Bodie: The Ghost Town that Never Dies

Bodie from the 1890s | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Dust blows across an empty gravel road. Abandoned wooden buildings stare up at an empty bluff. Down the town’s long road, just past the church and collapsed bank, is an incline shaft. The shaft is dead, and so are the ghosts that supposedly haunt it and the town. This town, Bodie, hasn’t been alive since the 1950s.

Originally, Bodie was a mining camp founded by a handful of Californians, including Pat Garraty, William Boyle, Terrence Brodigan, and W. S. Bodey (who was the one to name Bodie). The group stumbled upon gold-filled ground around 1858, only to move on hoping to return in the spring. However, Bodey had other plans. With another companion, Bodey returned to the site with more supplies to survive the deathly winter. After winter passed and word of the fertile mines spread, the mining camp filled with more new inhabitants hoping to find great wealth.1.

Even though the mining camp was filling with people, it still lacked a name. It wasn’t until the following winter, in November of 1859, that Bodey died trapped in a blizzard while on a trip to get more supplies. In honor of his death, the camp would be called “Bodey’s Diggings” or “Bodey” for short, which would later be adapted to Bodie. 2.

But how did this mining camp grow into a town and then later into a ghost town?

Bodie’s mines were owned by different companies | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With gold mining cities in close proximity to Bodie, the hunt for various ore in the area was on. Everyone wanted their own piece of the gold pie. In 1863 and 1864, mineralogist and geologist William P. Blake and Professor of Chemistry Benjamin Silliman traveled to Bodie to inspect the veins, concluding that “Bodie’s Mines showed great promise.”3 Soon after, the Empire Company purchased property in Bodie with the prospects of opening new mines, and the Bodie Bluff Consolidation Mining Company, the Bodie Consolidation Gold, and Silver Mining Company followed suit. The more companies invested into the site, the more the town grew in both population and profit. Bodie was starting to boom.4

Remains of Bodie’s bank | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The town grew as over 100 hand miners began to flow into Bodie along with at least 50 Empire Company workers. Already, two stores had opened and the preparation “for numerous whiskey mills and hash houses” was underway, as an onlooker from Inyo Country wrote in 1877. This sort of growth suggested that the town would grow to be more than just a mine, becoming instead a place for families to settle. Bodie was becoming a place for miners to make profit and for businesses as well. Stocks began to sell for one dollar a share, adding to the total profit of Bodie. 5

As more residents discovered gold, more men came into the town. By 1879, the population of Bodie was between 5,000 and 7,000.6With twenty-five mines open, the flow of money to miners was constant, incentivizing the hard working men to settle down. As predicted, Bodie was no longer just a mining town full of men looking to strike it rich. It was becoming an established town, in which families could move into alongside miners. Because of the permanent residents, the town had built up the Bodie House, a hotel, with the Miners Union Hall immediately behind it, and the Champion, Grand and Oakland House hotels provided housing, restaurants, and a barber shop. It was no longer a standard camp, set up for miners to dig, get their pay and leave. Solid buildings meant to last through the harsh winters were constructed, replacing temporary tents. The town had even acquired their own newspaper, The Daily Bodie News, as well as a real estate office immediately next door, ensuring incoming families that there would be permanent residency for them.7

It wasn’t until 1880 that Bodie started to show signs of decline. Single, young miners looking to strike rich, quickly grew tired of the wage pay that the Bodie mines had instilled. They began to move away to nearby mining towns where they were paid based on the quantity of gold mined, rather than on hours worked. Although family settlers remained, much of the mining workforce was beginning to branch off into other directions.8 Although there was a short revival with new technologies, mines still began to close. In previous years, production had reached as high as three million dollars in both gold and stock profit in 1881, 9 but by the early 1900s, profit had severely plummeted as workers left and mines became less productive. In 1914, the profit shrunk under $7,000, only spiking in the 1915 when there was an attempt to revive a previously closed mine. Although profits climbed back to $1oo,ooo, it would never equal the booming millions that the mines had originally experienced. Eventually costs would be too high for all mines to stay open. 10

Finally, World War II forced Bodie’s last producing mine to shut down. Mining never resumed once the war was over, but in 1961, the town was declared a National Historic Landmark. The following year, the state authorized Bodie to become its own State Historic Park. Today a total of 170 buildings survive in Bodie with just over 100 still standing perfectly intact. Each building has been preserved and remnants of the daily life of a Bodie citizen can still be seen inside each house and building. Even the mines have been preserved, and there are many tours that can take curious onlookers around the supposedly haunted ghost town. 11.

