Inside an eerie California gold rush town that laid abandoned for 70 years

BodieJeff SullivanThe Methodist Church in Bodie, California.

In 1859, gold was discovered in California by a group of prospectors, including a tin manufacturer named W.S. Bodey. And the Gold Rush began.

The following November, Bodey died in a blizzard while making a supply trip to Mono County, California. Mines with gold were later found in Mono County around 1861, and the town of Bodey — later spelled “Bodie” — was born, though its namesake never lived to see the town.

People established a community there, full of wooden structures including a church, jail, hotel, bank and schoolhouse, as well as shops and homes. At its peak in 1880, an estimated 10,000 residents lived there, but Bodie was abandoned during the early ’40s.

Today, it’s a ghost town.

Bodie is now recognised as a National Historic Landmark, and about 200,000 people visit annually, though it still gives off a creepy vibe.

Jeff Sullivan, a California-based photographer, has been capturing images of Bodie since the 1970s, and now leads nighttime photography workshops there. He shared some of his modern-day images of the town.

Located east of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, Bodie has approximately 100 buildings still standing today. A fire ravaged much of the downtown business district in 1932.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

A mill was the first structure established in Bodie, though it burned down in 1898. It was later replaced by the one below, which features a gondola system that carried gold and silver from underground mines.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

Inside are machines that were used to separate rocks and dirt from the gold.

Jeff Sullivan

There were once 65 saloons on Main Street, though only three remained after the fire. Murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were normal during Bodie's early days.

Jeff Sullivan
Main Street in Bodie, California.

Source: Roger McGrath

The 20 get-rich-quick miners that founded Bodie in 1861 moved onto other boom towns around 1880, and Bodie evolved into more of a family community.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

As a National Landmark, the homes occasionally undergo general repairs. But many of them have peeling wallpaper and lots of cracks. This home belonged to miner J.S. Cain and his wife Martha.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

When the town was abandoned, the furnishings inside homes like the Cameron House below were left behind.

Jeff Sullivan
A house lived in by the Cameron family.

Many people suspect that Bodie is haunted and report that they feel lightheaded when they visit. Sullivan doesn't buy it though -- after all, he says, the town has an altitude of 8,375 feet.

Jeff Sullivan
The DeChambeau Hotel and I.O.O.F. Building in Bodie, California.

'People often experience what they expect,' he says.

Jeff Sullivan
The morgue in Bodie, California.

Below is the DeChambeau Hotel and the I.O.O.F. Building. The latter served as a meeting hall, but the space was later converted into a place to work out. Members would come to use the barbells.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

The town had its own gasoline station, too. Notice the bullet holes in the old Shell sign.

Jeff Sullivan
A 1927 Dodge Graham at Bodie's gasoline stop.

A 1937 Chevrolet coupe sits rusting, abandoned by a former resident.

Jeff Sullivan

The town also had a firehouse ...

Jeff Sullivan

... a barber shop ...

Jeff Sullivan

... and a jail.

Jeff Sullivan

This is what its one of the two cells looked like, as seen through a keyhole. It wasn't very secure, and a prisoner allegedly escaped once.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

A Methodist Church, constructed in 1882, held regular services.

Jeff Sullivan

The building below first served as an office that processed paperwork when residents bought land. It transformed into the Wheaton and Hollis Hotel in the late 1880s.

Jeff Sullivan

Source: Bodie.com

Guests played pool on this table in the hotel.

Jeff Sullivan

More than 150 years later, Bodie's eerie Wild West aura remains.

Jeff Sullivan
The Methodist Church in Bodie, California.

To see more of Sullivan's Bodie photos and other work, check out his Flickr.

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