Wild West

Goodbye God, I'm Going to Bodie

This post was first published on SPINE Online, November 26th, 2018.


Photo courtesy of werner22brigitte via Pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of werner22brigitte via Pixabay.com

Hello, and welcome back to Voices in the Attic for your latest—and last—dose of the creepy and abandoned. This time, it falls upon me to tell you the story of another ghost town—Bodie, California, one of the most incredible and well-preserved examples of an nineteenth-century American boom town.

Bodie began life in 1859 as a small mining camp just east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, started by a group of prospectors including W.S Bodey from Poughkeepsie. It was allegedly Bodey who discovered gold there, but he died a few months later in a blizzard, long before the town was named after him.

It took another sixteen years or so before things started picking up in Bodie, which most historians attribute to the discovery of silver in Aurora and the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Virginia. However, by 1876 the discovery of a profitable gold deposit had transformed Bodie from an isolated camp to a growing mining town.

Three years later, Bodie’s population was anywhere between 5,000 to 7,000 people with facilities and an infrastructure to match. At its peak, Bodie boasted opium dens aplenty, breweries, hotels, four volunteer fire companies, railroads, schools, telegraph lines, a Taoist temple, a union hall, a busy red light district, a Wells Fargo bank, nine stamp mills, several daily newspapers and sixty-five saloons. It also had a large and thriving Chinese community, many of whom were employed supplying most of Bodie’s wood and coal. Newspapers at the time even recorded large Chinese New Years celebrations happening in Bodie each year.

Not surprisingly, jails and mortuaries were an absolute necessity because Bodie residents were killing each other in the street and committing crimes left, right and centre. In fact, the only thing the men of Bodie were exceptionally good at was getting violently drunk and shooting each other. It got so bad that Bodie earned itself a reputation for being lawless and depraved. Perhaps the most famous description was given in 1881 by the Reverend F.M Warrington, who described Bodie as “. . .a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.”

Photo courtesy of McRonny via Pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of McRonny via Pixabay.com

But eventually, the get-rich-quick prospectors moved on to greater things and families settled down while the mines were still operating at peak profitability. The relative peace and prosperity didn’t last for long though because, yes, you guessed it: the mines dried up and shut down. The Bodie boom was over, just twenty years after it started.

The city began haemorrhaging residents and money, a situation which was not at all helped by the two world wars and a massive fire in 1932 which destroyed ninety percent of Bodie’s buildings. By the 1940s Bodie was officially a ghost town, held in arrested decay the way its last residents left it. Now, Bodie is a popular tourist destination for those seeking to experience an authentic ‘Wild West’ town, but with that comes the threat of vandalism and theft.

Thankfully, park rangers came up with a preventative strategy that seemed to take on a life of its own. Rangers invented an urban legend to scare people off, or a faux curse if you will. The legend goes like this; If you take something from Bodie, you will be cursed with bad luck.

It could be a rock or the piano in the old gambling hall (which was actually stolen in the 60’s but returned.) Take anything, and expect bad things to befall you immediately. That’s all well and good. We love a good curse! But somehow, the curse became real. The rangers were soon receiving stolen items in the mail from tourists, begging for forgiveness after they took ‘souvenirs’ and began experiencing bad luck. Visitors describe sudden illnesses, car crashes, family deaths, all manner of ill-tidings, after leaving Bodie.

The following excerpt is from a letter sent to Bodie in 2002 by an anonymous sender:

"Fair warning for anyone that thinks this is just folklore—my life has never seen such turmoil. Please take my warning and do not remove even a speck of dust."

So, if you are thinking of going there, don’t take anything. Not just for your own sake, but for the sake of Bodie as well. The State Parks service also discourages tourists from testing the curse, as police reports must be filed each and every time they receive stolen artifacts in the mail. Much like the number one rule of camping: leave no trace.


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

A One-Star Yelp Review At Best

This post was first published on SPINE Online, November 16th, 2018.


Historically, an inn has been seen as symbol of good will and hospitality. Lured in by the promise of a hot fire crackling away and hearty food, people flocked to these establishments for an opportunity to find rest and comfort. The Bender’s family Inn, however, operated an establishment of murderous intent, slitting the throats of visitors and burying the bodies in the nearby apple orchard.

1871 saw an unusual family settle down on the outskirts of Cherryvale, Illinois, right on a road that connected to two major cities in the area. The Benders were a clever family of four, taking advantage of the location and dressing their home up to entice potential visitors into staying for a night or two.

Photo courtesy of Arno Smit via Unsplash.com

Photo courtesy of Arno Smit via Unsplash.com

The Benders helped to spice the local gossip mill, with the two men of the family both named John and the two women of the family both named Kate. Everyone had an opinion of the group, arguing if they were a family unit or two married couples. There was even a compelling argument that the women could have been witches involved in dark rituals steeped in sin and treachery. (Tragic that no one pegged the group for a bunch of murderers.)

The glory of living in the wild west was that this was the land of both opportunity and reinvention. It was also the perfect place to set up an elaborate business in killing unsuspecting visitors.

The one-star inn was small at best, located next to a flourishing apple orchard. Visitors might have been tempted by the rich smell of apple blossoms that hung from the trees in white clusters, making the inn seem harmless. Inside the inn the room had been cleverly arranged, with a front section hosting space for dining also serving as a general store. A canvas curtain divided the space, hiding the sleeping quarters behind it.

A chair was positioned directly against the curtain. It was referred to by the Benders as the best seat in the inn and they would encourage visitors to seat themselves upon it. Perhaps the visitors who took that seat were being kind and pretended that the odd stains upon the curtain were not there. They might have also been distracted by the younger Kate, who would often entertain them as they sat.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Both of the Johns would swap positions, taking turns standing behind the curtain with a hammer waiting for the chance to strike down hard the moment the guest relaxed and let their head brush against the curtain. Once the two Johns had made their move, Kate would attack, slitting their throats with a knife.

Bodies were handled with skill and dragged into a cellar. The family would wait for nightfall to bury their victims in the orchard. The elder John would often plow the soft earth of the orchard to disguise the shape of the freshly dug earth. Most bodies had been brutalized in their murder except the body of a young girl, found beneath her dead father. A fear spread quickly that she had been buried alive.

Perhaps if the internet had existed in the 1870s, reviews could have been given. Potential visitors would have been advised of the startling behaviors of their hosts or the curious sounds of moaning from beneath the floorboards.

While no one ever discovered if the Benders were biologically related, or pagan worshippers, it was quite clear that the entire family were terrible hospitality workers.

If your heart is truly set on staying at a murderous location, however, check out this link for some ‘safer’ suggestions.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

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