Monday, August 29, 2011

Bodie - Arrested Decay

Tuolumne campsites were filled when we first attempted to stay there – so we went over Tioga Pass to spend a few days at Silver Lake on the east of the Sierras, before returning to Tuolumne to claim our campsite. The Sierra Mountains are a tilt block range with a long gradual slope on the west side. The east has a sudden fault face rising suddenly to over 13000 feet+ in many places. (It must have been daunting for the pioneers approaching with their covered wagons).

Eastern Sierras rising here to over 13,000 ft.+

The East is in the Sierra rain shadow for clouds moving eastward from the Pacific… As a result the vegetation is adapted to much drier conditions, with sagebrush common. The western mountains are dominated by white clean granite rock; here the rock is mostly of young rhyolitic volcanic rock. There is a great beauty here, quite different from the Sierras with which we are familiar.

Bodie - the remnants of a gold driven town

One day we took it into our heads to drive north of Mono Lake to visit the "Ghost town" of Bodie (elevation over 8300 ft.). We drove over hilly land covered with sage and other high desert plants... the road in from the main road has been improved and part of it is now paved...

Gold was discovered here is the mid 1800s. By 1880, Bodie had a population of nearly 10,000 people and about 2000 buildings.

There were many mines in the area - this was the largest

Since then Bodie produced gold worth $34 million dollars. Bodie offered several newspapers and a telegraph line into Nevada. There were two banks, fire department, brass band, a railroad, miners union, and a well-used jail.

What people used this door, what were their hopes and dreams

By 1890 there were 65 saloons on Main Street. ( Imagine an out of tune piano playing dance hall music from the period, loud laughter and arguments, the sounds of many people shuffling around on pine board floors and the sound of bottles and whiskey glasses)... Bodie was famous for murders, shootouts, and holdups. Killings occurred regularly, sometime becoming an almost daily event.There was a thriving red light district, and a Chinatown complete with Taoist temple and opium houses.

Shops on Main Street

The Reverend F.M. Warrington said about Bodie - ..."It is a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion."

Everything changes over time...

Winters here were brutally cold -sometimes 40 degrees below zero and winds over 100 miles an hour – life in Bodie was marked by a variety of diseases including common occurrence of pneumonia…But wages were good for those who dared to take the risks. There lies an extensive lonely boothill cemetery on the hill just out of town.

Pool Hall and Bar ( Looking in through a dirty window)

The miners Union Hall was the community meeting house for labor union meetings, entertainment events, plays, and concerts. Both a Methodist church and a Catholic church were constructed in 1882. But by 1910 the mine declined and the population suddenly dropped to about 700 people. A few people continued to live in Bodie even until 1941. Today only about 5% of the original building remain. Others have been lost from fire and the winter snow crushing them.

Each door of Bodie tells a story about who build it and who used it...

In later years, the mining company purchased the area, hoping for resurgence in gold. With enforced "No trespassing" rules and a guard, they prevented visitors from changing the place, thus preserving the town and its contents much as it was in earlier eras. In 1962 Bodie become a State of California Historic Park, protected by law.

A bed room with sewing machine ( Looking in through a dirty window)

The goal is to protect and preserve it as it was. Roofs are maintained as needed but little else changes. The motto is "attested decay". Preserve but dont change... All items seen inside the homes and shops have been found in Bodie.

General Store ( Looking in through a dirty window)

It is not possible to enter the buildings, but it is possible to look ( and take photos ) through the windows - even though they are dusty and grimy with age...It is possible to look inside and see the goods still on store shelves, homes with their furniture, kitchens with their household items. In some cases items have been combined into historically appropriate combinations, even when found in more than one location within Bodie. Reconstructive anthropologists direct the current work here…

Leaning...a home

To walk through Bodie, with its wind blowing in off the rocks and sagebrush, awakes a kind of melancholy of lost dreams for the thousands who lived here, died here, had dreams here… and for those who gave up and moved on when the gold ran out. It is also a monument to the resilience of the human spirit.

Message written by a Bodie inhabitant into a " book of remembrance" - common at the time

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