A YouTuber Explored This Century-Old Ghost Town – And It Transported Him Right Back To The Wild West

Stepping foot into a literal ghost town is an experience like no other. Just ask the YouTuber who ventured into a spine-chilling settlement in California – and found the bones of a booming location that had once made many of its residents rich. Indeed, the population completely vanished just over a century ago, leaving behind a snapshot of the American west that’s eerie and enthralling in equal measure.

Head east from the Sierra Nevada mountains, and just before the Nevada border you’ll come across the Bodie Hills. Nestled within those low mountains are a hundred or so buildings – the last remnants of the once-thriving town of Bodie. But to learn the full history behind this now-desolate landscape, you have to dial the clock back some 160 years. You see, it all started with the California gold rush.

James Wilson Marshall’s discovery of gold flakes in the American River was a defining moment in 19th century U.S. history. Yes, it set the course of the next decade as prospective miners flocked to the California hills, each hoping to find their own fortune. And it would eventually lead to the founding of Bodie – just one of many towns that sprung up to support local miners.

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Word of Marshall’s discovery soon spread throughout the country, prompting thousands of men to down tools and head west. And they did whatever they could to make the journey – mortgaging their homes, borrowing cash or burning through their life savings. But their wives usually stayed behind, saddled with newfound responsibilities, such as running the family business or farm.

By the end of 1849, California’s non-native population had exploded from less than 1,000 to a hundred times that figure. And over the next couple of years, fresh-faced gold miners dug up more than three quarters of a million pounds of the precious metal, totaling around $2 billion in value. But as they would quickly discover, the good times couldn’t last forever.

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That’s right, because just two years after the so-called “49ers” descended on the west coast, California’s supply of surface gold largely dried up. The solution lay in industrialization, with the introduction of hydraulic mining in 1853 proving particularly profitable for the companies that could afford to use it. This did mean, however, that many independent miners were forced into wage labor jobs to survive.

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Yet even with advances in technology, the gold rush never again reached the heights of 1852, when miners unearthed around $81 million’s worth. Indeed, the annual take leveled to approximately $45 million over the next half-decade. But there were still some places where gold was turning up for the first time – and California’s population continued to grow accordingly, reaching almost 400,000 by the 1860s.

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One of those places was what’s now known as Bodie Bluff, a mountain peak in Sierra Nevada. For it was there that William S. Bodey first found gold in 1859, leading to the construction of a mill in 1861. So the foundations of Bodie began to click into place – but at first, there wasn’t much interest in the burgeoning town.

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You see, around the same time Bodey struck gold, two silver deposits were discovered in the towns of Aurora and Comstock Lode. And miners flocked to them, seemingly finding those places a more attractive prospect than the newfound Bodie. Nine years after Bodey’s initial discovery, then, the town was still floundering, with two mills having come and gone.

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Finally, in 1876, Bodie experienced its own boom. The Standard Company unearthed a mine of gold-bearing ore, setting the isolated settlement on a course for major expansion. And miners rushed to the region, buoyed further still by an adjacent deposit discovered two years later. By 1879 Bodie boasted around 5,000 to 7,000 people, residing and working across some 2,000 buildings.

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Tragically, though, the man who started it all never lived to see the town come to life. Yes, a matter of months after turning up gold in the area, Bodey found himself trapped in a raging blizzard. Despite his mining partner going for help, when he returned Bodey was nowhere to be found. His remains were eventually discovered a few months later.

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However, Bodey’s name would live on in the booming town – even if the spelling had been changed. So the story goes, in 1860 Robert M. Howland – a painter working in nearby Aurora – was asked to create a sign reading “BODEY STABLE.” Now, the artist agreed but elected to alter the name for aesthetic reasons, so that it read “BODIE STABLE.” As you can probably guess, the name has stuck ever since.

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So as Bodie began to boom in the late 1870s, people from all walks of life convened on the town. Families, store owners and miners mingled with gunfighters, robbers and prostitutes, set against a backdrop of legitimate and illicit entertainment venues. Indeed, it’s thought that there were as many as 65 saloons in Bodie at one point.