Bodie filled with tourists | Courtesy of Flickr
  1. Michael Piatt, Bodie: “The Mines Are Looking Well…” (Al Sonbrante, TX: North Bay Books, March 2003), 21.
  2.  Wikipedia, 2018, s.v.“Bodie, California”
  3. Michael Piatt, Bodie: “The Mines Are Looking Well…” (Al Sonbrante, TX: North Bay Books, March 2003), 23.
  4.  Wikipedia, 2018, s.v.“Bodie, California”.
  5. Michael Piatt, Bodie: “The Mines Are Looking Well…” (Al Sonbrante, TX: North Bay Books, March 2003), 39-41
  6. Wikipedia, 2018, s.v.“Bodie, California”
  7. Michael Piatt, Bodie: “The Mines Are Looking Well…” (Al Sonbrante, TX: North Bay Books, March 2003), 88.
  8. Wikipedia, 2018, s.v.“Bodie, California”
  9. Michael Piatt, Bodie: “The Mines Are Looking Well…” (Al Sonbrante, TX: North Bay Books, March 2003), 41; Wikipedia, 2018, s.v.“Bodie, California”
  10. Wikipedia, 2018, s.v.“Bodie, California”
  11. California State Parks, State of California. “Bodie SHP.” CA State Parks. Accessed September 15, 2018. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509.
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30 Comments

  • This article is very interesting!! The Gold Rush that happened in the United States is kind of a phenomenon to me. I wonder how many other towns like Bodie there are, who were just abandoned and closed down. By the looks of it, the people had plans to live there for a very long time. The town seems like it was very established and had many plans for the future. It is so weird how everyone just dropped everything and left. I wonder who was the last person to leave? How they felt? The economy really is such a huge factor in small towns!

  • This article was very interesting to read since I love ghost stories and it’s nice to know that they do tours because that would be something I would like to do. It’s crazy how there was once so much economic promise but then no one stayed around also how that town is frozen in time. The people in Bodie town left everything behind without a second though for a better life.

  • I really liked the introduction to this article, it really drew me in and had me engaged from the start. I had never heard of Bodie before this, and this article did a really good job of helping me learn about it. It was interesting reading about how the town changed over time, how it began, and what it is now. I’m also really curious about what the ghost tours are like that they have there now and if it really is haunted like they say.

  • A very interesting story about a very interesting ghost town. If anything, it shows us the power money has over us. What was once a booming town soon becomes a husk in the middle of nowhere. I never heard of the town before, but the article did a great job of explaining what happened to the town and the history behind it all.

  • I honestly hadn’t heard of Bodie before, but I love stories about the history of ghost towns. I loved the pictures in the article, but specifically the one showing the remnants of Bodie’s bank. As the author kept describing how the town was booming, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how somehow it would fail. I wonder why the last mine had to be shut down because of the war….but overall a very interesting topic and read.

  • The author chose an interesting title, this article aroused my curiosity to learn more about this abandoned city, I saw many beautiful pictures for this city. It is truly interesting to see the history of this city, and how it turned from a mining camp into a vital city inhabited by many families and eventually a historical garden. It’s great to visit one day.

  • This is such a cool article and I had never heard of it. In general I knew mining towns become ghosttowns not only in California, but all over the U.S. The problem was that these towns weren’t great environments for families because of the crime that was usually there. The population was usually all men and all were seeking to get rich quick. Obviously there would be tensions when some got wealthy and some didn’t. Robbery and homicides were also a common theme. To occupy the men, salons and prostitutes were a common theme in these towns. Overall not a great place to raise your children.

  • Ghost town background stories are interesting to listen and read, because it gives people an understanding on why these towns didn’t become successful. The town of Bodie used to be a successful place for people to earn wealth in the mining industry. However, there was less money produced when the profit and the payment was not enough for the mining workers.

  • I’ve never heard of this town before. I think that people, sometimes, create their own “decline” due to lust. It was great to know that at least for a time it was a place that helped people grow businesses and encourage workers to have a life in a small town, since nowadays most of the people have to be within large cities to work even though they don’t like it. Also i think is great that this towns still exists for purposes of tourism, so we can get to know the history of this place better.

  • The town of Bodie shows how money hungry our country can be. As things were looking good, populations boomed and people were happy. As soon as conditions changed and money had to be shared, people abandoned what they loved and knew so well without a second thought. It is America’s greatest downfall yet also greatest strength. The town of Bodie is concerning yet beautiful.

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