Friday, March 17, 2017

HGB Ep. 190 - The Ghost Town Bodie

Moment in Oddity - The Cadaver Synod
(Suggested by: Kathy Webb-Thomas)

The story of the Cadaver Synod is horrible and involves having to follow the succession of many Popes, as during this time in history they had a penchant for dying, usually by murder. The united empire under Charlemagne was crumbling. Politics were heavily involved with the papacy and in order for someone to ascend to Pope, he needed the backing of political leaders. Pope John VIII was ruling at this time and he felt threatened by a Bishop named Formosa because he was a great missionary and he was gaining political power. He even seemed to be ruling over more than one place at a time, which was against the law and so, he had him excommunicated. Pope John was later murdered by poisoning and a violent bash to the head. His successor reinstated Bishop Formosa. Two more Popes followed and then Formosa became Pope for five years. He died of a stroke. His successor died 15 days after gaining the papacy, more than likely poisoned. Pope Stephen VI was next and he decided he wanted Pope Formosa dug up to face a trial for his crimes of ruling over more than one place at a time and for seeking the papacy. It was January of 897 when the rotting corpse was put on trial at the Basilica San Giovanni Laterano. The irony here was that Stephen was guilty of the same crimes. This fact may be why Stephen wanted the trial. He reasoned that if he could find Formosa guilty, than any appointments he made would be null. One of those appointments was Stephen's and it would erase his crime of ruling over more than one place when he was appointed to bishop. There are those that think Pope Stephen VI was really just insane. The corpse was dressed in papal robes and Stephen screamed and ranted at it. Formosa was found guilty and his three blessing fingers were chopped off. He was reburied in an obscure grave and then dug up again and thrown in the Tiber River. The Roman people finally threw Stephen into prison after this fiasco and he strangled to death there. Formosa's body was finally recovered and buried properly, but the story behind the Cadaver Synod and what happened to him before reaching his final resting place, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

During the month of March, on the 25th, in 1911, a raging fire at a New York garment factory kills 146 people. The factory belonged to the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. It was located on the 8th, 9th and 10th stories of the Asch Building in Greenwich Village. The company employed mostly young immigrant women of Jewish and Italian descent. They worked long hours six or seven days a week in very bad conditions for as little as $5 a week. Part of the poor conditions was the fact that managers locked exit doors to keep employees from taking unauthorized breaks. This proved to be deadly when the fire broke out in a scrap bin. Fire Marshals figured a cigarette or match had ignited the scraps, although arson for insurance purposes was entertained, as the company had suffered four other suspicious fires previously. The fire spread quickly. As many as fifty of the victims jumped from windows to escape the flames. The rest died from burns or smoke inhalation. The tragic event brought to the forefront worker's rights and a need to stop dangerous working conditions. This was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in American history.

The Ghost Town Bodie (Suggested by: Debbie Miller)

The town of Bodie in California is probably one of the best preserved ghost towns in America and the town describes itself as being in a state of arrested decay. There are over 100 structures still standing today with many of them dating back to the late 1800’s. The town is a State Historic Park maintained by the California State Parks System. In its heyday, it played home to gamblers, miners, gunfighters and prostitutes. It went boom and bust quickly and left abandoned. Some would claim that it is not completely abandoned. The spirits of those who lived during Bodie's glory years seem to still be around, as if waiting for another rich strike to bring the people flocking to the ramshackle buildings. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the ghost town of Bodie!

Photo by Jon Sullivan

The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found in the western Sierra foothills. A prospector named James W. Marshall was working the area near Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California when he found the gold. The news traveled fast and some 300,000 people came from all over the world to strike it rich. Most panned for gold, collecting little more than gold dust, but others dug and blasted mines in search of the mother lode. Four prospectors decided to travel into the eastern foothills on the other side of the Sierras ten years after the start of the rush. They found gold, but decided to keep it a secret until they could dig more out the following spring. This area would come to be known as Bodie Bluff, named for one of those four men, W. S. Bodey.

No one is sure if  W.S. Bodey's first name was Wakeman or William. He had been a tin manufacturer in Poughkeepsie, New York before the lure of gold brought him west. He left his wife and two children and boarded the Mathew Vasser for a trip around Cape Horn. He arrived in San Francisco in 1849. He joined up with a half-Cherokee named Black Taylor and two other prospectors and this group made the strike near modern day Bodie. W.S. Bodey did not want to leave the claim and he returned with Black Taylor. Winter was soon upon them and they needed supplies, so they decided to travel to Monoville. On their return trip, a blizzard blew through and caught the two men. They were lost and before long, Bodey was unable to continue. He told Black to keep going. Bodey perished and his body was found the next spring. It is believed he died in November of 1859.

