Saturday, 20 June 2015

Bodie: An Old West Ghost Town

Ok, I've mentioned quite a few times now that we visited a real life Old West ghost town over the Memorial Day weekend back in May, so I think it's finally time I shared some of the photos with you all.


I have loved the idea of visiting an Old West ghost town ever since we moved to California, and I'm happy to say that Bodie, in the Sierra Nevadas, lived up to all of my expectations. The town, which is a designated State Historic Park, has been kept in a state of arrested decay since the last residents moved on to greener pastures in the early 20th Century. Everything is just as it was back then; a declining gold mining town filled with run down houses.



Here's a little history about Bodie...

Bodie's life as an inhabited town was relatively short lived. Gold was found in the area in 1859 and by 1879 the town boasted a population of about 10,000. By this time the town also boasted a reputation as one of the wildest in the wild west. Bar fights, robberies, stage holdups, street fights, and killings were common. In fact, they were almost daily occurrences. In its hey day more than 60 saloons and dance halls lined the streets of Bodie. 




By 1881 Bodie was in decline. The rich mines were depleted and mining companies went bankrupt as miners and business people left for more lucrative areas. By 1886 the population of Bodie had dwindled to approximately 1,500 people. 

In 1892 a large fire destroyed many of the homes and businesses left in the once thriving community. 

The mines picked back up again during the 1890s with the introduction of the cyanide process for gold mining but the new boom was short lived. 


In 1932 another large fire destroyed all but 10% of the town's buildings. During the 1940s Bodie faded into a ghost town with the remaining residents leaving.

In 1962 the remaining part of the town was designated a State Historic Park and a National Historic Landmark. 


So now you know a little about the history behind this amazing little town. Time to have a look around...

As I mentioned earlier, Bodie has been left exactly as it was when the last residents moved away. Houses are still furnished, stores still have products on their shelves, the school blackboards are still covered in chalk, and those buildings that were left a little worse for wear are still a little worse for wear. Most buildings are structurally sound (even if some of them, like the one below, don't quite look like it!) but to preserve them as is, visitors are not allowed inside. Instead the interiors can be viewed through windows. Most of Bodie's buildings are made of wood, but there is the occasional brick building too.


The school house was a favourite with Ava and Lola. Although at first Ava didn't believe me that it was a school. "Where are the whiteboards?" she asked! Ha! I had to explain to her that back in the olden days (and the not so olden days when I was a kid) there were blackboards rather than whiteboards. She didn't seem convinced at first but finally believed me when I pointed out a few more features of the classroom.


I really enjoyed taking a peek inside the houses and catching a glimpse at what life must've been like in Bodie. Some houses are still set up as their owners left them. Others are in not so good shape. Every now and then we'd come across a house that seemed pretty livable even today. I asked the girls if they'd like to move there, saying that they would have a big back yard and could get a dog. Ava thought about it for a while then said "A backyard and a dog would be pretty cool, but living here would suck"! So true. I mean, there's no internet!


Bodie lies at 8,400 feet above sea level and sees some incredibly harsh, and constantly changing weather. High winds, heavy rains, scorching summers, extreme snowfall and blizzards were all a part of life. In fact, Bodie boasts the most days per year below freezing in the lower 48 states. Each month of the year the temperature drops below freezing at some point, even in Summer. In fact, while we were at Bodie the weather was constantly changing. The sun would come out and we'd all be warm. Then it would start raining. Then sun. Then hail. Then wind. Then sun again. Preparing for all types of weather when visiting Bodie is definitely a must, especially seeing as you can't go inside the buildings for shelter (apart from the visitor center and one house).


Mathilde is quite obsessed with cars, trucks and things that go so she was pretty excited to see a vintage truck on display as well as the fire carts in the fire station. Ava and Lola also found a rusted out car body that they had fun pretending to drive.


The stores and businesses along the main street are still filled with products which provides an amazing insight into the types of foods that the locals ate and the technology of the day. Offices are also still set up with everything in place.


One of the nicest houses in town, the J.S. Cain Residence, looks to be in better shape than a lot of the older houses here in Berkeley! In fact, there are quite a few derelict Victorians here in Berkeley that could be transported to Bodie and no one would know the difference! Don't get me started on the number of rundown houses sitting empty in the Bay Area when we have a major housing shortage...


Around the corner from the J.S. Cain residence is the sawmill. The girls had fun checking out the machinery and finding little items on the ground. Lola was pretty pleased that she found an old nail in the shape of an L. She was pretty keen to keep it but I managed to convince her that a photo would be just as good. I did make sure to check her pockets before we left though as I had a sneaking suspicion that she might try to sneak it out!


Nearby is the church which is also in pretty good nick. The church is closed off to visitors but just inside the door (past the barrier) is a collection dish that visitors throw coins into. Not everyone has the best aim!


Bodie has one house that visitors can actually go inside of. We were able to visit the dining and living area of this house, although the bedroom and kitchen were blocked off. This particular house has had quite a few different floor coverings over the years. I counted at least three different linoleum patterns on the floor. The linoleum patterns wouldn't look out of place in a home today, although the wallpapers were all pretty dated.


As Bodie is a state park, the girls were able to take part in a Junior Ranger program and add another badge to their ever growing collection. Ranger Lola was pretty happy to show off her badge.


Perched on top of the hill overlooking Bodie is the town cemetery. We didn't make it up there as we were all getting pretty hungry and Mathilde was ready for a nap. There is no food available at Bodie so packing snacks or lunch with you is a must. After a few days on the road though we had all tired of sandwiches and granola bars and were ready to go find a proper meal! So instead of visiting the cemetery we took a few more cheesy photos and headed on our way.


Bodie is an amazing place and I highly recommend visiting if you're at all interested in history. The kids enjoyed being outside and checking out the old buildings but admittedly they did tire of looking inside old houses before Kim and I did. They definitely had fun though.

If you plan to visit Bodie, keep in mind that the weather is incredibly changeable. The museum/visitor center is open from mid-May through mid-October only due to the harsh Winters. Winter visits require snow transportation and there are no towing facilities should you get stuck. Best to stick to Summer visits if you ask me!


For more information about visiting Bodie visit www.bodiefoundation.org or www.parks.ca.gov/bodie

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