Over the years we have enjoyed visiting ghost towns, mostly in the western US where the dry climate is more likely to insure the survival of the odds and ends of daily life. Most of the time, these remnants result in great photographic opportunities, but require an overactive imagination such as I have to "see" what really went on in these deserted spots. In Bodie, no imagination was needed. Even though the last inhabitants left in the 1930's, so many buildings and so much of the mine and the activities that supported it still stand. It felt like all you needed was a few gallons of paint and the town could come back to life. In 1988 a Canadian mining company wanted to open a large scale open pit gold mining operation on a bluff above the townsite, which would have threatened this unique spot. The California legislature withdrew their mining rights and the California State Park system acquired the town. The approach they have taken thus far is to do just enough, so that the town and its buildings do not deteriorate further.
Today we were free to wander the dirt streets and peer into the windows of homes that looked like someone had recently walked away. Some of the homes clearly belonged to folks at the lower end of the earning curve, but others had ornate carvings on the doors, magnificent iron stoves, and gaudy wall paper still hanging from the walls in shreds. The buildings of commerce were also still there. We could still see the sawmill which must have worked 24/7 supplying the timbers for the mine and the frames for the houses. During the summer you can take a tour of the stamping mill where the gold and silver were refined. The fire department still had an "engine" inside and the school was full of desks and the tools of learning like globes, maps and books. Before it all was over, Bodie was electrified and the power poles still stand with strands of wire dangling from the transformers. The power station was one of the only brick buildings; nearly all the others were made of wood. That's why even though we saw enough buildings today to keep us busy for two hours, only 10% of the town remains. We were here on a beautiful day but we hear that the winter can be treacherous. Mr. Bodey, who discovered the gold here in the first place, froze to death in a blizzard in 1859. Snowfall can average between three to six feet on the flat ground with drifts up to twenty feet high. Maybe in the winter it was a blessing to be underground.
Bodie's story is similar to the one I wrote about last week when we toured Virginia City
in Nevada. In 1879 at its height the town had a population of 8,500 people and more than 2,000 buildings. It is hard to imagine a more difficult occupation than mining as it was done at that time. When those exhausted men crept out of the depths, surprised and delighted that they had survived another day, they relaxed in one of Bodie's sixty saloons, and spent their hard earned cash in dance halls and houses of ill repute. Gun fights, stage holdups, robberies and street fights contributed to its reputation of lawlessness. If you've ever seen a Western you know the story. Many Chinese were in the area, but their "different" ways meant they were not accepted. Even though their hard work was appreciated, they lived in a town within this town and even had a Taoist temple, long before Bodie finally had two churches. Some of their buildings survive as well.
I really like the concept of arrested decay. Perhaps it is something I can apply to my own life!