Bodie, a Ghost Town

26 August 2011. Filed under category Travel.

I have always wanted to visit a ghost town. With yesterday’s oil leak fixed, we turned our motor home towards Bodie, via an elongated washboard masquerading badly as a dirt road. (We lost a hubcap on the way.)

Bodie was founded by Waterman S. Body, a man who prospected for gold here and found it in spades. Body was something of Fate’s punching bag. After working tirelessly for his entire life to find gold, he then dies three months after finding it in a freak blizzard. The gold rush he started drew ten thousand people to the new town, which the citizens decided to name after Body, only to misspell his name as ‘Bodie’. Later, they decided to raise an expensive marble headstone in Body’s honour, but the stone was instead used for an honorary etching for the recently deceased president, and without the headstone they somehow lost track of where Body’s body was located. Poor Body.

Then again, no one should be surprised at the less-than perfect nature of the Bodie citizenship. This was after all a Wild West gold town. Killings occurred with monotonous regularity, almost daily. Robberies, stage holdups and street fights provided variety, fuelled by the 65 saloons. My favourite example though is the simple fact that the ‘Thou shalt not steal’ sign hanging in the church was stolen!

It wasn’t just the people that were likely to kill you in Bodie; the weather tried its best to do the same. The winters offered six metres deep snow, winds reaching 100 miles per hour and the temperatures could drop to 40 degrees below zero.

One little girl, whose family brought her to Bodie, wrote in her diary, “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie,” a well-known saying throughout the Wild West.

The decline of Bodie climaxed in 1932 when a boy, pissed off at having been given green jelly instead of birthday cake, stormed out of the party and angrily started flicking matches. He set fire to a small building, and the voluntary fire brigade came out. “No biggie,” they must have thought. “We have fire hydrants all over this place and tons of water in the reservoirs.” They turned on the nozzle but only got a trickle of water. “WTF”, they did not think since the internet abbreviations hadn’t been invented, so they thought “Where the fuck is the goddamn water?!” The water was in the reservoirs, but because of the depression, no one had thought it worth the money to replace the filters, now clogged up with mud and sand.

Large parts of Bodie burnt down. What remains is still there today, and it is an amazing experience to walk through the town. The pictures speak for themselves, but as always, they only convey a small part of the experience. If you drive through California, I warmly recommend a detour down the dirt road to Bodie.

And now my comrades all are gone;
Naught remains to toast.
They have left me here in my misery,
Like some poor wandering ghost.

What about Burning Man?

Patience, my dear reader, patience. I have just returned from Burning Man and I will write a post about it as soon as I can.


How do abandoned areas affect you?

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  1. Craig Brown says:

    They make me feel like a time traveler! I imagine living in the vibrant (drunk?) town 100 years ago, and then I magically blink my eyes and here I am in the present! What could they have imagined of my world? One day I was walking through the woods by my house with my neice, thinking we were treading on virgin land, except perhaps for Native Americans, and we stumble upon the remains of a subterrean brick basement! I was lving in their future.
    And some day someone with will be living in my future and my house may no longer exist where it is. I recommend a book called “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. It describes how long things would last if humans were suddenly gone from the planet. I suggest curious readers google “Varosha: The Ghost City of Cyprus”.

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      It is funny how certain books keep being recommended to me over and over again. The World Without Us is one of those books. I mean, considering how many books there are out there (many) it should be a very low probability, but this one comes back over and over again. Maybe I should read it…

  2. Dan Radigan says:


    Glad you got to see Bodie. If you need some tips as to where to go next, feel free to give me a ring as I’ve traveled a good bit of the state by bike.

  3. Allan says:

    Looks amazing. The best ‘ghost town’ I have ever seen is an island just off Tallinn, which used to be a Soviet navy base, until they rushed off in a hurry at the collapse of the Union. Even though I was there about 8 years later, there were still books, calenders, hammer and sickle murals, tanks, guns, letters, shoes etc. Spooky stuff! Allan

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      … used to be what? Come on! I tell everythingmost things!

      1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

        Bah! Ignore that comment. (Explanation further down.)

  4. Allan says:

    Gustav – why has your site chosen that face for me? Can I change it to a nicer one!!

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      That is your ‘Gravatar’ (Global Avatar), an image that appears on every forum or blog where you post.

      Every time you’ve posted a comment you should have seen a sign-up encouragement to create your own. (E-mail me if that hasn’t been the case.) To pick your own Gravatar, click here and sign up using the same e-mail as you’ve been posted your comments under.

  5. Allan says:

    What do you mean ‘used to be what’???

    1. Gustav, the Modern Nomad says:

      I’m an idiot. I saw your comment from the mothership (the blog administration panel) and I only saw an excerpt of the full comment. Ignore me.

      On an unrelated note, you can reply to a message inline by hitting ‘Reply’ next to the message.

  6. Allan says:

    Ehhhh? I don’t think so (although I do not know what a ‘message inline’ is. I think I can just ‘Post Comment’.

  7. Allan says:

    And my new Gravatar worked!!!

  8. joel garry says:

    Ah, this brings back memories. My friend and I went there as teenagers in the ’70’s in his VW van. We went spelunking in one of the abandoned mines (don’t do that! you can die!). Then we went further, to Aurora. The only other vehicles there were dune buggies and jeeps, they gave this custom-painted van some stares. Aurora was more abruptly vacated, there were still old boots and bottles laying around. There was also a large wooden sluice built down a hillside. I don’t know what it’s like now (except what’s on the ‘tubes, but it was something.

  9. Phil Stevens says:

    A little like Craig described, except I also like to touch remnants of buildings, artifacts and the like, then let my imagination run riot, forming in my mind a tactile connectedness and energy with people from another time. Bit daft really but it keeps me amused! 🙂
    The most enchantingly but spookiest ghost town I ever visited was during my backpacking days travelling South India. A place named Dhanushkodi situated on an island off the south western most tip of the mainland and within spitting distance of Sri Lanka. The town was virtually destroyed by a cyclone in 1965, save for what is remaining. Stark brick and concrete buildings stand in isolation amongst the odd makeshift Hindu or Christian shrine, on a flat landscape of white sandy beaches surrounded by water. The whole area is steeped in Hindu myth and legend, most notably that of Rama, it is deathly quiet and breathless, I never saw another soul all the while I was there. And yet, when I entered one of the shrines to take a rest from walking (it’s 5Km from the nearest town) and to shelter from the intense sun, I noticed that someone (or something) had just lit an incense stick – spooky!

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