Do you happen to share my fondness for ghost towns? Well, hold onto your hat because today we’re going to talk about Bodie, California—a ghost town that many people claim is filled with real live ghosts! Live ghosts? Well, you get my drift! It’s a ghost town with ghosts and a good old-fashioned curse and everything!
Back when there was gold in them thar hills, business was booming in Bodie. It was ten years after the 1849 gold rush at Sutter’s Mill when four prospectors made a lucky strike on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. They agreed that mum would be the word until they could come back the next spring. But keeping quiet is a tough thing to do and W. S. Bodey was not successful in the endeavor. Bodey returned early with a Cherokee man known as Black Taylor. Life is full of consequences and the consequence for W.S. Bodey and his loose lips was that he and Black Taylor were caught in a blizzard and Bodey died. As far as consequences go, you don’t get dirtier than that!
For Bodey, the bad news was that he was dead. The good news was that they named the camp after him. Of course, most people couldn’t spell worth a flip back then, and Bodey became Body, which became Bodie. But it was still the same place. And Bodey was still dead.
The Bodie camp languished for a few years while people were off striking it rich in other places. It was 1876 when a Bodie mine caved in and revealed a gold mine! Wait a minute. Okay, so it was already a gold mine, but the cave-in revealed a whole heap of gold. In 1878, there was another whopping strike, which netted a million dollars worth of gold bullion in a mere six weeks time. I don’t know how much gold bullion that was, but I’m now wondering how much chicken bouillon it would take to net a million dollars.
To paraphrase Voltaire: With great fortune comes great responsibility. It soon became apparent that many of the residents of Bodie were not very responsible with their new-found fortunes. There was a reason the expression “Bad Man from Bodie” became popular in the West. How can I say this? Bodie was filled with some really bad men (and more than a few bad women). There were gamblers, prostitutes, stagecoach robbers and desperadoes galore. After all, somebody had to keep all of the opium dens in business! At one time, Bodie had sixty-five saloons and a booming red light district. Bodie had a reputation and it wasn’t good.
During the winter of 1878-79, hundreds of residents died of disease and exposure to the cold. The Bodie Chamber of Commerce, if such a thing existed, would have had its work cut out for it. Bodie had image problems. Most people didn’t want to move to a town where the slogan could have been: Bodie, California—If the winters don’t kill you, the residents might!
There is a story that still circulates about a little girl whose family was moving to Bodie. Some people claim that she prayed, “Goodbye God! We are going to Bodie.” Other people claim that she said, “Good, by God! We are going to Bodie.” That’s one of those instances where punctuation is everything.
Reputation aside, Bodie did boom between the years of 1879-1882. Following that brief heyday, there was a slow and steady decline in the Bodie economy. In 1892, the decline picked up steam after a fire destroyed several buildings in the town. Several mines closed. In 1917, the Bodie Railway was abandoned. And, in 1932, a second fire, which was started by a 2 ½-yr-old boy playing with matches, did its best to destroy what was left. Approximately one third of the town’s buildings were burned. But, the real nail in Bodie’s coffin was Prohibition.
By the 1950s, the town was completely deserted. In 1962, Bodie became a State Historic Park. The park is maintained in a state of “arrested decay,” meaning that the structures are kept from crumbling, but are not restored to former glory.
Come Back to Haunt You
There are 168 structures still standing in Bodie. There’s also a cemetery. It is a ghost town, after all! And there are plenty of ghost stories to go around.
Of the last six residents of Bodie, five of them died grisly deaths. A husband murdered his wife. Three men murdered the husband in retaliation. The ghost of the murdered murderer is said to have faced his own murderers. It wasn’t long before the three men dropped dead. I’m not sure what happened to the final resident, but if I had been him (or her?), I would have taken off running and would not looked back!
The ghost of a Chinese maid is said to haunt the old J.S. Cain house. Park rangers’ families have reportedly stayed in the house. They learned that the ghost loves children, but has tried to suffocate adults in the middle of the night.
Guests of the Gregory House have reported seeing the ghost of an old woman knitting an afghan in a rocking chair. If I have to encounter a ghost, I hope it’s one of the knitting variety and not the suffocating variety!
Park rangers say that they often smell Italian food cooking in the Mendocini House. They also report hearing the laughter of children. And then there are the run-of-the-mill stories about a ghost gazing through upstairs windows. There have also been some reports of live children interacting with some unseen something or other at the grave of a three-yr-old girl who is known as “The Angel of Bodie.”
Don’t Push Your Luck
So, what is that bit about the town having its own curse? I’m glad you asked! “The Curse of Bodie” is said to rear its head whenever a visitor takes something from the town. The spirits of the dead residents are believed to be very territorial. A person doesn’t even have to take something very big in order to be on the receiving end of a hex. There are stories of visitors taking something as small as an old nail and being beset by ill fortune. Park rangers have received numerous letters from visitors seeking to return their stolen souvenirs in an effort clean their Karmic slate. Some of the letters are addressed directly to the spirits themselves.
Some people claim the Curse of Bodie is actually a genius attempt by park rangers to stop the pillaging of the village. That may well be true. But, hey, why risk it? Is a rusty nail worth it? I think not!
You’ll enjoy this outstanding documentary about Bodie by historian Howard Berkowitz . . . it’s worth a view!