Hopers and dreamers make wonderful things happen. They have a fleeting thought, an idea that nibbles at them until they take the first steps to creation. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.” Trailblazers. Hope and a dream.
It was the winter of 1859, cold and unforgiving. The gold rush was on and men from every walk of life crowded to Bodie, California in hopes of striking it rich. Of course, the place wasn’t named Bodie when they arrived, the name came later, but let’s just say that people were mining and panning in an area in eastern California, just north of Mono Lake. A man whose first name was Waterman set down roots here, having come from Poughkeepsie, NY to find his fortune. In the 1845 edition of the Poughkeepsie Business Directory, he is listed as a tin manufacturer with his shop address as 345 Main Street. His home address is listed to be on the corner of South Hamilton and Montgomery streets. The important thing to remember here is that the man’s last name was Bodey, B-o-d-e-y, later misspelled by a sign painter as B-o-d-i-e. The land he claimed would later become known as Bodie Bluff and a town was built there to house the many prospectors that made their way there.
Unfortunately, Bodie wouldn’t live to see his name be attributed to the place because, as the weather was inclined to do in the winter months, there was a terrible snowstorm. Bodie, needing supplies from Monoville, decided to travel with a Native American companion through the storm regardless of the risk. Slogged down by snow and howling winds, the two quickly became disoriented and walked in circles endlessly. They found themselves without shelter, a fire, or food. Bodie perished in the storm, being unable to walk any further, and his body was found during the spring thaw.
Sometimes hope and a dream can only take you so far. Sometimes you also need shelter from the storm.
Hello ODD Pod listeners and welcome back to another episode.
This week, I bring you an in-depth look at Bodie California and the ghostly history that still lingers within some of the dilapidated buildings. I realized recently that I hadn’t taken you to a haunted location for a little while and I thought Bodie would be perfect.
Before we get started, I’d like to thank everyone for their well wishes regarding my thesis. The document is finally finished and submitted to my university for their archives. I couldn’t be more pleased. I’ll get my diploma in May, but I’ve been working toward this accomplishment for 2 years and I’m more than happy to be done. So, thanks to my faithful followers for the notes of encouragement and support. Also, big thanks to my lovely wife and to my dear friend Tony who helped to keep me on track and heading toward that goal. You guys are awesome.
Anyway, on with the show!
Interest in Bodie may have been high at the start, but by 1868 only two stamp mills had been built in Bodie by two separate companies. Both failed. But don’t despair for Bodie just yet!
From Wikipedia, “In 1876, the Standard Company discovered a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore, which transformed Bodie from an isolated mining camp comprising a few prospectors and company employees to a Wild West boomtown. Rich discoveries in the adjacent Bodie Mine during 1878 attracted even more hopeful people. By 1879, Bodie had a population of approximately 5,000–7,000 people and around 2,000 buildings. One legend says that in 1880, Bodie was California’s second or third-largest city, but the U.S. Census of that year disproves this. Over the years, Bodie’s mines produced gold valued at nearly US$34 million.
Bodie boomed from late 1877 through mid– to late 1880. The first newspaper, The Standard Pioneer Journal of Mono County, published its first edition on October 10, 1877. Starting as a weekly, it soon expanded publication to three times a week. It was also during this time that a telegraph line was built which connected Bodie with Bridgeport and Genoa, Nevada. California and Nevada newspapers predicted Bodie would become the next Comstock Lode. Men from both states were lured to Bodie by the prospect of another bonanza.
Gold bullion from the town’s […] stamp mills was shipped to Carson City, Nevada, by way of Aurora, Wellington and Gardnerville. Most shipments were accompanied by armed guards. After the bullion reached Carson City, it was delivered to the mint there, or sent by rail to the mint in San Francisco.”
