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California's Official Ghost Town

Many of you will be taking trips this summer. Why not take a trip to California's Official Ghost Town, Bodie, California. Located north of Mono Lake, high on the eastern side of the Sierras, Bodie was named after W. S. Bodey who discovered gold in the nearby hills in 1859. News of the discovery spread fast and soon hundreds were scouring the hills in search of gold and the town of Bodey was formed. No that's not a misspelling. The town was founded as Bodey and if it weren't for a sign maker by the name of Robert M. Howland who couldn't spell or thought Bodie looked better than Bodey (depending on who's story you believe)  it would be named that to this day. In the end the residents of Bodie thought it looked better as Bodie and that's the name that spread.

In 1877, a major gold deposit was discovered at the Bodie Mine. The hundreds became thousands as people flocked to Bodie and the surrounding areas looking to strike it rich. By 1879, Bodie's population had swelled to between 10,000 and 12,000 people and more than 800 buildings making it the second largest city in California after San Francisco.

The town of Bodie was as rough and tumble as any boomtown at the height of a gold rush. Fights and murders were an everyday occurrence on the streets and in the saloons of Bodie. There is a story that says the town was so notoriously lawless that a young girl upon hearing that her family was moving to Bodie was overheard praying, "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie." The town's Methodist minister, Reverend F.M. Warrington, commented that the town of Bodie was a "sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion."

Unlike other boomtowns, Bodie's decline into a ghost town was slow. Mines came and went. While most left after the major loads disappeared, minor discoveries of new gold and new gold mining technologies kept the town alive, if only a shadow of its former self. Several major fires ravaged the town. One, started by a small boy upset that he gotten gelatin instead of cake for his birthday, set fire to his kitchen table with a match. The ensuing fire destroyed over a third of the town.

The 1940's through 1960's saw the town all but deserted, slowly being ravaged by the elements, vandals, and time. In 1962, the town was taken over by the state and became Bodie State Historic Park. Two years later it was dedicated as a California Historic Site and just recently as California's Official Ghost Town. The town is being maintained in a state of "arrested decay".  This means the 200+ remaining buildings of Bodie are being protected from further decay but will not be restored.


Looking through Bodie to the stamp mill Wheaton General Store Methodist Church Buildings in "arrested" decay

Miller House Miller House Miller House Miller House

Saloon Saloon Barber Shop Hearse in the Bodie museum; Death was common in Bodie

Residence Scenic Bodie Scenic Bodie Lone outhouse

Cain house, Green Street, Bodie Swazey Hotel, Main Street, Bodie

But what about Ghosts?

In addition to being a ghost town, Bodie has quite a few ghost stories associated with it. Perhaps the most famous haunted house in Bodie is the Cain house. Jim Cain was a shrewd businessman who made a fortune bringing lumber to the treeless town of Bodie. Nearly everything was made from wood in Bodie, homes were heated with it, and the mills used enormous quantities for their steam engines. Mr. Cain built himself a home in central Bodie at the corner of Green and Park Streets and hired a Chinese woman to be the family maid. Soon after, rumors floated through the town that Mr. Cain was having an affair with the maid and Mrs. Cain promptly fired her. Disgraced and unable to find honest work the former maid committed suicide.

It has been reported that her ghost haunts the remains of the Cain House. Over the years the house has served as park ranger housing and has been open to visitors. Children have reported seeing the maid's ghostly face in the upstairs bedroom. Visitors have reported hearing the sound of music coming from the same unoccupied upstairs bedroom. Several park rangers and their families have reported unnerving experiences in the house. In one famous case the wife of a park ranger said:

"I was lying in bed with my husband in the lower bedroom and I felt a pressure on me, as though someone was on top of me. I began fighting. I fought so hard I ended up on the floor. It really frightened me. Another ranger who had lived there, Gary Walters, had the same experience, in the same room, except that he also saw the door open and felt a presence and a kind of suffocation." 

A daughter of a park ranger had a less extreme yet no less bizarre experience. One night she went to bed in the upstairs bedroom. She turned off the lights and got in bed. The lights promptly turned back on. She got up, turned off the lights, and tried again to get in bed only to have the lights turn on by themselves. This happened several more times before the child screamed for the ghosts to leave her alone and fled the room in tears.

Strange sounds and noises have been reported emanating from in or around many of the buildings in Bodie. An unsettling experience in a ghost town noted for its absolute quiet. One house, the Mendocini house, has had reports of children laughing outside, as well as a report from one ranger who, while sitting quietly inside reading, began to hear the sounds of a party. He left the building to investigate, assuming the sounds were coming from outside, only to discover that they were coming from inside the house and even louder than before. He thanked the ghosts for trying to throw him a party but insisted that he had a lot of reading to do. The sounds stopped.

The ghosts of the Mendocini house must like cooking as much as they like a lively party. It's rumored that sometimes when the house is opened up after a long winter it smells of Italian cooking.

In other buildings, visitors have reported seeing objects move on their own or have feelings that they are being followed or watched from the windows.

Perhaps the most famous supernatural aspect of Bodie isn't a particular ghost or haunted house but a curse. The infamous curse of Bodie. According to the legend, the spirits of former residents protect the town from all those who would remove parts of it. Anyone who removes something, regardless of size, from Bodie is cursed with bad luck and misfortune until the removed items are returned. According to park rangers, every year they receive objects in the mail taken from Bodie. Sometimes these objects are received with anonymous letters of apology to both the town and its guardian spirits.

Bodie, California's Official Ghost Town, offers something for everyone, beautiful scenery, adventure, history, and the paranormal. If you can only visit one place this year make Bodie your choice. You won't regret it.


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