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  • Writer's pictureJenn

Visiting Bodie- The most famous ghost town in America

If you have thought about visiting Bodie I want to encourage you to go for it! Tucked just behind Yosemite is a ghost town called Bodie. It is 13 miles down a bumpy, slow road just off State Highway 395. It is home to 110 standing structures from the 1800s and has become one of the most famous ghost towns in America. Bodie is now a historical park and it truly is like stepping back in time.

Interesting Facts and History About Bodie

None of the buildings are restored, instead they are preserved in what is known as a state of “arrested decay”. “Arrested decay” means that buildings in Bodie only receive necessary maintenance that “prevents them from deteriorating or collapsing” and this is something that makes Bodie so unique. It seems as if people just fled. Bars are still stocked and furniture is left in buildings- dusty and broken. Some photos or mirrors hanging on by just one nail. Nothing here is fixed up to sell as a tourist trap; it is kept in the state in which it was left. I have been there several times back in High School and Brandon and I have also gone together. We both think this place is so incredible. But it had me thinking, what started this town about 80 years ago and what caused it to become a desolate ghost town? All my googling pointed me to one reason-the Gold Rush.

The California Gold rush was sparked with the discovery of golden nuggets in the Sacramento Valley in 1848. Just a little over 10 years later 1859, William S Bodey also known as Waterman found gold in a small town called Bodie Bluff. Bodie Bluff is just about 5 miles northeast of where Bodie Historical Park now stands. After Willaim S Bodey found gold- a mill was established just two years later in 1861 and the town began to grow. In just over 20 years the small town of 20 miners grew to over 10,000 people all because of gold- yellow, glittering, precious gold. Over 2,000 buildings were built and Bodie’s mines produced gold valued at nearly $34 million dollars. The main street became a busy place with stores, small shops and salons. I couldn't believe it, but Bodie too even had its own Chinatown as at one point several hundred Chinese residents lived there. I was also amazed that it had a Wells Fargo Bank, but with this growth also came robbers, gambling halls and gunfights. The mixture of money, gold and alcohol proved to be fatal. Towns papers would ask in the morning who was killed the night before. Bodie was thought to be on the wild side, where it witnessed roughly 70 shootings and nearly 30 murders in the span of 4 years from 1878 to 1882. From all the chaos came to life the term "The Bad Man from Bodie". It has never been said if this man actually exists, but it seems to be a story that may be blurred between fact and fiction. It is said that this term was just a playful exaggeration for enternaimnet sake back then. Bodie became a well known town until the 1900's when it began to decline.

After all this booming, thousands of buildings built and thousands of people that called Bodie their home what caused its decline? The decline is believed to have started when they printed the last Bodie newspaper in 1912 called the Bodie Miner. Mining profits in 1914 were at a low of $6,821. Later in 1915, James S Cain tried to save the town by buying and reopening the Standard mill to former employees. Once reopened the mill brought in $100,000 of profit, but it was not enough to save the dying town. As the gold vanished, so did the townspeople. In 1917, the railroad was also abandoned and iron tracks were taken for scrap. By 1920 Bodies population was recorded to have gone down to just 120 people. Yet, these residents stayed well into the 1940’s and even stayed through a severe fire in 1932.

Here is a photo I found on the internet of the cutest little boy standing in front of the burned down town after the fire of 1932. This wasn't the thing that ended up causing Bodie to turn into a ghost town it was actually World War II. Due to the War Production Board that ordered all non-essential gold mines in the US to shut down they closed their last mine in 1942. The post office closed its doors in 1942 and there was very little left after that. A few caretakers did stay in Bodie to try and stop the threat of vandalism until 1943.

Today only 110 structures remain from what was once a busy town. It leaves so much to your imagination as you walk the main street boardwalk with rusted out cars left parked out with grass growing up around them. I can’t help but wonder what it would look like with thousands of stores and restaurants and 10,000 people living there. The families that shopped at the corner store in the mornings and chaos that ensued late into the evenings. Reading about a city that once had so much life amazes me how it fell to just dirt. It seems like that was just the way of life back then. As I walked through the town I couldn't help but wonder who walked these streets before me. I'm thankful that Bodie is now a preserved town and so well kept in its original shape. That is what has led it to be one of the most famous ghost towns in America.

Visiting Bodie

A few tips from our visit:

- Dogs ARE allowed in the park. Just make sure that you clean up after them and know that dogs are not allowed on the Stamp Mill tour or in the Museum.

- Pack a lunch or prepare not to eat. There are no touristy restaurants or stores on the Bodie grounds. They do that to preserve the park in its most natural state. They may not have a lot of facilities, but they DO have restrooms in the park.

- 30 minutes down the road is the town of Bridgeport. That is where we stayed the night when we went and visited Bodie.

- I would make sure that you check the website for hours and rules as most state parks may be following some type of COVID guidelines still.

Thanks so much fo always following our journey and reading. We talked about this episode on our podcast- and you can listen to the full episode on our podcast below.


Jenn & Brandon

Most of these photos were taken by my mom. I wasn't able to a find my photos. So thank you mom!

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