October 31, 2006

Bodie's ghosts

This ghost story was originally posted last Halloween.

I wouldn't want to be in Bodie tonight

If restless spirits do roam the earth on Halloween, then the graveyards and saloons and dirt streets of this eerily preserved ghost town at the end of a wild dirt track in California’s High Sierra will be hopping with the kind of bad action that could get a ghost killed all over again.

Bodie had its heyday as a gold-mining town in the 1880s. Today, the mine sits abandoned on its mountainside, and nearly 200 wooden structures -- the hotel, school, shops, homes -- lie frozen in time and layered in dust. Bodie, once home to 10,000 souls and California’s third largest city, is one of America’s greatest ghost towns.

When they weren’t mining gold, Bodie’s residents were wheeling, dealing, conniving, carousing and killing each other. After a dirty day digging for gold and before heading out for their evening recreation, Bodie’s less than perfect gentlemen could spruce up with toiletries from the general store. You can peer in the window today and see the store’s inventory. Cans and crates, boxes and barrels, tubes and tubs lie, dirt-covered, where they were when the shopkeeper locked the door for the last time. Clear a round spot on the window glass and look inside. Imagine leathery, mean-eyed baddies in boots and packed holsters roaming the shop, floor boards creaking, stealing bottles of the Denta-Vita Tonic ToothPowder and the Scientific Powder for Men, touted as “Absolutely Undetectable – For the Man Who Realizes That a Shiny After-Shaving Face Detracts From a Well-Groomed Appearance.”

Bodie evenings didn't include opera or chamber music, rather, high stakes billiards duels in the Bodie Hotel bar, whiskey-fueled shootouts, or romps with Rosa May, Bodie’s premier party girl. (Townsfolk made sure Rosa May was buried outside the fenced confines of Bodie’s haunting, weed-filled cemetery. Sinners of good repute only, please.)

If Halloween is what ghosts live for, then it should be a hot time in the old town tonight. Maybe a few of those sallow-pussed Bodie sinners will sneak out of their iron-fenced graves and hop on over to visit Rosa May’s. Maybe the keys on the Bodie Hotel piano will move wildly, sending bawdy drinking songs out into the purple Sierra night. Maybe the ghosts of Bodie will scare up a stockpile of rusty pistols and stage some shootouts for old time’s sake.

A young girl, told by her parents over a hundred years ago that the family was moving to Bodie, uttered a statement that's been variously interpreted. Some heard her say, “Good! By God, I’m going to Bodie!”

Those who knew the town had made an eternal pact with the devil heard, “Goodbye, God. I’m going to Bodie.”