Looking for a ghost town with real ghosts? Check out Bodie
By Andres Castellanos
A plaque hangs in the ghost town of Bodie, California, that hints at the legend the town inspired. “Tough as nails, the bad man from Bodie still carries his guns and Bowie knife down through the pages of western history,” it reads.
Bodie State Historic Park is located about 100 miles south of Lake Tahoe. Here, visitors can tour the deserted mining town, which includes about 200 buildings preserved in a state of “arrested decay.” This means that everything is left as
it was found in 1962 when it became a state park.
Eleanor Sorino and her husband, John, of Greenacres, visited the Lake Tahoe area in September and spent a day at Bodie. The interiors of most buildings are closed to the public, but by looking through windows, she was able to view details from the town’s past.
“The beds… I couldn’t believe it. They were real tiny! But I guess people were smaller back then,” she said.
Plates and utensils are set on tables. Dusty pots and pans sit on old stoves next to abandoned wood furniture. There are well-stocked shelves with product names like G. Venard’s Mustard and Kirk’s Bromides. A faded paper sign above an antique register reads, “Let’s be friends! Please don’t ask for credit.” These are the remnants of a population that reached 10,000 at its peak in 1879.
Back then it was considered “second to none for wickedness, badmen, and the worst climate out of doors,” according to the Bodie State Historic Park brochure. Gold sustained the town’s economy, as much as $100 million was mined, and allowed for its excesses.
The Beautiful Doll, Madame Mustache, Rosa May, Emma Goldsmith, Nellie Monroe and French Joe were just a few of the prostitutes that lived and worked in a row of one-room cabins along Bonanza Street, Maiden Lane and Virgin Alley. If the miners wanted to drink, there were over 65 saloons to choose from.
The criminal element and the environment (the town becomes inaccessible during heavy winter snowfalls) combined to make Bodie a dangerous place to live. When she visited the cemetery, Eleanor was struck by the ages on the tombstones. “People died so young then,” she said. A stone angel, dubbed “the Bodie Angel”, sits above the grave of a little girl. “It was beautiful,” Eleanor said.
“I said a prayer for the people that had died. They must have suffered bad… They didn’t have things like antibiotics to help them out,” she said. Eleanor couldn’t help but be transported back in time to consider how Bodie’s residents used to live.
Eleanor took a lot of photographs of the town and discovered something that still haunts her – literally. She is convinced that they may contain evidence of spirits communicating through the images.
In one shot, a prairie landscape, she sees green eyes among yellow flowers. In another, faint, ghost-like fingers appear in the sky above Bodie’s buildings. She took the pictures with her I-Phone and cannot explain the odd features.
She isn’t the first person to have spirits interfering in her pictures. In 2005, The Washington Post printed a photographer’s account of an experience inside the former home of Lottie the prostitute. According to the article, the photographer failed to greet Lottie on his way in and suffered blank pictures in his roll where photos of her bedroom and kitchen should have been.
Eleanor isn’t completely sure she encountered a ghost. “I dunno, I must be cracking up,” she said at one point. She scrutinized the photographs with magnifying glasses, rotating and enlarging them, most impressed by the fingers in the sky. “I take that to be a spirit,” she said finally.
Bodie State Historic Park is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 per person. There is limited drinking water and no food.