Abandoned America: California's best-preserved ghost town
My name is Matthew Christopher, and I’ve spent the last decade chronicling American ruins in my Abandoned America website and book series. You can also follow my travels on Twitter at @abandonedameric.
Bodie, California, was a place I had dreamed of visiting for years. Easily one of the largest and best-preserved ghost towns in the United States, Bodie has been a state park and a National Historic Landmark since 1962.
It’s open to the public, although you’re not going to be able to access it during the winters. At 8,379 feet, Bodie can get really cold even in summer, especially at night. It’s one of the coldest places in the continental United States!
In fact, in December 2016 an earthquake hit Bodie and park rangers were unable to immediately assess the damage – because the town was under about 4 feet of snow. Thankfully, nothing major had been ruined. It’s fortunate that the state park service is caring for it, and that visitors can support their efforts via visits and donations.
Currently there are about 100 structures remaining in the town, including a church, the school, a funeral parlor, hotels, the general store, and parts of the jail.
While that’s much more than many ghost towns, which may have no standing buildings remaining, at its peak in the late 1870s there were about 2,000 buildings and residents in Bodie.
Bodie started out as a prospectors’ camp in 1859, and was named after a miner named William Bodey who died the following winter attempting to make the trip to Monoville, now known as Mono Lake.
The spelling of the town’s name varied, but the current spelling of Bodie is supposedly the result of a sign painter’s mistake.
The camp never truly flourished until the Standard Company discovered a rich vein of gold-bearing ore over a decade later.
Prospectors flocked to the town and by 1879 there were between 5,000-7,000 residents.
In its heyday, Bodie had its own red light district, a thriving Chinatown with a Taoist temple, four fire companies, several different newspapers, a Wells Fargo bank, 65 saloons (!!), and a rail line leading into town.
By the 1880s, prospectors were moving on to other areas, but families remained. By the 1890s, the population was down to about 1,600, and by the 1920s there were only 110 left. It was officially considered a ghost town.
Nevertheless, the mining didn’t officially stop until the government ordered gold mining to cease during World War II. Thankfully, Bodie had a caretaker throughout this period, but even so much of the town was destroyed in a fire in 1932.
Now, 200,000 people travel to see Bodie yearly. It’s an amazing peek into what life was like over a century ago, and an experience unlike any other: While the buildings are stabilized, every effort is made to leave them unaltered otherwise.
No article about Bodie would be complete without mentioning the supposed curse that befalls people who try to remove artifacts from the site – whether you believe it or not, following the rules about leaving things where you find them is important so future visitors can enjoy the experience too.
Travelers to Bodie will likely want to stay in the nearby town of Bridgeport, and will find plenty to do in the area – it’s a short trip to hot springs, mountain lakes, the northwestern entrance to Yosemite, and many other fun activities.
Thanks for reading about my travels to this amazing spot, and if you enjoyed learning about Bodie please share the story with others – the more people who know about the park, visit it, and support the efforts of the Bodie Foundation to maintain it, the more likely it will continue to be preserved for future generations to enjoy!