At its peak, Bodie boasted around 2,000 buildings including:
|McDonell/Dolan House||Donald and Mary McDonnell lived here with their son Frank around 1920, and later schoolteacher Alice Dolan lived here from 1935 to 1937.|
|Methodist Church||The church was built in 1882 and is the only one left in Bodie.|
|D. V. Cain House||This was built in 1873 and housed David Victor Cain and his wife Ella M. Cody.|
|Red Barn||While faded over time, there is still some red paint left on the barn.|
|Miller House||Tom and Jessie Miller lived here with their two children. Tom worked as a teamster for the Bodie Railway and Lumber Company.|
|James Stuart Cain House||James S. Cain and his wife Martha Delilah Wells lived here. Cain was a lumber merchant and banker, owning many of the properties in Bodie.|
|Saddle Room||This was owned by Harvey Boone, operator of a general store.|
|Morgue||This mortuary still has caskets inside. This is the only building in town made from red brick that was laid 3 layers thick. It was likely to help maintain a cooler temperature for the deceased.|
|Miners’ Union Hall||This served as a gathering place for union members and was used to host large festivals. It has since been renovated into a museum and gift shop.|
|I.O.O.F. Hall||The Independent Order of Odd Fellows was a fraternal society that operated in Bodie.|
|DeChambeau Hotel||As of 1879, it was initially a post office, but it later became a hotel and finally a bar and café.|
|Swasey (Swazey) Hotel||Horace F. Swasey bought this building in 1894. Later it became a clothing store and casino.|
|Boone Store and Warehouse||Harvey Boone and James W. Wright operated this general store, which had a Shell gas station adjacent to the right.|
|Lottie and Eli Johl House||The Johls were successful mining investors who purchase many properties in Bodie. This building housed the post office from 1932 to 1942.|
|Sam Leon’s Bar||Sam Leon was owner of the U.S. Hotel until it was destroyed in a 1932 fire. In 1937 he opened a bar in this location.|
|Joe Hahner Barber Shop||Joe Hahner was the last barber to work in Bodie.|
|Firehouse||Bodie was subject to frequent fires, most notably in 1892 and 1932. The California Conservation Corps rebuilt this building in the 1930s.|
|Wheaton and Luhrs||George H. Wheaton and Nicholas C. Luhrs operated a general store here in the 1880s, which was later purchased by James Cain in 18998.|
|Hydroelectric Building||This was an electricity substation for the town.|
|Schoolhouse||Having reached a maximum enrollment of 615 in 1879-1880, the school finally shut down in 1942.|
|Gregory House||Nathan Gregory was a cattle rancher who lived here with his wife Catherine and their four children.|
|McMillan House||A. E. McMillan served as secretary of the Bodie Miners’ Union.|
|Miller Boarding House||William and Annie Currie Miller ran this boarding house, providing lodging primarily to single miners.|
|Conway House||Thomas Robert and Annie Conway lived here with their three children.|
|Dr. Street’s House||John A. Street worked as a doctor for the Treadwell-Yukon Mining Company from 1930 to 1932.|
|Quinville House||Frank F. Quinville, a blacksmith, lived here with his wife Mary and their five children.|
|Standard Mill||The Standard Consolidated Mining Company was the most important mining company in Bodie, and this was their stamp mill. This area has been deemed unsafe and visitors may not enter except as part of a guided tour.|
|Chinese Laundry||Previously this site was home to Bodie’s Masonic Hall, Lodge No. 252, but a laundry building was moved here after the lodge was consolidated with the one in Bishop in 1918.|
|Bodie Bank||The ruins consist of the bank’s brick vault, the only thing left after it was destroyed by a fire in 1932.|
|Kirkwood Stable||Stewart Kirkwood ran a stable with a blacksmith shop inside. Horses and mules were used to transport goods on wagons.|
|Jail||Constable John Kirgan ran the jail from 1878 to 1881.|
|Moyle House (north)||The Moyle family owned two houses, the other one further south.|
|Stewart Kirkwood House||In addition to running the stables, Kirkwood was also a deputy sheriff.|
|Bell Machine Shop||Son of Lester Bell, Bobby Bell worked in mining and assisted in the establishment of the state park.|
|Reddy House||Patrick Reddy was a California State Senator and defense attorney who had offices in both Bodie and San Francisco.|
|Murphy/McRae House||The 1880 census identified this as the Murphy house, but it is unknown who exactly lived here out of the many Murphys. Carpenter William McRae was the last known resident.|
