Ghost town revives memories of Gold Rush

September 27, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

BODIE, Calif. -- Waterman S. Bodey discovered gold in Bodie in 1859, but it was not until 1874 that miners hit the bonanza. By 1877 the gold rush was on.

The boom lasted just four years. Exploration and assessment continued, as did small-scale mining operations and occasional comebacks, such as the 1890s with the coming of electricity and the cyanide extraction process.

"There has been uninterrupted mining and exploration here for the past 135 years," stresses Mark Whitehead, of Bodie Consolidated Mining Co., a division of Galactic Resources Ltd.

Mining techniques and gold prices alternately spurred or stymied operations.

"What was waste at $20 an ounce was ore at $35 an ounce," Mr. Whitehead says.

His company's interest soared in 1988 when gold was at $434; it has hovered just under $350 this year.

Bodie was on its way to being a ghost town by the 1930s. From the look of the place today, many left in a hurry -- abandoning clothes on pegs, dishes in the cupboards, stock on store shelves, poker chips on the gambling tables.

One early settler, James S. Cain, bought a bank at the turn of the century and started buying up the town. His J. S. Cain Co. also acquired many mining claims and leased them out. Galactic now holds those leases.

The Cain family, however, remains involved.

Walter Cain, born in 1917 and a grandson to J. S., moved at age 9 from Bodie to nearby Bridgeport. He remains there today.

Two years ago, he went back inside his old home.

"I saw the room where I had my feather bed," he says. "It was all familiar."

After World War II, Mr. Cain says, people started coming to see Bodie, and his family watched strangers "walk in and literally cart off the place."

The company hired a watchman to protect Bodie, he says, but approached the Parks Department about taking it over.

In 1962, the state bought the 500-acre town site and its contents. The town, said to be California's best-preserved ghost town, is now part of Bodie State Historic Park.

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