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As we all know, wild west towns were notorious for their lawlessness – and Bodie was no exception. The combination of alcohol and gold proved to be a real powder keg, as townsfolk clashed in often fatal duels. In fact, a regular morning exchange between the locals began, “Have we a man for breakfast?,” which was a euphemism for, “Did anyone get killed last night?”

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Among Bodie’s more illicit areas was a popular red light district, containing brothels, opium dens and gambling halls. But it was one that would seemingly prove vital at the height of the town’s popularity, when a serious epidemic reportedly struck the populace. According to local legend, a prostitute named Rosa May channeled Florence Nightingale and took up the mantle of caring for the menfolk, saving many lives.

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By the 1880s, though, the demographics of Bodie had changed dramatically. You see, single miners had deserted the town, heading off for new booms popping up in Utah, Arizona and Montana. And the families that remained quickly transformed the town into a community, erecting a Methodist Church and a Catholic Church – the former of which is still standing today.

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Furthermore, the loss of those get-rich-quick miners didn’t impact Bodie’s output at first. On the contrary, 1881 was a record year for ore production, totaling some $3.1 million. The following decade would also bring a short-lived revival to the town through a number of technological advances. This included the construction of a hydroelectric plant in 1892.

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However, that wasn’t enough to halt the eventual mass exodus of people from Bodie. And by 1910 just 698 people remained in the town. Three years later, the Standard Consolidated Mine shut up shop, leading to a record low of $6,821 profit in 1914. Local businessman James S. Cain stepped in to salvage the situation, reopening the mill to a minor resurgence in profit in 1915. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.

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Yes, and to make matters worse, in June 1932 a ferocious fire tore through Bodie’s downtown business district, reducing buildings to ash. In fact, it was the second major blaze to hit the town and left just 100 or so buildings intact. So the once-sprawling settlement – which had peaked at some 2,000 buildings – was now a shell of its former self.

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Mind you, the last of Bodie’s mines didn’t close its doors for good until 1942, owing to a direct government order resulting from America’s involvement in World War II. The town’s Post Office shuttered the same year and mining operations never recommenced postwar – leaving the place completely desolate. Amazingly, Bodie had been called a “ghost town” as early as 1915, but by the 1940s that description was incredibly apt.

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In fact, just three people resided in Bodie by 1943. Among them was Martin Gianettoni, a caretaker who’d been hired by the Cain family, which by that point owned most of the town. And Gianettoni was responsible for maintaining and protecting Bodie’s buildings in the wake of a spate of vandalism.

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Just under two decades later, the U.S. government designated Bodie a National Historic Landmark. And by 1962 it had become Bodie State Historic Park. In fact, it’s now looked after by California State Parks, which has maintained the buildings in the same condition of “arrested decay” for the past half-century. The result is a ghost town that’s effectively frozen in time.

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But with this novelty status comes a modern influx of tourism. You see, around 200,000 people now visit Bodie State Historic Park every year. Among them is Josh, a YouTuber who travels around abandoned locations, exploring local legends, urban myths and places of interest. His YouTube channel, Exploring With Josh, has almost four million subscribers. And in 2016, he paid a visit to the wild west ghost town.

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Now, Josh uploaded the video of his trip to Bodie on July 28, 2016. And it’s since had nearly 800,000 views. As the video begins, Josh explains that this is the ninth ghost town he’s visited. He then fills his viewers in on a little of the town’s background, before heading off to check out the historic buildings.

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At the first house he encounters, the California State Parks’ preservation attempts are already evident. Rather than restoring the buildings, the state body has simply maintained their structural integrity – in this case, by changing the windows. And that approach has clearly extended to the buildings’ interiors, because the house still contains the original furniture from when it was abandoned decades ago.

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Indeed, it’s obvious just from looking at the furniture that it’s all been left completely untouched. You see, the wallpaper is peeling, there are cracks in the walls, and the furnishings are caked in a thick layer of dust. That’s not unique to the first house that Josh encounters, either – it’s a common theme throughout all of Bodie’s buildings.