|Cody House||Michael J. Cody, a miner and Mono County Sheriff, lived here with his wife Catherine and their six children.|
|Menesini House||Joseph and Fortunata Menesini lived here with their daughter.|
|Lester E. Bell House||Bell managed Standard’s cyanide plant, which used cyanide to extract gold from low-grade ore.|
|Cameron House||Andrew P. Cameron, a miner, lived here with his wife and two children.|
|Seiler House||August Seiler, a saloonkeeper, lived here with his wife Theresa and four children.|
|Donnelly House||Charlie Donnelly and his wife Annie Pagdin lived here, and afterwards Emil W. and Dolly Billeb moved in.|
|Sawmill||The sawmill provided firewood to help residents endure Bodie’s harsh winters.|
|McDonald House||Dan McDonald worked for Standard, where he was injured in an explosion. Later Solomon Burkham came to own this place.|
|Metzger House||Henry Metzger, foreman of Standard Mill, lived here with his wife Lena and their five children.|
Blogger Jason Abplanalp describes early life in Bodie vividly on his blog. “At its peak between 1879 and 1881, Bodie’s main street reached over a mile in length. During this time, Bodie had 2 churches (Catholic and Methodist), at least 2 newspapers, a telegraph station, post office, 22 operating mines, many large (and very noisy) stamp-style ore mills, multiple motels, several general stores and mercantiles, stables, doctors and pharmacists, union halls, schools, breweries, and several dozen saloons. Although it is difficult to accurately gauge the size of the town due to the transient nature of the region’s population in the 1870’s and 1880’s, Bodie was likely the 6th or 7th largest city in California at this time.
Aside from the vast mineral wealth and the rough and tumble reputation of the town, Bodie’s next claim to fame is the installation and operation of the world’s first long-distance electrical transmission network. In 1892, the Superintendent of Bodie’s Standard Mine began designing an electrical system to replace the facility’s expensive and laborious steam plant. After locating a suitable site for a hydroelectric station on Green Creek near Bridgeport, 12.5 miles of suspended power lines were strung linking the 3300-volt hydroelectric station to the mine. At this time, electrical transmission over such a great distance was unheard of and many of the mine’s investors were skeptical of the undertaking. Once the lights turned on and the machinery began turning on electrical power, the skeptics were turned to believers and industry was revolutionized at a global scale.”
Some parts of Bodie were civilized, filled with upstanding citizens who used their wealth to better their living situation, while many more spent their money on women, booze, and gambling. It was sometimes so rowdy, that the town earned the nickname Big Bad Bodie. The local Methodist minister, Rev. F.M. Warrington commented that Bodie was a “sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion!” The town was also a magnet for other unsavory characters like murderers and thieves who likely knew that Bodie only had one jail and hardly enough police presence to keep the seedy side under control. At least one person per day met their end at the hands of one of these cutthroats. The funeral business was booming in Bodie.
People in Bodie were able to make a life for themselves and they lived well, but in 1917, the Bodie Railway was abandoned and its iron tracks were scrapped, though Bodie had first been described as a ghost town two years before that. An action like this can be the first indicator of the doom of a small town and it absolutely was. Truthfully, people had already started to leave Bodie for Montana, Tombstone, and Arizona in the 1880s. These places were next in line to experience the boom that Bodie once had. In the summer of 1892, a kitchen fire destroyed much of the town west of Main Street. Although the buildings were rebuilt, many residents decided to leave. Another fire in the summer of 1932, started by a boy playing with matches, was the final nail in the coffin. There’s a story that goes something like, the boy was upset he didn’t get the birthday cake he wanted so he lit a table on fire. I’m not sure if I believe that. The last mine closed in 1942, due to War Production Board order L-208. This meant that all non-essential gold mines were shut down during WWII. Mining never resumed after the war.
