Before and After a Boom

I absolutely love this picture. This is just the kind of image of that can transport my brain to another era, like falling into the rabbit hole.  Doesn’t it just come alive? Makes me feel like I’m standing right there on the edge of town…a tiny new community popping up in the middle of no where…which is exactly what happened in this historic town of Bodie, California. I came across this picture while looking up info on Montana mining towns, but I marked the site because I was really struck by the contrast in pictures, like I”d been pulled into the bright shiny start of a new gold rush community and then dropped into the aftermath following the boom by the picture below.

Here’s Bodie from another angle, the ghost town I’d expect to see nowadays with a skeletal reminder of its booming heydays. Can you see the church?  Kind of  spooky the difference lighting and angle can make. Bodie was a Quintessential boom town, making a sleepy start in 1859 when prospector W. S. Bodey discovered some gold. He died during a freak blizzard in November of that year, so the town was named in his honor…sort of.  A painter accidentally lettered the stable sign to read “Bodie Stables”, and the new spelling was adopted by the town.

Bodie remained an obscure little mining community with a handful of residents until 1876. A large deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered and by 1880 the population had exploded to nearly 8,000.  The town grew to more than 2,000 buildings, including two banks, a brass band, railroad, miner’s and mechanic’s unions, several newspapers, and a jail. Over the years Bodie produced nearly $34 million worth of ore and bullion.

At its peak 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences. “Badman from Bodie” described the town’s rambunctious inhabitants, earning the community a reputation for violence that rivaled Tombstone, Deadwood and Dodge City. Eventually the gold went the way of water in these hills…and the booming town dried up along with it.

Here’s an interesting tidbit I found on Bodie History.com:

The Founder Has His Day

“Bodie’s confirmed status as a gold-producing community inspired its historically-minded citizens to wonder about the unfortunate prospector who had succumbed in a snowstorm some 20 years earlier and become the town’s namesake. They located his shallow grave and dug up his bones. One area pioneer said the remains were those of William S. Bodey from New York, but his presumed widow in Poughkeepsie said his first name was really “Wakeman.” The New York Times printed “Waterman.” Despite uncertainty, which continues to this day, citizens organized a grand funeral procession and formally interred the bones in the town cemetery. But they failed to mark the new grave and quickly forgot its location.

Still, it’s the spark  of life in the first picture that really takes me back.  Do you feel it?  Or maybe that picture really makes me believe in GHOST towns 😉

Stacey Kayne
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Updated: October 8, 2010 — 6:11 am

29 Comments

  1. Stacey, I totally agree with you. I’d love to have that first picture hanging on my wall.

    There is something that touches my soul about ghost towns and abandoned buildings whether they were houses, barns or businesses. Someone had big plans and dreams for them when they were first built, and they all have a story to tell.

    I hope you are able to use Bodie as a setting for a future book!

  2. Love the first pic. There is something about those blazing skies that really make a difference. But there is something about all those photographs that reaches out to me.

    Ghost towns always make me a bit sad. Abandoned buildings anywhere for that matter. My husband went to his uncle’s funeral and was deeply distressed the old homeplace was falling down. No one lives in it so it is no longer cared for. Sniff.

    Thanks for such an informative and pictorally beautiful post!

    Peace, Julie

  3. Pictures really do tell 1000 words, don’t they? Great images! They stir the imaingaiton and make me long to step into the world they project, at least for a little while, to experience firsthand what the people at that time experienced.

  4. Avatar

    The golden light in that first picture makes Bodie a warm. inviting place. It probably is the feel travelers got when coming onto town early on in its existence.
    I wish I had known about Bodie when we lived and travel out that way. We lived in Colorado for 3 years and have been back to the area a few times since. We were in Wyoming a couple of years ago.
    There is still much we want to see out there. Our next trip will include Wyoming, so Bodie will definitely be on the agenda. Abandoned communities no matter where they are located have an air of expectation about them. It is almost like the life they once held is waiting to come back.
    Thanks for some great pictures and interesting post.

  5. I love the pictures and the article. Boom towns are so strange and fascinating.

    I don’t remember details but Skagway, Alaska exploded and then nearly vanished.

    Dyea, an Alaskan town that was a jumping off point for the gold rush DID vanish.

    Strange to think of the dreamers who’s risk life and limb for gold.

  6. Amazing pictures, Stacey! Love ’em. And I love looking at pictures of ghost towns almost as much as I love visiting them. I’ve always want to go to Bodie. Maybe because it’s very similar to my last name. LOL I can definitely feel the promise of the fist picture and then the overwhelming sadness of the one below it. It looks like everyone was in such a hurry to leave with the way things are strewn about. Very spooky. Thanks for the interesting blog.

  7. all of those pictures are beautiful!
    you could look at them for hours!

    65 salons???
    CRAZY!!!

    the inside of the house was cool to see

  8. I was thinking several of those photos would make great covers. For some reason they reminded me of Sandra Dallas’s book Prayers for Sale about life in a Colorado mining town. I checked it out and it looks like she has scenes from Bodie on the covers of her last two books.