The find did manage to grow a camp around it, which was named Camp Bodey in honor of Bodey. Originally it was spelled as his name was spelled, but according to local lore, it was changed to Bodie when a painter got the spelling wrong. People preferred the misspelling and Bodie stuck. The first appearance of this misspelling is recorded as happening on October 15, 1862. By 1861, Bodie had a mill with 20 miners in residence. There were other bigger strikes in the area, so Bodie was slow to grow. Nearby Aurora, Nevada was booming, drawing the likes of Mark Twain. Things would change after a freak cave in at one of the mines in 1876. A huge strike of gold was revealed and the Standard Consolidated Mining Company brought in lumber and equipment. The town started growing with thousands flowing to the area. On May 1, 1877 a man named Silas Smith opened his first store near King & Main Streets. This became the first post office in town. When a strike at the Bodie Mine in 1878 delivered a million dollars worth of gold bullion in just six weeks of mining, the influx of those with gold dust in their dreams increased even more. Stocks in the Bodie Mining Co. soared from .50 cents to $50 a share. By 1880, there were 10,000 people in Bodie.

With a growing population comes a need for more saloons, restaurants, boarding houses and, of course, brothels. Gambling halls and opium dens opened and at its height, there were 65 saloons in town. People from all over the world came. There were families, but also criminals, miners, prostitutes and gunfighters. Bodie worked like every other mining town. Miners would work the mines all day, get their pay and head into the downtown area at night to spend their money on gambling, booze and women. Violence erupted on a regular basis. So much so, that townspeople would check the newspapers in the morning to see if they "Have a man for breakfast." This was slang at the time for somebody being killed the night before.

Photo by Jon Sullivan
The Bodie Jail was built in 1877 at a cost of  $800. The jail was not well built, but despite having many guests, only one prisoner ever escaped. The building was only 14’x18′ and had two cells.This jail would be connected to a very infamous moment in Bodie's history. Over time, a vigilante group had formed in Bodie and they called themselves 601. The name has an ominous meaning: 6 feet under, 0 trials, 1 rope. They set their sights on a man named Joseph DaRoche in 1881. Apparently, DaRoche had attended a ball at the Miner's Union Hall on January 15th. He asked the wife of a man named Thomas Treloar to dance. She accepted and Treloar was less than pleased. An altercation ensued and DaRoche left the dance early. Later. Treloar and his wife were walking home via Main Street. When they reached Lowe Street, DaRoche ambushed the couple and shot Treloar in the head. He was arrested by a drunk Deputy Farnsworth almost immediately, but DaRoach managed to escape. He was recaptured about eight miles away and locked up in the Bodie Jail. What happened next was detailed in the Bodie Free Press and Reno Gazette Journal in January 1881:
 "Judge Lynch held his first court session in Bodie early on Monday morning and passed judgment on a criminal whose crime is already recorded and impressed on every mind in this community. The tragic end of DeRoche, the murderer, was at once awful and impressive. The lesson to be learned from it is easily read and the simplest mind can fully comprehend it. That a cruel murder had been committed no one can deny; that the swift retribution was expected every observing citizen could predict with safety. The excitement of the Sabbath did not die away and the wrath of the people did not go out with the setting of the sun. As the shades of darkness enveloped the town, the spirit of revenge increased in intensity and developed into a blazing column of fire. It was burning in its intensity and fearful in its results. After the adjournment of the court and DeRoche was taken back to his narrow cell, a mysterious committee was organized, the like of which has existed in many towns on this Coast since ’46, and whose work has been quick and thorough. The Committee, it is reported, held a long session and discussed the matter in hand. The session was long and deliberate, and its conclusions resulted in the lynching of DeRoche.
Between 1:30 and 2 o’clock Monday morning, a long line of masked and unmasked men were seen to file out of a side street into Bonanza Avenue. There must have been two hundred of them and as the march progressed to the jail the column increased. In front were the shotguns carried by determined men. They were backed up by a company which evidently meant business, and no ordinary force could foil them in their progress. When the jail was reached it was surrounded and the leader made a loud knock at the door. All was dark and quiet within. The call had the effect of producing a dim light in the office, and amid loud cries of “DeRoche,” “Bring him out,” “Open the door,” “Hurry up,” etc. Jailer Kirgan appeared, and responded by saying: “All right boys; wait a minute; give me a little time.” In a moment the outside door was opened slowly and four or five men entered. Under instructions the door of the cell in which the condemned prisoner lay was swung open. The poor wretch knew what this untimely visit meant, and prepared for the trying and humiliating death. It was some moments before he was brought out, and the crowd began to grow impatient. Some imagined the prisoner had been taken away by the officers – If this had been the case what would have followed can only be imagined. All these doubts were put at rest by the presence of the man.

