Preserving a California Ghost Town
"Gaze into one of the ramshackle buildings in Bodie, California, and you might see dust-covered furniture, an old muffin pan, rusty tins, and broken kerosene lamps. Or you might see a fully stocked general store with original wooden boxes and shelves with tin cans. The old gold-mining town, once bustling with saloons, brothels, gambling halls, and even opium dens, is now a ghost town, probably the most famous one in America. But it is much more than that. According to cultural geographer Dydia DeLyser of Louisiana State University, ghost towns, like the ruins of Pompeii, help people understand the past. 'When people see Bodie,' DeLyser says, 'it's very powerful. They relate to the ideas the movies convey about the Old West, about the pioneering spirit of Americans, and read those into Bodie's landscape. By looking on the tarnished remains of the past, they feel they're experiencing that past.'"
"When the California State Parks Department took over Bodie in 1962, it initiated a program of 'arrested decay,' maintaining the dilapidated structures just as they appeared at the time of acquisition. According to Charley Spiller, a Bodie maintenance mechanic, the greatest enemies of preservation are wind, which can gust up to 100 miles an hour on nearby mountains, and snow, which averages 13 feet a year. 'When the roofs fail or the windows fail, then the snow gets in and sits and soaks into the floors, and then the floors deteriorate,' he says. Currently a team of three or four workers spend six months of each year shoring up walls, repairing roofs, and replacing smashed windows-a task that can eat up as much as half a million dollars for three years' work. Spiller and his team rebuild walls using pine similar to the native Jeffrey pine that settlers originally used. Without constant attention, most houses would disintegrate into splinters, he adds."