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The next building Josh encounters is the Methodist Church, which was first constructed in 1882. As with the house, many of its original features are still intact – including almost all the pews, and the organ along the back wall. Although a fence prevents modern-day visitors from entering the building, you can still gaze inside and imagine what once was.

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As he continues around the town, Josh rhapsodizes, “This is seriously a blast from the past just walking through here. All this history is still here and kept up. That’s what I really love about it.” And while much of that history is gated behind fences, there are plenty of the 100 or so buildings that visitors can walk through.

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By way of example, Josh wanders into a house with an open door. Like the first building he encountered, the interior offers an authentic, unaltered snapshot of life in Bodie. And remnants of furniture litter the rooms, including chairs, beds and cabinets, while crockery still rests on the kitchen table, as if the house was suddenly abandoned mid-meal.

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But not all the buildings are so well-preserved. Indeed, at one point Josh comes across a structure that’s in a real state of disrepair. Planks of wood are spread across the foundations, while huge timber slabs rest haphazardly between the ceiling and walls. And Josh points out that a similar building has been blocked to visitors, but this one remains open.

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When the original residents of Bodie abandoned their homes, some of them also abandoned their vehicles. For instance, Josh points his camera at the rusted ruins of what was presumably once a well-loved car – but is now an almost unidentifiable wreckage. Elsewhere, a long-forgotten 1937 Chevrolet Coupe lies discarded, doomed to forever rest under the intense California sun.

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While indoor plumbing became more widespread over the 19th century, no U.S. city had a comprehensive sewer system before 1885. It makes sense, then, that the citizens of Bodie would still rely on outhouses for their toilet trips. And, true to form, Josh soon stumbles across the remains of one of these antiquated restrooms.

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Considering 65 of them once lined Bodie’s mile-long Main Street, it’s little surprise that at least one saloon still stands in the town. This particular example is another building that’s off-limits to the public. But looking through the enormous window reveals a bar, piano and even a roulette table. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the evening entertainment once offered to the town’s miners.

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Another relic of Bodie life that’s survived its various fires and disasters is its stores. In fact, Josh comes across one that’s still fully-stocked with goods: from chairs and lamps to canned food and even long-expired medicine. Upon seeing the various detritus, he exclaims, “It’s almost like an apocalypse happened!”

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Almost as equally well-preserved is Bodie’s enormous schoolhouse, which once provided education to more than 600 children. Now, it shut down in 1942 in tandem with the forced closure of the town’s last mine. But a glance inside reveals that not much has changed in the decades since. Indeed, desks are still strewn around the room, and there’s even writing on the blackboard.

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Having toured through the remnants of the ghost town, Josh heads up to one of the surrounding hills to look over the valley. From there, we can see the lone road that leads into the town. Situated off State Highway 395, the 13 mile-long trail is bumpy, dusty and slow-going, but that doesn’t put off the hundreds of thousands of people who rock up to Bodie every year.

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While it’s obviously no longer in operation, the Standard Consolidated Mining Company Stamp Mill still stands tall in Bodie. Unlike most of the buildings that are open to the public, however, access to this particular slice of gold rush history is accessible only by guided tour. As a result, Josh is unable to enter.

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Rumor has it that Bodie may now be a ghost town in more ways than one, because some suspect it’s literally haunted. However, it’s thought that the lightheaded sensation many visitors report may simply be down to the town’s impressive altitude of 8,375 feet. “People often experience what they expect,” local photographer Jeff Sullivan told Business Insider in 2016.

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Josh caps off his video by pushing that altitude even higher with a drone camera, which he sends up for a bird’s-eye view. His 10 minute-long exploration of the wild west town has since accrued more than 1,700 comments, mostly from people fascinated with the long-forgotten locale. For instance, one wrote, “I think this place looks so amazing! I can only imagine what it was like to live in that place.”

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In recent years, Bodie State Historic Park has been threatened with closure twice – once in 2009, then again the following year. On both occasions, though, the state of California managed to find a solution that allowed the town to remain open to visitors. Yes, it’s currently administered by the Bodie Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving a number of historic towns across California.

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