Bodie Ghost Town: Spectres, Curses and “Arrested Decay”

(Image by Jon Sullivan via Public Domain Photos)

The old mining settlement at Bodie in California is arguably America’s best preserved ghost town. Dating back to around 1859, Bodie is frozen in a state of “arrested decay”, looked after as a historic park but not restored to its original condition. This makes the town both authentic and mysterious, with original fixtures in the buildings left untouched since their occupiers deserted them. In essence, it is as though an entire community just disappeared.

(Images by Jon Sullivan via Public Domain Photos)

In the words of one Urban Ghosts reader, “Bodie is a photographer‘s dream”.  So with that thought in mind, here’s a selection of stunning images to inspire and intrigue, accompanied by stories of hauntings and curses that’ll make your blood run cold.

Bodie Folklore

(Image by  Licensed under CC-SA-3.0)

Local legend speaks of a little girl whose family moved to the town from San Francisco.  Depending on who’s telling the story, the girl allegedly wrote in her diary: “Good, by God, I’m going to Bodie” or alternatively, “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.”  The inherent lawlessness and shadowy profiteering of the Wild West certainly suggests the latter, but could there be more sinister forces at work here?  Read on!

Haunted Bodie

(Images by Jon Sullivan via Public Domain Photos)

Unsurprisingly, Bodie abounds with legends of the paranormal, none more famous than the haunted Cain residence.  Jim Cain was a local businessman who prospered from bringing lumber to Bodie.  Buildings were constructed from and heated by wood, and the mills burned vast amounts of it in their steam-driven engines, fattening Mr Cain’s wallet with every last ember.

(Images 1 & 2 by Mispahn, 3 by Melissa Wiese, 4 by Thomas Kriese.  Licensed under CC-2.0)

Cain built his home at the corner of Green and Park Street and hired a Chinese maid.  Rumours soon spread that the pair were having an affair, and the maid was promptly fired by Cain’s wife.  Publically disgraced – an impressive feat in a town dominated by gambling, prostitution, shoot-outs and robbery – the unfortunate maid was unable to find work and took her own life.

(Images by Jon Sullivan via Public Domain Photos)

Legend has it the maid’s ghost haunts the Cain house to this day, unable to rest or let others rest within its walls.  Over the years, the house has provided accomodation for park rangers and has also been open to the public.  Children have reported a ghostly apparition in an upstairs bedroom, while others have heard music coming from the same room, which always seems to be empty.

(Images by Daniel Mayer (top) and Thomas.fanghaenel.  Licensed under CC-SA-3.0)

In one chilling account, the wife of a park ranger said:

“I was lying in bed with my husband in the lower bedroom and I felt a pressure on me, as though someone was on top of me. I began fighting. I fought so hard I ended up on the floor. It really frightened me. Another ranger who had lived there, Gary Walters, had the same experience, in the same room, except that he also saw the door open and felt a presence and a kind of suffocation.”

Taken in isolation, incidents like this can easily be discounted as a figment of the imagination or a bad dream.  But when different people report the same spooky experience, it’s time to call in the ghost hunters.

(Images by Telstar Logistics and James Marvin Phelps.  Licensed under CC-NC-2.0 and CC-2.0)

The Curse of Bodie

One of the most bizarre stories associated with Bodie is a mysterious curse that, again according to folklore and hearsay, has been cast on certain visitors to the town.  Allegedly, the spirits of the dead residents serve as guardians of the town today, bringing bad luck and misfortune to souvenir hunters who take anything – regardless of size – with them after they leave.

(Images by Jon Sullivan via Public Domain Photos)

It’s a fun story, you might say… But could the fact that, each year, park rangers receive objects in the mail from anonymous senders, serve as an eerie omen for anyone who might have removed even the most insignificant of objects?  Or do people simply hear the stories and decide to offload their souvenirs as quickly as possible?  Either way, something makes people wish they’d left well alone, and notes have even been received apologising to park rangers and the spirits who watch over the ghost town.

(Images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, by Daniel Mayer.  Licensed under CC-SA-3.0)

The families may have moved out – at least in body – but photographer Daniel Mayer has done a great job of cataloguing which families lived in which houses.  The building at bottom left was the town morgue, where many of those that perished here would have rested prior to burial.  But if the legends are to be believed, their souls didn’t rest for long, condemned to wander – and watch – the ghost town for eternity.


About the author: Tom





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