Bodie was one of the biggest and “baddest” of California’s gold mining boom towns in the 19th Century. William S. Body discovered gold in these mountains in 1859. Supposedly, a sign painter misspelled his name. It was really a deliberate change by the towns-people to insure proper pronunciation. Thirty-five million dollars worth of gold and silver was discovered in Bodie’s mines between 1877 and 1888. Stagecoaches and wagons arrived daily. The town’s population quickly swelled. Each new arrival hoped to strike it rich. Hundreds of active mining claims were filed. Most of the new residents worked the mines and lived in tents and wooden shacks. Wood was scarce. There was trouble with the local Paiutes when their sacred pinion pines were cut for lumber. The Indians relied on the protein-rich pinion nut for their winter diet. Winters were harsh, and lumber was needed to build a more substantial town. A forest of Jeffrey pines, miles to the south, was cut and milled. The lumber was delivered to Bodie on a newly-built railroad. The town grew to ten-thousand residents. With the hard work, miners sought relaxation and entertainment in the saloons. There were sixty-five saloons in Bodie. Bar room brawls, street fights, shootouts, and robberies were a daily occurrence. Bodie soon gained a reputation as the most lawless of the “Wild West” towns. The boom years were short-lived. By 1890, the mines were shutting down. It was reported that over a hundred million dollars in gold was taken from the mines of Bodie. By 1940, the town was empty.
Today Bodie is a ghost of its former glory. It is the largest and best preserved gold mining ghost town in California. In 1964, it was purchased by California and declared a state historical park, a part of California all photographers must explore. To photograph the interiors of Bodie’s buildings, several techniques work well. A polarizing filter will eliminate most or all of the reflections in a window. If you want to photograph an interior but can’t get inside, move up as close as possible to the window. A rubber lens shade pushed up against the glass will cut out any reflections. Dark clothing helps to reduce reflections. Carry a rag or a pocket full of wet-wipes to clean a spot on a dusty window. The low angle of the morning sun, especially in early spring and late autumn, is best when it illuminates the buildings in sidelight. Front light will reveal the most details with no dark shadows; it is often boring and too flat. Back light can be dramatic. Contrast problems require increasing exposure to show some shadow detail. Increasing exposure will usually wash out the sky, and you’ll lose your clouds. Sidelight is my favorite illumination on the weathered remains of Bodie. It can reveal some details, and it can hide some details. It can be dramatic and stark, and it can show form, shape, and textures. Low morning sun or late afternoon sun is best.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.