Bodie sits nearly 8,400 feet up in the Bodie Hills of California, near the California-Nevada border. In 1859 William (or Waterman) S. Bodey found it was a good place to look for gold in these hills. Bodey died in a snowstorm not long after. The new mining town was named after Bodie to honor him, although his last name was not spelled right and his first name was uncertain.
The Bodie town started with about 20 miners and grew to about 10,000 people by 1880! By then, the town had bustled with miners, families, store owners, robbers, gamblers and prostitutes from all over in the world.
The town was abandoned when the gold ran out. In 1962 it became the Bodie State Historic Park. Ever since it has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay” – State of preservation where no attempt is made to improve a ruin, but rather to keep it from deteriorating any further. Bodie Historic District is the best-preserved ghost town from the California Gold Rush.
We visited Bodie in the fall of 2021. More than 100 silent buildings sit spaced out for traffic that isn’t there. Barbershop, church, a museum housed in Miners Union Hall. The Standard Gold Mill and housing for miners are in the northeast.
We joined a gold mill tour by Bodie State ranger. The tour was interesting and educational. When the Bodie State ranger walked backward, she told us not to do so because of high elevation of Bodie. She was right. Two elder tourists didn’t feel comfortable and had to stop during the tour. I was fine during the tour, but felt dizzy and short of breath after three hour walking on the high hill.
We went to Gold Mill Manufactory Place. The Bodie State ranger showed us the process of gold extraction. In today’s standard, it is absolutely hazardous working conditions. Because, the whole process used mercury to recover gold. Mercury was mixed with gold-containing materials, forming a mercury-gold amalgam which is then heated, vaporizing the mercury to obtain the gold. During 1850’s, people didn’t realize how mercury would be toxic and damage nervous system, lung, kidney, and other parts of human body.
Many arrived in California during Gold Rush hoping to strike it rich, but they quickly learned it was hard work to find gold. Miners faced injuries, accidents, suffered from mercury, lead or arsenic poisoning, drinking dirty water/bad foods and living too close together.
“Have we a man for breakfast?” the townsfolk in Bodie used to say. If you were thinking it was like morning greeting about breakfast as I was thinking, you are wrong. The real meaning is “Did anyone get killed last night?”
The miner or other person that took part in the 1849 California Gold Rush was refered as a 49er or Forty-Niner. A century after the Gold Rush, the 49ers were memorialized when a professional American football team based in the San Francisco Bay Area was named: San Francisco 49ers (San Francisco Forty Niners).