Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bodie Curse

Today Bodie, California is one of the few ghost towns in America to be preserved in “a state of decay” as a State Historical Park, and a designated National Historic site. 

Located in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, Bodie hosts over 200,000 visitors a year, mostly in the summer since the dirt road that leads to Bodie is often covered in deep snow in the winter months. 

Ten years after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill which led to the Gold Rush of 1849; W. S. Bodey and three other prospectors discovered another rich strike of gold on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

The four men agreed to keep their discovery a secret. Bodey perished in a blizzard in November of 1859, so he never saw the boomtown that was named after him. A sign painter’s error is attributed to the town’s name being spelled Bodie instead of Bodey.

With competition from two other silver strikes, one being the Comstock Lode under Virginia City, it was several years before people took note of Bodie. 

By 1868, only two companies had built stamp mills in Bodie, and both of them had failed. In 1876, a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered, overnight Bodie became a Wild West boomtown. 

By 1879, Bodie had a population between 5000-7000, and around 2000 buildings and nine stamp mines. These mines produced gold valued at 34 million dollars.

Unfortunately, Bodie became known for more than it’s gold. One young girl upon hearing her family was moving to Bodie reportedly prayed: “Goodbye God, we are going to Bodie.” A good description of the town’s rowdiness was published in 1925:

“Besides the business and professional men, mine-operators, miners, etc. there were hundreds of saloon-keepers, hundreds of gamblers, hundreds of prostitutes….Bad men—desperate, violent characters from everywhere, who lived by gambling, gun-fighting, stage robbing, and other questionable means. The ‘Bad Men of Bodie’ was a favorite phrase of the time throughout the west. So in its day, Bodie was more widely known for its lawlessness than for its riches.”

Bodie’s fame was short-lived; by 1910 only 698 people remained. The mines, for the most part, had played out, in 1913 the primary mine closed and in 1917 the railroad was abandoned. 

The last mine officially closed in 1942, due to an order by the War Production Board to shut down all nonessential gold mines in the United States. This same year Bodie’s post office closed. 

As early as 1915 Bodie was labeled a ghost town. Despite this in 1920, 120 people still lived in Bodie.

In 1932, a fire ravaged much of the downtown business district. 

In 1943 one of the town’s few remaining citizens, Martin Gianetttoni became its caretaker. He protected the town from vandalism. 

In 1962, Bodie became a State historical Park—it was named California’s official gold rush town. 
Store at Bodie

A total of 170 buildings remain today. The interiors of these buildings remain as they were left, one reason for this being there were no moving companies available so people took only what they could pack into their cars or carry with them. Today, a store’s shelves are still stocked with goods, etc.

An original homes on Green Street in Bodie is the Cain house. J.S. Cain was one of the first settlers in Bodie, he built his home in 1873; he brought his wife and a beautiful Chinese maid to assist her to Bodie. 

Almost immediately the men of the town started wondering about his relationship with this maid, his wife hearing the rumors insisted he dismiss her. It is stated that after this maid was let go, she hung herself that very night in her room in the Cain house.

Cain House
Since Bodie was declared a state park, the Cain house has been used as quarters for the park rangers that work there. Several of them have seen and felt this Chinese maid. 

She is reported to like children better than adults. Cold spots are felt, doors have been slammed, and she is known to wake people out of sleep by sitting on them. Employees who have seen and felt this ghost refuse to stay in the house.

Both park workers and visitors have seen lights flash on and off in long-deserted buildings. The sounds of distant music and boisterous conversation have been heard within abandoned Bodie households. 

And people passing by the old mine shaft have sworn they have heard chains rattling and men grunting within.

Another Bodie spirit has been seen at the town’s cemetery. A male visitor spotted a little girl playing and giggling with an unseen entity. 

This “Angel of Bodie” as she is known-- was a three-year-old, who died in 1897. She was the daughter of Albert and Fanny Myers.

She was killed when she accidentally hit her head on a miner’s pickax. On top of her grave sits a marble carving of an angel child. 

Skeptics state that the child seen by this visitor was just playing with this statue. But he noted that the child was not only running around—he states it was apparent she was being chased by something.

"The  Bodie Curse” has the most documented stories. This legend was described in a television documentary entitled “Beyond 2000.”

“Bodie’s inhabitants were hardy stock, fiercely possessive of what they had built in this barren desert, and it is said that the long-dead spirits want to ensure that what they left behind remains intact. According to legend, anyone who removes anything--large or small--from the town is cursed with a string of bad luck. Misfortune and tragedy are heaped upon the victim until the stolen item is returned. Some claim that the ghosts of Bodie patrol the crumbling ruins to guard against thieves.”

The museum’s gift shop in Bodie displays an album of letters from people who believe they are cursed. 

One letter was sent in 1992, the writer had taken a nail from Bodie, he states, “Life since then has been a steady downward slide. It’s possible that all the unpleasant events of the past nine months are a coincidence, but just in case the Bodie curse is real, I am returning the nail.” 

Another letter, from 1994, is addressed:

“Dear Bodie Spirits:

I am SORRY! One year ago, around the 4th of July, I visited the Ghost Town. I had been there many times before but had always followed the regulations about collecting. This trip was different; I collected some items here and there and brought them home. I was a visitor again this year, and while I was in the museum, I read the letters of others who had collected things and had ‘bad luck.’ I started to think about the car accident, the loss of my job, my continuing illness, and the other bad things that have ‘haunted’ me for the past year since my visit and violation. I am generally not superstitious but… Please find enclosed the collectibles I ‘just couldn’t live without,’ and ask the spirits to see my regret.”

This letter was signed, “One with a very guilty conscience.”

On another television series in 2000 entitled “Beyond Bizarre,” a German man retells his uncle’s experience:

“My uncle removed a small bottle from Bodie, two days later he had a car accident on the Autobahn. The next day his son took the bottle to school to show classmates, and on the way home had a bicycle accident.” The man stated, “Yes, I do believe in the curse of Bodie.”

According to park rangers at Bodie, they receive souvenirs sent in unmarked boxes all the time. Most are accompanied with notes from people stating they hope their luck will change. 

Skeptics state that this legend is kept alive to protect the town from pillagers. Either way, this curse does help to preserve Bodie.


Leona Joan said...

I live in Southern California, but I don't want to visit Jodie because I read that even if you go back home with a little dust of the town on your shoes or clothes, the curse will follow you home!

Virginia Lamkin said...

I hadn't heard this--interesting.