He wore light-colored pants, a colored calico shirt, and over his shoulders was hung a canvas coat buttoned around the neck. His head was bare, and as the bright rays of the moon glanced upon his face, there was a picture of horror visible. It was a look of dogged and defiant submission. With a firm step he descended the steps and came out upon the street in a hurried manner, closely guarded by shotguns and revolvers. The order to fall in was given, and all persons not members of the mysterious committee to stand back. The march up Bonanza Street was rapid. Not a word was said by the condemned man, and his gaze was fixed upon the ground. He was hurried up a back street to Fuller. The corner of Green was turned, and when Webber’s blacksmith shop was reached, a halt was made. In front of this place was a huge gallows frame, used for raising wagons, etc., while being repaired. Now it was to be used for quite a different purpose. “Move it over to the spot where the murder was committed,” was the order, and immediately it was picked up by a dozen men and was carried to the corner of Main and Lowe streets. The condemned man glanced at it for a moment and an apparent shudder came over him, but he uttered not a word. From an eye witness we learn that the scene which followed was awful in its impressiveness. The snow had just begun to fall, and the moon, which had shone so brightly during the early part of the night, shed but a pale light on the assembled company. When the corner was reached, the heavy gallows frame was placed upon the ground, and the prisoner led under it. The prisoner’s demeanor still remained passive, and his hands, encased in irons, were clasped.

His eyes occasionally were turned upward and his lips were seen to move once or twice. On each end of the frame were windlasses and large ropes attached. The rope placed around the prisoner’s neck was a small one; when the knot was made it was tested against the left ear. This did not suit DeRoche particularly, and he changed it so that it was in the rear. Someone suggested that his legs and hands should be tied. This was immediately done. The large iron hooks of the frame dangled near the prisoner and the grating sound produced a peculiar feeling. It was at least three minutes before everything was ready DeRoche was asked by the leader if he had anything to say. He replied, “No nothing.” In a moment he was again asked the same question and a French-speaking bystander was requested to receive his answer. The reply this time was: “I have nothing to say only O God.” “Pull him,” was the order, and in a twinkling the body rose three feet from the ground. Previous to putting on the rope, the overcoat was removed. A second after the body was elevated a sudden twitch of the legs was observed, but with that exception, not a muscle moved while the body hung on the crossbeam. His death took place without a particle of pain. The face was placid, and the eyes closed and never were reopened. Strangulation must have been immediate. While the body swung to and fro, like a pendulum of a clock, the crowd remained perfectly quiet. After a lapse of two or three minutes a voice, sharp and clear, was heard in the background: “I will give $100 if twenty men connected with this affair will publish their names in the paper tomorrow morning.” The voice was immediately recognized as that of a leading attorney. (Only Pat Reddy would have had the courage to face the mob, and a yell went up from the crowd.) “Give him the rope,” “Put him out,” and similar sentences drowned out the man and his voice. His retreat was as dignified as the exigencies of the case would admit of. While the body was still hanging a paper was pinned onto his breast bearing the following inscription: “All others take warning. Let no one cut him down. Bodie 601.”
The Reno paper ended with, "The mysterious committee had completed its work and the captain gave out the order 'All members of the Bodie 601 will meet at their rendezvous.' In a moment, the scene of death was deserted. To use a familiar expression DaRoche died game. He was firm as a rock to the last and passed into the unknown without a shudder."

