Ghost Town Wednesday: Bodie, California

Bodie2The ghost town of Bodie, California was designated as both a National Historical Site and a California State Historic Park in 1962.  It is probably one of the best-preserved ghost towns – according to the SHP web site, a small portion of the original town is preserved in “arrested decay” – meaning that building interiors remain with stocked goods as they were when the town was finally abandoned.

Waterman S. Bodey (a.k.a. William S. Bodey) was born in 1814 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York.  On July 20, 1859 he discovered gold near Bridgeport, California which is northeast of present day Yosemite National Park.  Later that year, in November, during a return trip for supplies, Bodey was caught in a snowstorm and perished.  The town that sprung up as a result of the gold strike was named in his honor – supposedly a sign painter misspelled the name and “Bodie” stuck.

In the early 1860’s there were other nearby mines that were more active.  Just across the border in Aurora, Nevada the Esmerelda Mine attracted none other than Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.  Bodie didn’t attract much attention until in 1875 when a mine cave-in revealed a “mother lode” and the town boomed – at one point there were almost 10,000 residents living in Bodie.  After the accidental discovery, Standard Consolidated Mining Company invested in the operation.  A miners union was organized in December 1877 and in 1878 prospectors descended upon the town en masse.

Bodie_1It became standard practice that prospectors would come into the area, find a strike, then sell it for a tidy profit – prospecting and mining are two very different businesses, with mining requiring the greatest investment of money and labor.  Miners lived in basically primitive conditions with few frill.  J. Ross Browne described the typical Bodie miner’s cabin in 1869:

Bodie_2As was the case in typical mining camps and towns across the West, there were more “entertainment” enterprises than any other business in Bodie.  One newspaper noted that in 1878-1879 an average of thirty new residents arrived per day, served by forty-seven saloons, ten gambling houses and five wholesale stores –however, no churches or means to fight fires.

In 1879 the townspeople decided that town namesake William (or Wakeman) S. Bodey deserved a Christian burial.  His companion during the snowstorm in 1859 wasn’t able to provide him with a coffined burial at the time.  Following the location description given years before, the townspeople were able to locate the body and properly bury it – but not before the remains were put on display for Bodie citizens to inspect.  According to one source, “The skull, which had been carefully cleaned and polished like a billiard ball, would be taken up and scrutinized as if it were a piece of quartz from new discovery.”

The town held his funeral on November 2, 1879 and Reverend R.D. Ferguson delivered the eulogy at the graveside.  The good Reverend rapturously proposed a granite monument be built:

“Let him repose in peace on this lofty summit, . . . here, where he blazed the trail and marked the first footprints to our golden peaks.  Let a fit and enduring monument be reared to his memory.  Let its base be wrought from the chiseled granite of these mountains.  Let a marble shaft rise high above with sculptured urn o’er-topping, with the simple name of BODEY there to kiss the first golden rays of the coming sun, and where his setting beams may linger in cloudless majesty and beauty, undisturbed forever.”  Bodie Daily Free Press: 3 November 1879.

All this for a man scarcely known to anyone living in Bodie at the time.  But the monument for W.S. Bodey never came to fruition after all because two years later President James Garfield was assassinated, and a monument in his honor was instead erected in the cemetery.  It appears that no one knows where exactly Bodey is buried, but there are markers and plaques denoting his contributions to the mining town.

Almost as quickly as Bodie sprung up and boomed, it began to decline by the early 1880’s.  In February 1883 the Evening Miner stated, “A quiet town is Bodie today.”  When other strikes occurred prospectors left to chase yet another dream of quick riches.  The town did gain two churches in the early 1880’s, so that in itself lent more respectability to the town.  The remaining miners and mining concerns held on until in 1913 when the Standard Consolidated Mine closed.  By 1914, the mining profits were less than $7,000.  A new owner managed to scrape together a $100,000 profit in 1915 but, of course, still not enough to sustain operations and far below the heyday when production soared and brought in millions in ore.

In 1942 the last mine was closed – a war time edict closed all non-essential mines across the country.  In 1915 the term “ghost town” was associated with Bodie, but the 1920 census listed 120 residents.  In 1942 the post office closed along with the mine and the town dwindled further.  In 1962 the town was turned over to the state of California, becoming Bodie State Historical Park.  Visitors can still walk the streets and peek inside the buildings to see what life was like in the mining boom years of long ago.

Check out Friday’s article – another “Far-Out Friday” about Bodie resident Eleanor Dumont, a.k.a. “Madame Moustache”.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.



  1. Far-Out Friday: “Madame Moustache” | Diggin' History - […] moved on to Bodie, California (see Wednesday’s Ghost Town article) in 1878, which turned out to be her last…

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