  9. Stacey,
    LOVE THESE PICTURES! Especially that first one. You are soooo right–that just touches a chord in me. I think it’s the sky, lighting, and the weathered buildings. Just beautiful. I grew up in Seminole, OK, an oil boom town. We had an old neighbor lady who lived in one of the first stone houses that was built there during the boom. Her husband was an attorney. At the time I knew her, I was 6-17, and she was OLD when we first moved in across the street from her. But she was sharp as a tack and told all kinds of wonderful tales of those early oil boom years, when she was a young woman and the town was nothing but tents all over, and a film of oil on everything. LOL She died after we moved away, but I will never forget her and her wonderful stories. Seminole is still there, but of course, everything changes. Great post, and again, those pictures are just wonderful.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl P.

  10. The first picture reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade painting because it’s so alive. Thanks for all the pics.

  11. Hi Stacey, I’m a little late today, but wanted you to know that Bodie is a California State Park and it is relatively cleaned up around the buildings. There is a caretaker there during the open season. Beings that it is located at 8,000 feet and severe snow in the Winter, it is closed for those 4-6 months when the dirt road is over-whelmed with snow. I live 3 hours south of there and we have horse rides in the spring to Bodie from Mammoth for a week. It is a really cool place to visit. The first time I was there I was 2 or 3. We camped at Mammoth and went there for day picnics. At that time, in the 1940’s, there were still things in the cabins. Not any more. But my memories are still fresh. It is a GREAT old town. At one time was a rival with Aurora (NEVADA) for Capitol of California.

  12. Hi again, If you look on a map of California to find Bodie, it is on the eastern (right) side of the state near Nevada. North of MONO LAKE. South of Reno. Just a minor point of interest.
    Happy trails. Mary J

  13. Thanks, Judy! Bodie definitely has the history to inspire a western writer 😉

  14. Same here, Julie. It’s hard to believe something that thrived so fully could become so thoroughly deserted. Can’t imagine how heartbreaking that had to be for so many of those shop owners when business started to dwindle…not so unlike mom&pop shops today, huh? Like Mary J mentioned below, Bodie is a California State Park and still and fascinating place to visit 🙂

  15. Karen wrote: Pictures really do tell 1000 words, don’t they?

    Hi Karen! I thought about making that the title of this post *lol* A picture book can spring a rash of stories in my mind. I have a very “visual” brain 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  16. Definitely add Bodie to your list, Patricia! Here’s a link to the park website: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509

    I didn’t focus on the park in my post, was fixated on the pictures 😉 I too love visiting old historic towns–still pining to go back to Jackson Hole, WY, a favorite of mine. I’ve been to quite a few here in CA, and it always feels like the past is whispering in your ear, ya know? Happy Travels!

  17. Hi Mary! There are so many that just settle back into the dust.

  18. You come down this way, you give me a call, Linda. We can go stir up ghosts together 😀 I always love a chance to TOUCH the past, ya know? Hubby probably thinks me possessed, because I like to just settle and absorb, ya know? Too fun 🙂

  19. Thanks, Tabitha! I know, can you imagine the ruckus all those saloons created?! 🙂

    I’m always surprised by the colors inside those old buildings. Sometimes I think I get stuck in the black and white pictures, I forget they had colorful paint and some amazing wallpapers in the bigger homes.

  20. They are similar, Judy. Sandra has had some beautiful covers 🙂

  21. Oh, wow, Cheryl, that is so neat about your neighbor. I think growing up hearing those same kinds of family stories were a major draw for me to write historicals, all of my characters either migrating or transplanting from across the states, searching for a stable life, which generally started with pitching a tent on hard ground 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

  22. catslady wrote: The first picture reminds me of a Thomas Kinkade painting because it’s so alive.

    It really does! I could stare at it for hours 🙂

  23. Hi Mary J! Thanks so much for the added information 🙂 I was really just fixated on the contrast I saw in those first two pictures, and threw in a touch of history. My hubby loves to mt. bike in Mammoth–the horse ride sounds amazing. Bodie is definitely worth the trip–thanks again for sharing!

  24. Stacey,

    I loved the first photos so much but I also liked all the other ones too. I love reading about Ghost towns. I must take a trip to Bodie

    Wonderful post

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  25. Hi Melinda! Glad you enjoyed the pics–you should definitely make the trip 🙂

  26. Hi Stacey,
    I’m late jumping in–deadlines and other craziness.

    I love Bodie and have walked by those buildings many times.You brought back some pleasant memories. I wonder why I haven’t placed a story there. Hmmm.

  27. LOL! You and me both, Margaret 😉 When I started writing westerns I was deadset on keeping them in CA because CA set westerns were so hard to find. But…I got distracted *lol*

  28. Oh my goodness. The picture at the beginning of your post is breathtaking. I love it! Thank you for sharing it with us. 😉 The other pictures are great too but that first one is awesome!

    Smiles,
    Cindy

  29. I’ve been to Bodie when we visited Yosemite Nt’l Park, and I couldn’t remember the name of the little ghost town. A great set of pictures and it brings back memories. Thanks for posting these.

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