By the tail end of the 1940s, Bodie was only really visited by tourists who were interested in the historical value of the place. In 1962, after years of negligence, the town became a State Historic Park. Eventually, it graduated to become a California Historic Site.
Of course, a place like Bodie, steeped in so much history, is never truly empty. In fact, some of the residents of Bodie never left. They’ve lingered there, keeping an eye on the place from the afterlife.
A lot of people were killed during Bodie’s gold rush era either by a bullet, a mine collapse, or just poor living conditions. The history is a little dicey here, so bear with me. According to some, the spirit of a man named Ed haunts Bodie, shaking his fist at onlookers. Ed was a resident of Bodie who lived with his Native American bride. I’m not sure what caused it, but one day Ed shot his wife fatally. She died in the hospital. Three townsfolk who decided to take the law into their own hands tied Ed up and took him to a nearby creek. They kicked and beat him until he went unconscious, then left him to drown. As the story goes, these three men died one after the other in a series of strange occurrences after Ed’s ghost appeared to them shaking his fist. One man died after sustaining a huge gash to his face, the second died from a hemorrhage that caused fluid to build up in his head, the third disappeared and died in a ravine. Did they all die because Ed had placed some sort of curse on them? Was it just the luck of the draw given the conditions in Bodie?
There are many active shadow people in Bodie, seen out of the corner of your eye peeking out a window or a door that’s ajar and some of these spirits see fit to punish those who choose to ignore the rules of the park. Visitors aren’t allowed to take any sort of souvenir from the place as these items are historic, but people try to break these rules all the time. Dutiful spirits keep an eye on visitors and, if someone chooses to break the rules, they are doomed to experience misfortune. It is supposed that the spirits are cursing stolen objects the visitors are bringing home with them. The park rangers regularly receive letters and packages containing items that were stolen in hopes that returning the item might lift the curse placed on them.
So, let’s visit some of the haunted locations within Bodie, starting with the Gregory House. The house is relatively small with only enough floor space for a chair, a bed, and a small table. Historians believe the home was much larger as it belonged to a wealthy family and that this is all that remains of the structure. Visitors have reported seeing an old woman rocking in a rocking chair inside the house, knitting peacefully. Occasionally, the chair can be seen rocking by itself with nobody in it. There has been no evidence captured of this particular entity, but rangers, volunteers, and repairmen have all said they’ve seen her and can even pick out her facial features clearly when she manifests.
A man named Mendocini drive freight trucks from Aurora to Bodie and had a modest home there. The Mendocini home is one of the structurally sound buildings in town and rangers often live there in season. The Mendocini children are often heard playing and laughing inside and outside the home and they are curious about the people who inhabit their home. The spirit of Mrs. Mendocini or the eldest daughter Anna often offers hospitality to the rangers any way they can. Sometimes, the house smells of wonderful Italian food or strongly of garlic. One park ranger, after wishing he had garlic for the lasagna he made had to leave the house when a strong aroma of garlic began to make his eyes water and his sinuses burn. Yet another ranger was sitting alone reading when he heard the sounds of a raucous party going on. He heard loud voices and glasses clinking. The ranger checked outside but saw no one. When he entered the house again, he thanked the hostess for inviting him to the party, but he had a lot of reading to do. The disembodies voices and general noise completely disappeared.
