Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

Bodie-grave001

I had wanted to go to Bodie ever since I first heard of the place.  It’s a Gold Rush ghost town that lingered into the modern era, a place of gambling halls and fancy girls, murders in the street and four graveyards — a place that lived long enough that it has gas pumps and some electric wires, but is so inaccessible and isolated that people walked away, leaving everything behind.

Even with modern transportation, Bodie is a long ways away.  We left San Francisco early in the morning, drove up and through Yosemite, and came down on the eastern side of the Sierras.  We’d waited to go until September, when the oppressive oven heat had died down somewhat but the passes hadn’t snowed closed yet.  Our campsite, near a little creek, was shaded by aspens turned to gold.  It had a water tap and a pit toilet.  We had the place all to ourselves.

We waited to make the rest of the drive into Bodie until morning, unwilling to face the washboard road until we were sure we’d have enough time to see everything.  The State Park Service oversees the ghost town now, making sure the old buildings don’t fall down.  There is much to see: roulette wheels and crystal chandeliers, striped cotton mattresses and coffins for sale.  The church. The rusted-out old cars.  The horse-drawn hearse.

I poked around the graveyards while my friend Samuel toured the old mine.  In its heyday, Bodie dug out $30 million in gold, $1 million in silver.  The stamping mills worked around the clock, crushing the quartz stone to extract the precious metals.  Bodie would have been loud then.  Now all I could hear was the wind.

Elizabeth my Wife

Elizabeth my Wife

I knew Bodie had been as wealthy as it was dangerous, but I was shocked to see how much remained in the graveyard.  There were plenty of graves marked only with boards, but there were also ornate metal fences, wrought or cast iron, shipped from back east or carted over the Sierras.  There were plenty of marble gravestones, too.  Those would have been heavy to drag over the mountains before paved roads were built and yet the survivors felt strongly that their griefs required permanent monuments, ones that stand decades after the town was abandoned.

Who was Elizabeth?  She had no last name on her marker.  Did she lie there alone or were her children with her?  Was her husband there, with no one to buy him a stone to remember his name?  Or had he loaded all he could on a mule or into a wagon, into his pickup or his car, and left her and all they’d shared behind?

Here was a love that left stone flowers to brighten her grave, but left no last name to keep her memory alive.

I wondered if she knew all the songs the wind could sing.  Did she sing them to herself when the wind fell silent?  Did those left behind in the graveyards keep each other company at the end of the day, when the tourists left and the rangers locked up and the fat full moon rose over the desert?

I was glad when Samuel returned from his tour, when it was time to get back in our car and head back to our campsite.  We may have been alone there, but it didn’t seem as lonely as Bodie.

***

Bodie’s Wards Cemetery was a cemetery of the week.  It also appears in Wish You Were Here, the book of my cemetery adventure essays.

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About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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13 Responses to Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

  1. charlottie84 says:

    Great post! I also used Bodie in this challenge, http://myincatrailchallenge.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/weekly-photo-challenge-abandoned/
    We were also there in September, we may have even spotted each other on our travels! Bodie was our first experience of a ghost town, and we had such a fantastic afternoon, what a fascinating place. Unfortunately we didn’t leave enough time to visit the cemeteries properly, we left them til last, and when we got there the rain which had been threatening since our arrival finally came down, and it was no ordinary rain, huge raindrops and gosh did they hurt! We tried running back to the car and nearly collapsed…we couldn’t understand why we were so unfit until we realised that the altitude is pretty high up there!

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Oh, you must have gotten really dramatic photos with the storm coming on! Thanks for the link. I’ll go check out your post. I’d love to go back to Bodie some day and do one of the night photography workshops.

  2. Vince says:

    Great story and images. I’ve always been fascinated by old towns like the one you visited.

  3. Cemeteries are always such fine subjects. Nice perspective.

  4. Maria Angel says:

    For the morbidly curious and Bodie Ghost Town fanatic, here’s a tidbit on “Elizabeth” —
    On East side of stone;
    Elizabeth, my Wife
    On West side of stone;
    Mary Elizabeth
    Wife of B.F. Butler
    Died Nov. 24, 1878
    Aged 30 years, 8 months, 8 days.
    “Thus star by star declined,
    ‘Till all are passed away,
    As morning high & higher shines,
    To pure & perfect day.”
    White marble, on light gray veined marble base.

    Borrowed from: http://www.genealogybuff.com/ca/ca-mono-cems2.htm

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Oh, you rock! Thanks so much for looking her up. The stories are the best part of graveyards, as far as I’m concerned. Do you have any idea if Mr. Butler is there with her?

  5. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

    The stone for Elizabeth… Is the hand pointing down??

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Yes, good point. The hands usually point upward toward Heaven, but this one does point downward. It may just be pointing to the legend on the stone, or it could symbolize the Hand of God reaching down to pluck the bouquet. In some cases the downward index finger does seem to be a comment about the deceased’s final destination, but it’s hard to believe that’s what’s meant on this beautiful stone.

      Thanks for asking, Jackie!

      Loren

  6. Leya says:

    Great choice – that first photo has a nice angle.

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Thanks! That was completely by accident. I wanted to get the fence in and still see the headstone. One of these days, I’m going to have to actually learn some photography. :-)

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