Bodie, California

38°12′44″N 119°00′44″W

Bodie, CA was a once-thriving gold mining town on the California-Nevada border, but what remains today is something very different. Once boasting a Wells Fargo bank, four volunteer fire departments, a railroad, several workers’ unions, multiple newspapers, a jail, and a thriving red-light district at the far end of town, Bodie is now just a relic, a ghostly curiosity. Most ghost towns only live into their golden years as footnotes in history books and memories found in dusty photographs, but Bodie managed to buck that trend and somehow stick around.

The Standard Company discovered gold in Bodie in 1876, and as a result, the small prospector camp that the town once was began its transformation. Within three years, the population had exploded to nearly 7,000 people and 200 surrounding buildings. The town’s mines reportedly took in a whopping $34 million. The town built a telegraph to connect it with the surrounding towns in the face of its newfound wealth and importance, and people from far and wide looking to strike it rich flocked to Bodie and its surrounding towns. Because the Old West was probably almost exactly as we imagine it to be, a staggering 65 saloons sprung up along Bodie’s central drag of Main Street, nearly all of which undoubtedly leading towards that red-light district on the far side of town. It is said that many murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were now regular occurrences in Bodie. Awesome.

The town was exploding, and not only with saloons and brothels. Well, mainly with saloons and brothels, but also with a Miners Union Hall that served for union meetings, dances, recitals, and gatherings of all types. The resident Chinese people in the area enjoyed a Chinatown district of the city that housed a Taoist temple and several opium dens. Bodie’s town cemetery was also quite bustling in its own way, even offering a Boot Hill section for local gunslingers. Also awesome.

As is usually the case with places with so many saloons, brothels, and opium dens, the first signs of Bodie’s decline came quickly. Miners moved on to other promising mining booms in Arizona and Montana, and the town settled into a comfortable groove of being more oriented towards family and community. Two churches were erected in 1882, and although the town had settled, gold ore production stayed fairly steady. The town also enjoyed multiple forays into current technologies like hydroelectric power and various methods used to extract gold and silver from the nearby mines. Bodie’s population had dropped to a comfortable 698 people, but considering it was nearly 7,000 only a few years before, there was no denying the fact that the town was on the decline.

1912 was the year that the slide became official. The last official town newspaper was printed, the Standard Consolidated Mine closed, and the town’s profits from gold production was at an all-time low. The Bodie Railway was closed and scrapped, but the final nail in the coffin was the closure of the last mine in 1942. World War II had officially begun, and the War Production Board issued order L-208, effectively shutting down all non-essential gold mines all over the country. Mining never resumed in Bodie, and in 1915, the first reference to it being a ghost town was made. Bodie’s total population was at a scant 120 people.

By the late 1940s, vandalism had taken a toll on most of the town. It remained in tatters and virtually uninhabited until 1961 when it officially became a National Historic Landmark in California and named the state’s official gold rush ghost town. It was a fitting end to such a historic place, and although a large fire destroyed most of the town in 1932, visitors to the area are still able to walk and explore the desolate streets that once bustled with activity. Bodie’s official park ranger station is located in one of the original homes on Green Street. It’s said that the reason why there are still so many artifacts and cultural pieces left inside of the buildings of Bodie is that because of the sudden decline of the town, everyone just picked up and left. They simply took what they could and moved on. Supposedly there is a curse on the town, and bad luck will come to you if you remove any of these remnants as a souvenir. Not certain if that’s true or not, but if you go there, maybe don’t take anything from it but pictures. Ghost town or not, there’s still plenty of it left to see.