Sunday, October 21, 2018

MY VISIT TO A REAL GHOST TOWN


          W.S. Bodey got bored in Poughkeepsie, NY, and went west to join the gold rush. There is no note of how Mrs. Bodey, left behind with their two children, felt about this, but in any event it took him less than a year to find gold in them thar hills of California (near the Nevada border). Unfortunately neither of the Bodeys ever got to reap these rewards; Mr. Bodey died in a blizzard while on a supply trip to another town. His body was not discovered until the following spring. He would make an appropriately dissatisfied ghost for the place, but so far has declined to haunt. Perhaps naming the town after him placated, even though it had been largely accidental—and misspelled. A sign painter took the liberty of declaring a barn the “Bodie Stables” and the name stuck.
            So did the gold, not as an overnight boom but a slow gaining of mills and mines and success. Twenty years later the town had between five and seven thousand residents—remarkable for an area remote from a port, a railroad, or another city. To reach it today still requires spending three miles on a dirt road (yay, rental car!). The wind is pervasive and now I understand all the references to dust in old westerns.
            But in another twenty, the gold began to peter out and so did the population. Five years after that, in 1915, came the official label of ‘ghost town’ though families still lived there as late as 1942. Another twenty years and it became a state park, where rangers preserve it in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ Everything is kept as it was found in 1962, no better, no worse. As I peered through windows or entered the few homes that had open areas I saw peeling wallpaper, rusted pipes and abandoned toys. Was it creepy? In the middle of a vacation day, with a bright warming sun, surrounded by families on an educational outing, not at all. Go back at night and it would be something straight out of The Blair Witch Project…but that’s why parks close at sunset.
            Yes, but are there ghosts?
            Maybe.
            Stories of small children giggling with invisible playmates in the cemetery might be due to Evelyn, a three-year-old accidentally killed by a pickaxe in 1897.  Evelyn liked to tag after the miners and watch them work. One day a kindly miner told her to go home because the weather looked to turn rough, and waited until she went. However she crept back, and a swing of his axe ended her life.
            Then there’s the Cain house: the wealthiest man in town could afford servants, and supposedly he hired a pretty Chinese woman. A little too pretty for Mrs. Cain’s tastes—she had her husband fire the woman and the inevitable rumors that accompanied this action ruined the former maid’s chances for honest work. Faced with the choice of prostitution or starvation, she chose suicide. After the town became a park and the wealthy man’s house became rangers’ quarters, the maid makes her presence felt in the upstairs bedrooms. She amuses children but is not so benevolent to adults, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, laying a cold presence along their bodies while in bed.

            The 500 foot level of one of the mines is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a white mule, killed in an accident there. Miners refused to work on that level.
            Surprisingly, the one known murder in the town has no ghostly activity attached to it. In 1881 Joseph DeRoche made the mistake of dancing with Thomas Treloar’s wife. It’s not certain if their relationship had been deeper than that but in any event DeRoche, not the man’s wife, felt himself aggrieved and waited outside for the married couple. He shot Treloar in the head, was instantly caught, turned over to an intoxicated deputy, and instantly escaped. He only put eight miles behind him when he was again caught and returned to Bodie to stand trial. He was convicted, but the sentence didn’t seem swift enough for close to two hundred armed men, who marched to the jail in the wee hours of the following morning.

            Somewhat courteously, they knocked on the door and waited while the deputy (not intoxicated, and therefore able to grasp the realities of his situation) produced the prisoner. The condemned man, though terrified, remained calm and quiet as the mob, fairly calm and quiet themselves, arranged a makeshift gallows. A hoist used by the blacksmith to fix wagons was relocated to the corner near the dance hall, and DeRoche was solemnly hung on the very spot where he had murdered Thomas Treloar. Their spirits have not been heard from, perhaps feeling that nothing more remains to be said.
       
 To me, what lay over the town is not a spooky apparition but a much more unsettling entity: the stark illustration of how things can change. Not just fashions and technology, but industries, livelihoods, gathering places. Change can be a pathway to greater things, of course--surely many families were happy to find themselves in more bustling areas, closer to family and friends and with more opportunities for their children. But change can also stem from broken dreams, dead ends and disappointments, with a restless ghost just one more of the things left behind.
            Have you encountered a ghost area, and what haunted it?

5 comments:

  1. I love ghost towns. I love to imagine what life was like back then, the noise, bustle, dust, tumbleweeds... Well, who knows if there's tumbleweeds, but there should be! Great post, Lisa. I feel as if I was standing in the midst of that town, looking through the windows...

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  2. What an interesting post - and so timely history lesson right before Halloween. While I haven't "sensed" the presence of a ghost, I have a question: we all know that dogs hear/smell/sense all sorts of things that we cannot. Sometimes our pups bark and we can't figure out why -- and at this time of year, when we walk them in the neighborhood and they see a "ghost-like" skeleton or other Halloween type display, they bark furiously. I wonder what's going through their "sensitive" little minds. Any thoughts?

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  3. What a spookily wonderful post, Lisa. The one time I felt a ghostly presence was in Eureka, CA, when we were invited to spend the night in a marvelous old Victorian allegedly visited by unnamed but chilly presences. Of course because it was so old, the house creaked even without a wind, and the blackness of dark walls and furnishings seemed an invitation for shadowy figures with malevolent intentions to emerge silently, claws extended. I didn't sleep a wink, and I survived! :)

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  4. Ghost towns are so intriguing. Now me, I would have goosebumps, even in the middle of the day.

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  5. I love the idea of ghost towns, but they do make me melancholy for the reasons you mention. I always think of the industry that is no more. And of these alleged hauntings, the idea of a ghost joining those in their sleep is really creepy. Great post!

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