Saturday 15th November. Pasadena, Maryland, USA
One of my few disappointments from the total of almost twelve months that I've spent touring the US is that I haven't made the effort to visit a real ghost town. Eleven years ago, on the way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a naughty weekend , my then girlfriend Sara and I followed a turn off that promised to take us to a ghost town. We drove quite some distance from the highway, only to discover that there was a five dollar entrance fee to this 'ghost town'. We turned around and continued to Vegas, with me muttering under my breath. Two months ago, when I retraced the path of that sentimental trip, I saw the same sign and thought "The hell with it. This time I'm going to check out this ghost town, five dollars or no five dollars." I figured even if it was lame, I'd be able to get a few interesting photos for the website. It must've been ten or fifteen miles off the interstate, but once I got there, I recognized the entrance and the little station house where you pay your admission, like at an amusement park. The station house was unattended so I drove on up to the ghost town.
Tour coaches half filled the carpark, and I could see the tourists -some scurrying, some hobbling with the help of a walking stick- making their way up and down the main street, past what was probably the old saloon or the courthouse. The town looked like a tacky Hollywood set. I wheeled the Camry around in an arc, with the tyres spinning furiously. An impressive cloud of dust drifted towards the surprised tourists, and I vowed never to visit another ghost town again. I sped to Las Vegas, longing for a 99 cent Heineken.
The following story about ghost towns was written by my host David after a trip around the western states and published in The Baltimore Sun on July 29th, 1984. I thought you might find it interesting.
"Tired of crowded beaches, big-city tourist mobs, the long wait in line at the crab house? Tired of that same-old-vacation-as-last-year malaise?
Why not try places where no one lives, and a few where hardly anyone even goes- a vacation in search of ghosts, towns where folks once mined gold, raised sheep, tilled the soil...and left. But many of the towns remain- some in ruins, others remarkably intact, and some slowly being repopulated by hardy folk seeking an alternative to the Twentieth Century. At first, ghost towns had not even crossed our minds. We just wanted to tour the West, state by state, pick up some souvenir ash from Mount St. Helens and drop in on Uncle Max in Spokane. It was his fault, really. He'd propped up a Christmas-gift book on the mantle, a book on western ghost towns he had not even opened. As we turned the pages, history came to life. Gold fever, gunfighters, boom towns dead for a century rolled off those glossy pages, and we reached into the AAA bag for maps."
David and Bonnie visited several ghost towns, but as I only type with two fingers, it would take me sixteen years to copy the whole article. I will concentrate on the towns that they consider most memorable, the first being Granite, in eastern Oregon. -Steve
"We headed sort-of-west on Route 220 toward Granite- an old gold mining town in Grant county, 50 miles from Baker and 15 miles northwest of Sumpter, on the far side of Ireland Mountain (elevation 8,346 feet), dodging lumber trucks and the flyng gravel kicked up by their wheels. Granite was named Independence after gold was found there July 4, 1862 - but it was changed 14 years later when the town applied for a post office because another Independence in Orgeon had prior claim to the name. The town was consumed by fire before the turn of the century, then rebuilt, but its boom days were numbered. We arrived at a time of relative prosperity - many of the two dozen old wooden buildings were inhabited, and a young couple weary of mundane jobs in portland had reopened the Granite General Store (founded 1894). Over coffee, proprietor Mike Gamble filled us in on the town's history, and explained how current residents were still making a living mining gold from the hills and area streams - gold many of them sold to dentists, he said.
... he also introduced us to Edward (Bud) Morrow - a larger-than-life, mustachioed fellow who was then the town's mayor and only lifetime resident. And as a Grant county deputy sheriff, with a badge on his ample chest and six-shooter protruding conspicuously from his holster, Mr. Morrow represented what law there was in the middle of nowhere. He led on a brief tour of the town, including the cemetery where many of Granite's original settlers were laid to rest.
Mr. Morrow is still there - in the cemetery. Just months after our visit, Granite's mayor was shot to death in his sparse cabin after a long-standing dispute with a neighbour over, among other things, tours of the cemetery located between their homes. And not long after that, the general store burned to the ground.
But Granite is still well worth a visit. Take pictures of the old gold mine crumbling against the hillside opposite the town, look at the gold flecks sparkling in the stream below it, walk Granite's dusty streets and put a flower on the grave of bud Morrow - as much a ghost now as the town he loved."
David and Bonnie's adventure continued through Utah and Arizona, taking in several other ghost towns...
"But nothing quite prepared us for Bodie, Calif. - named (and apparently mispelled by an illiterate sign painter) for Waterman S. Body, who discovered gold on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in 1859. A state historical park since 1962, Bodie's only residents are rangers and college students who live there during the summer months carrying out a commendable task - maintaining the 60-plus surviving buildings (many furnished with remnants of its past), the mine and its four cemeteries, in a "permanent state of arrested decay". Buried by snow much of the year, Bodie once had 10,000 residents - and 65 saloons that helped foster its reputation as second to none in wickedness. "Killings occured with monotonous regularity, usually about once a day," a 50-cent park brochure notes - along with frequent robberies, stage holdups and street fights.
One legend holds that a young girl, informed that her family was moving there, said "Good-bye God, I'm going to Bodie." Another account - showing the power of punctuation - has the girl's words distorted by a civic-minded journalist to read, "Good, by God, I'm going to Bodie."
By all accounts, however, "good" was not the predominant characteristic of Bodie. A local minister described the town in 1881 as "a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion." But the town has greatness in 1984 - a true ghost unspoiled by commercialism, and a terrific sidetrip for anyone touring nearby Yosemite National Park."
Now I have to come back to the States again just to see a ghost town!