Bodie, a California State Historic Park since 1962, is a ghost of the booming Gold Rush town it once was at the apex of the industrial revolution and the lawless Wild West. Visitors must drive 3 miles on a secluded dirt road through rolling hills to reach Bodie, which by itself makes it worth calling ahead if you’re planning to visit in the off season (the best time to visit is late spring through early fall). Having been ravaged by fire several times, there is broken glass on the ground almost everywhere, so it might be a good idea to skip the sandals and go with actual shoes. I would also recommend slathering on awkward amounts of sunscreen, since you get sunburned very quickly at Bodie’s 9,000 foot altitude.
At the Miner’s Union Hall, which has been converted to a museum, visitors can purchase a two dollar self-guided tour brochure and sign up for daily tours of the Stamp Mill and the entire town. The daily tours are definitely worth asking about at the museum; it gives visitors a detailed look into what life was like in Bodie’s heyday. Tours are guided by a handful of park rangers who live onsite year-round, all very knowledgeable and proud to convey the story of Bodie’s rise and fall to the 200,000 guests it receives every year.
It’s easy to get pulled into the past when experiencing Bodie’s desolate ruins. The signs of Victorian life are abundant: steam-powered machinery, a bank safe from 1867, and cast iron wood stoves. Bodie’s story unfolds itself, the longer you wander its streets.
In its nascent summer of 1859, WS Bodey, an adventurous New Yorker who left his wife and two children behind to chase the gold rush, discovered gold north of Mono Lake. Determined to winter at the site of his discovery, he set up camp with a Native American guide. On a trip to Monoville for supplies, Bodey was caught in a blizzard, and when he could no longer continue on, his guide, in an act of self-preservation, had to leave him there to succumb to hypothermia. Bodey’s body was later found as the snow thawed, having been frozen in the mountains for months.
Twenty years later, from 1879 to 1880, the population exploded from about 20 residents to over 10,000, as word spread of Bodie’s riches. Bodie’s Silver Hill and Taylor Gulch were flush with silver and gold, which drew hopeful miners from all over the world to take their chance at finding the Mother Lode.
California’s third largest city at its peak, Bodie’s harsh weather and the dangerous mining conditions took many lives. In the dead of winter, temperatures sank far below 0ºF; residents would have to stay up all night pacing in their living quarters, else freeze to death in their sleep, and they would collapse from fatigue in the heated local saloons once they opened the following morning. Millworkers, while handsomely paid, were subject to perilous conditions and substances in the steam-powered stamp mill. Some millworkers handled mercury with their bare hands, using it to draw gold from pay dirt. On the lower level of the mill, workers used toxic chemicals like cyanide to extract the finer gold particles. Giant crucibles were used to melt metals The noise generated by the machinery, which could be heard loud and clear from miles away, was so integral to life in Bodie, that children would cry if the noise ever came to a halt. Workers often plugged their ears with beeswax to protect their ears from the deafening sounds while working inside the mill. However, the wax would eventually melt from their own body heat and seep into the inner ear, causing problems later in life. Millworkers were essentially made to choose between ruining their hearing now or later. Despite the dangers of mining, the five dollar per day salary attracted hopeful workers from all over the world. It drew such a large labor force, the Miner’s Union in Bodie had a long waiting list for employment in the mines, and each person would have to pay an annual fee to remain on the list.
With the massive influx of single men seeking work in the mines, Bodie came to be known as a rough and tumble place that inspired many Wild west-themed dime novels. The infamous “Bad Man from Bodie” was a composite of several shady characters, indicative of Bodie’s sinful nature in the early 1880’s. The men of the mines worked hard and played harder. Bodie had over 65 saloons, equally frequented by all classes and walks of life. Many of Bodie’s oases were fortified by the town’s three breweries: the Bodie, the Pioneer, and Pat Fahey’s. Miners looking to blow off steam also frequented gambling halls, opium dens, and “virgin alley,” where “ladies of the night” practiced the oldest job in the world.
As time passed and the mines yielded less gold and silver, the population of Bodie changed; rowdy miners went to seek their fortune elsewhere, and the man to woman ratio rounded out. Bodie became a family-oriented community. With time, the mines started to yield less and less, and the town’s population decreased respectively. At the start of WWII, the US government shut down the mines after being deemed non-essential to the war effort. Consequently, properties were either abandoned or sold to the Cain family, who locked each residence ion purchasing it, effectively preserving the buildings in the state they had been left.
Today, thinned out by fire and decay, only five percent of the original structures still stand in a state of arrested decay, and at over 100 separate sites, it is still clear to this day how large Bodie once was.
See the entire set here.
i forgot again to mention here that i did some more work for the Mountain Goats. ridiculously lucky and privileged to have been able to design things for my favorite band—-you know this already. i am very happy with the results, but i did manage to learn a valuable lesson the hard way in the process: kids… figure out your pantones at the beginning, not the end.
i will stress once more: JD and Peter and Alyson are categorically the best.
and as far as I’m concerned, Industry Print Shop is the only game in town.
(Jon Wurster: shoot me an email, i would like to draw stuff for you too)
i’m working on another print. personal project. you’ll like it. even if you don’t know me, you’ll like it. more information soon.
they’ll never take our dreams.
reminds me of something that came 23 years later
this is not anything fancy, but i have been working on getting my guitar tone to a place where it is the aural equivalent of my personal sigil, and i have succeeded