While a swarm of earthquakes and aftershocks did little damage to the towns of Hawthorne and Bridgeport, Calif., last week, the cluster of tremblers unleashed the groans and moans of an old ghost town that suffered damage to several historic buildings including an iconic hotel.
During the first 90-minutes of seismic activity on Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported more than 25 earthquakes, including a pair of magnitude 5.7 tremblers and another at 5.5. Much of the activity, according to USGS maps and Nevada Seismological Lab reports, placed much of the activity about 14 miles due east of Bodie, Calif., a popular visitors’ attraction that draws thousands to this former mining town.
“We have closed the park to the public,” said Josh Heitzmann, supervising park ranger. ”We’re still checking (for damage). Bodie is still standing, but we were so close to the center.”
Heitzmann said a small crew including a former park supervisor and current president of the Bodie Foundation surveyed the town, which sits on the side of the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range at an elevation 8,379 feet. The crew trudged through 9 inches of snow while looking for any damage.
“We went through the mill. There were some boards on the ground, but it’s pretty much intact,” he said.
Brad Sturdivant, who spent many years as the park supervisor before retiring, now heads the Bodie Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration of the famous ghost town located 13 miles southeast of Bridgeport.
“We’re a nonprofit organization to enhance what California State Parks does,” he said.
The series earthquakes and smaller aftershocks that continued into the day toppled several old brick chimneys and seriously damaged one of the most photographic buildings, the DeChambeau Hotel on the western edge of town. Sturdivant said about half of the false front is gone, and cracks developed in one of the halls. Heitzmann added a hole measuring 2-feet high by 3-feet wide also appeared. Heitzmann said the bricks fell inside the building, yet he expressed concern for the DeChambeau Hotel.
“The wall is a concern for us,” he said of the building’s current stability.
Sturdivant said the California Department of Parks and Restoration had designated about half a million dollars for the hotel’s restoration and planned to begin work this summer. With the latest swarm of earthquakes, though, Sturdivant said he has no idea how much more money will be needed to fix the hotel.
According to Heitzmann, a fence will surround the DeChambeau Hotel until repairs can be made.
Known as one of the most famous ghost towns in the West, Bodie was founded in 1859 after the discovery of gold. Since that time, Bodie survived several fires, one in 1892 that wiped out a sizable portion of the town and another in 1932 that destroyed hundreds of buildings. Many of the 100 structures including the Standard Mill, — the heart of the town — still stand.
When Bodie was a thriving community, the town of 10,000 had houses, several hotels, numerous bars, a school, a mercantile store and banks. Today’s visitors who visit the ghost town can see many buildings and artifacts from its existence.
Heitzmann said the earthquake either knocked over or destroyed artifacts such as old bottles. At the Cain House once owned by the town’s most prominent banker and lumber merchant, Heitzmann said rows of glass bottles lined up inside the front room window fell from the shelves, some smashing upon impact. A chimney also fell over. A window at the Boone Store, a block down the street from the Cain House, also shattered, and a chimney there also crumbled.
Both Sturdivant and Heitzmann toured the old mill southwest of the town’s center.
“Josh and I went through the building, and the mill fared well,” he said.
This hasn’t been the first time and probably will not be the last that earthquakes have damaged Bodie. Not even a bigger cluster of earthquakes in 2011 damaged Bodie although more than 1,000 earthquakes in late May 1980 centered near Mammoth Lakes rattled eastern California. The three strongest earthquakes, one of which was magnitude 6.2 and the second at 6.1, shook Mammoth Lakes from May 25 to 27 and the surrounding areas, but Sturdivant distinctly remembers the July 21, 1986, Chalfant Valley earthquake that struck 22 miles southeast of Bishop. Seismologists measured the quake that caused $2.7 million in damages at magnitude 6.2.
“I was going to work, and I watched the wooded structures roll,” he recalled, adding every brick structure at Bodie showed some degree of damaged.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, Bodie became Bodie State Historic Park one year later. Although the State of California provides minimal funding for the park’s operation, the Bodie Foundation founded in 2008 raises money for preservation, interpretation and stabilization. Foundation members also refer to the term “arrested decay” as both the state and foundation try to prevent Bodie’s continual decay.
Heitzmann said people who have an affinity for preserving ghost towns and a slice of Americana are encouraged to support the Bodie Foundation, which has been raising money to restore buildings for the past eight years.