the wild west days of stagecoach robberies, are all part of the tour where we learned how gold and silver were extracted from the quartz rock.
A Stamp Mill gets its name from the heavy iron rods, known as stamps, that pound the quartz rock to break it up so the gold and silver could be extracted.
In it’s over 38 years of operation the Standard Mine, in the hill behind the mill, yielded more than $18 million!
Why Leave Their Stuff?
So, why DID the people just abandon all these items you see all over Bodie and in the museum? Money, or lack of it, is the answer.
When it was time to pack up and go and seek their fortune elsewhere, they had to lighten their load. And they had good reason to – according to our Stamp Mill guide, the road out of Bodie was a toll road and people had to pay a toll – based on the weight of their wagon!
Bodie to Aurora Toll Road
Both Bodie and Aurora Nevada were mining boomtowns, and starting in 1878, stagecoaches ran the route from Bodie to Aurora 3 times a day carrying passengers, mail…and gold. A perfect opportunity for a toll road!
So, what about the idea that the people had to pay a toll based on weight of their wagon? Yep, the main road out of town was to Aurora and there sure was a toll. How the toll collector might have actually weighed the wagons is a mystery to me.
The Bodie Curse
I love visiting ghost towns, and Bodie was the most fascinating one I’ve ever explored.
But don’t take anything away from Bodie except photos or you risk the Bodie Curse! The museum has a binder full of letters sent back to Bodie, along with the artifact or even rock they spirited away.