John S. Cain wound up owning the Standard Mine and Mill in Bodie and became the town’s principal property owner. He was very rich and the level of his wealth is apparent in the house he built for his family. It’s filled with beautiful woodwork, large windows, and a second story. Cain could even afford to hire servants that took care of all the chores in the working of the house and his family. Supposedly, Mr. Cain was having an affair with one servant in particular and, when Mrs. Cain found out about it, she promptly told him to fire her. The woman, having had a reputation destroyed and unwilling to join the sex trade, is said to have taken her own life. In the Cain house, doors open and close on their own. The spirit of the female servant is said to make her presence known, particularly in the bedrooms and often tries to “play” with children who are staying at the house or touring it. Her figure can be seen in the upstairs windows, smiling down at people on the street. The sound of a music box playing can be heard in an upstairs bedroom.
Many rangers have reported waking suddenly to an almost suffocating pressure on their chest. Some of the ranger’s wives have also reported this. Whoever this female servant was has a problem with couples who stay at the Cain House.
Our last stop on the Bodie tour is the Bodie Cemetery. As I mentioned before, there’s a “good” cemetery and a “bad” cemetery and those who committed crimes weren’t permitted to be buried within the fence. They were laid to rest outside the fence.
From hauntedhouses.com, “Bodie Cemetery has around eighty tombstones still marking the graves of the departed. There are three official large sections of sub-cemeteries that make up the majority of graves in Bodie Cemetery: The Miner’s Union Cemetery area; (38 marked graves), for the general public: the Wards Cemetery area; (29 marked graves), and The Masonic Cemetery area; (9 marked graves).
The other people while alive that didn’t quite measure up to social ethnic standards […] and/or behavioral standards; (*sex workers, thugs, etc,) were buried outside the perimeters of the Bodie official cemetery plots, due to their line of work when they were alive.
Just west of the three sub-cemeteries was the Chinese Cemetery. The Chinese who died in California wanted to be buried only long enough for their bones to be clean, so their family members could take their bones back to the homeland. Unfortunately, several hundred Chinese remain buried in their cemetery section because of the need for their relatives to leave Bodie due to violent prejudice and to find work elsewhere.
The outcasts of Bodie, that include gunmen, murderers, prostitutes, children born out of wedlock, were buried in their own section, marked with only posts or piles of rocks.”
Some of the more frequently seen spirits in the cemetery are those of children. Often, these spirits appear to children who are the age they were when they passed away. One little girl named Evelyn who was accidentally struck in the head with a pickaxe, often appears to other little girls who visit the cemetery. When parents ask their kids who they’re talking to or playing with, some children have said they’re playing with the little girl who has a hole in her head. Adults have also heard Evelyn. A male tourist heard “a plaintive, hopeful little cry from an unseen child presence say “Daddy?””
The area outside the cemetery is home to many Chinese individuals who were interred there often based solely on their ethnicity. Their spirits are often seen wandering, likely longing for the place they once called home and seeking rest with their ancestors. The portion of Bodie known as Chinatown is long gone, likely burned in the 1932 fire, but the staff who work there often experience lights turning off and on, cold spots, doors opening and closing, and disembodied voices. Perhaps these spirits aren’t just confined to the cemetery.
In many cases, the tombstones on these graves cannot be read as time has washed away the names, but efforts have been made to identify those who were laid to rest there. I’ll drop a link into the show notes so that you can pay your respects. There are over 150 markers and 200 known burial sites so it might take you a while.
Annually, Bodie sees around 200,000 visitors who come to explore the dirt roadways, cemeteries (there are 2, one for respectable citizens and one for “others”, which made up a lot of the population of Bodie during its heyday), and stamp mill. Though some of the buildings are used as residences for the living (park rangers and volunteers in season), many venture to into Bodie hoping to catch a glimpse of what life was like for prospectors and maybe even meet a few spirits along the way. Just remember to leave things as you found them and don’t take anything home.
That’s it for this week, dear listeners. I’ll be back again next week with more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal.
Until next time, Stay Spooky!
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Pay your respects to the spirits of Bodie at https://www.bodie.com/history/cemetery/