Bodie, California might be the most photographed ghost town in the world. Tourists and photographers by the thousands visit this former mining community in Mono County every year, eager to see the former city of twelve-thousand empty, in a state of “suspended decay.”
These images were captured by photographer Ronald Partridge for the National Park Service as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Mr. Partridge’s photos illuminate a perfect moment in time, July, 1962, as California designated Bodie a State Historic Park.
Over the decades, Bodie has become a symbol of westward expansion, boom and bust economics, and the enduring fascination with the American roadside — no sleight to mom and apple pie, but put Googie architecture, Route 66 and Bodie, California on the list of things that are authentically America.
Gold was first discovered in Bodie in 1839, and according to the HABS report filed in 1962:
“…a quartz vein was discovered in August, 1859; but, though many efforts were made to exploit the area, it was not until 1874 that the great potential wealth of the district became promising, Bodie reached its pinnacle by 1879-80 when the population was estimated at 10 to 12-thousand, and when the production from the mines on Bodie Bluff was at its peak.”
“During all of the productive years the mines contributed 95 to 100 million in gold and silver bullion; and “highgrading” was carried on so openly that it was the magnet for the worst of the underworld who made “The Bad Man From Bodie” notorious.”
Notes on Bodie’s condition in 1962 were also included in the report.
“In its present state, the town of Bodie presents an abandoned and desolate aspect to the lone tourist with no moving thing in view unless it is a blade of grass, for there is not a living soul, excepting another tourist, or even a growing tree in the town or on the surrounding hills.”
“Bodie is situated in a semi-arid country at an elevation of 8300 feet where only a scrubby sage brush can endure the rigors of the weather. It is located 12 miles over a dirt mountain road east of U. S. Highway 395 near the Nevada border about 10 miles due north of Mono Lake.”
“An abundance of very good water is available from springs. At one time there were twelve breweries operating in Bodie for this reason.”
“The houses and buildings have a uniformity due to the common denominator of the same mouldings, siding and trim which appears to have been produced by a single mill. Also the raw sun-burned and unpainted pine of which the buildings are, for the most part, constructed adds to uniformity in color which blends with the red and brown earth. Variety is achieved by variation in plan and form of buildings and three or four brick buildings that still are standing, which becomes evident only upon closer observation.”
Visiting Bodie today requires ten miles of paved rural highway, and three more miles on a gravel road. I’ve also heard it’s cash only, and the nearest ATM is about 20 miles away.
This is exceptionally dry country and fire is always a concern. Bodie was devastated by fire three times — in 1892, 1932, and 1946.
Read more about Bodie State Historic Park at DesertUSA.
There’s little more haunting than a pioneer cemetery.
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