By 1882, things in Bodie were starting to taper off. The mines were not giving as much ore and in 1887 the Bodie Mine and the Standard Consolidated merged. They would operate as one unit for the next two decades. A fire in 1892 destroyed much of the main street area. It was said that for as far as the eye could see down Main Street, there was nothing but the debris of burned buildings. Not a restaurant or lodging house survived, so the families of Bodie opened their homes to the miners. Things never picked up again and the slow decline resulted in closed mines and the Bodie Railway stopped running in 1917.

Bodie was located in Mono County and one family, the Dolan family, had two sheriffs in that county: Sheriff James P. Dolan and Sheriff Bert Dolan. James was killed by a gunshot on July 26, 1915. A plaque memorializes him in the town, near the lake:
"In July of 1915, the peace and quiet of Mono County was shattered when Sheriff James P. Dolan died as the result of gunshot wounds received while attempting to apprehend two outlaws who had terrorized ranchers a short distance from this location. Outraged by the shooting of Sheriff Dolan, the citizenry of Mono County quickly organized a Sheriff’s posse which tracked the outlaws to a location near Mono Craters. Justice was served when both outlaws were killed in a shootout with posse-men. A coroner’s inquest determined “death caused by resisting arrest by duly constituted representatives of the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Dolan, the 15th lawman to serve that office since the formation of Mono County, made the ultimate sacrifice with the fearless determination which had been entrusted to him by the citizens of Mono County."
Prohibition added yet another impediment to the survival of Bodie and by 1932, another fire had destroyed much of the town. The Depression all but shut the entire place down. There were no new strikes, but some mining continued. In the 1950s, Bodie became the ghost town that it is today. No one knows for sure how it happens that towns people just abandon their homes. Do they have meetings and all decide to leave? Do families leave one at a time until they are all gone? What is known about the abandonment of Bodie is that people only packed what they could fit in a wagon or truck. That is why so many belongings have been left behind. In 1962, after years of neglect, Bodie became a State Historic Park, and two years later the ghost town of Bodie was dedicated as a California Historic Site.

Photo by Jon Sullivan
One cannot talk about the supernatural occurrences taking place in Bodie without first talking about the Bodie Curse. There is a superstitious belief about the belongings left behind. People believe that the spirits who remain here, guard these items from the past as though they are a treasure. If anyone removes any item, large or small, from the town, that person will be cursed with bad luck. This misfortune will continue until the item is returned. Listeners might be quick to pass the Curse of Bodie off as just another legend, but J. Brad Sturdivant, who is a park ranger, claims that the curse still exists today. He knows this because he has collected many returned items from visitors who claim that they have had nothing but bad things befall them ever since they visited and took home a souvenir. These items run anywhere from old tools to clothing to simple old nails. Letters accompany the packages saying things like, "I'm sorry I took this, hoping my luck will change."

A nail arrived with the following letter, “Life since then has been a steady downward slide. It’s possible that all the unpleasant events of the past nine months are a coincidence, but just in case the Bodie curse is real I am returning the nail.” A letter dated to 1994 reads, “Dear Bodie Spirits, I am SORRY! One year ago around the 4th of July I was visiting the Ghost Town. I had been there many times before but had always followed the regulations about collecting. This trip was different, I collected some items here and there and brought them home. I was a visitor again this year, and while I was in the museum I read the letters of others who had collected things and had 'bad luck.' I started to think about the car accident, the loss of my job, my continuing illness and other bad things that have “haunted” me for the past year since my visit and violation. I am generally not superstitious but . . . Please find enclosed the collectibles I 'just couldn't live without,' and ask the spirits to see my regret."

Bodie has been the subject of several television programs. Beyond Bizarre from 2000 featured the story of a German man who claimed his uncle visited Bodie and brought home a small bottle. Two days later he had an accident on the Autobahn. The uncle's son took the bottle to school to show his classmates and he had a bicycle accident when riding home. It made the man a true believer in the Curse of Bodie. Diane watched a recent one on the Weather Channel titled American Supernatural featuring the curse. A mother warned her kids to not even take rocks when they visited. Her husband did take some colored glass. He ended up in the emergency room. And then her daughter broke her arm falling out of a tree. They made three trips to the ER in a ten day period. The mother knew she had to break the curse.

There is more than just a curse here though. Some say there are ghosts. A house at the corner of Green and Park Streets belonged to businessman Jim S. Cain. He worked in the lumber business. The family had a Chinese maid who Cain started having an affair with and when his wife found out, she threw the maid out into the streets. She was shamed and could find no work in town, despite the fact that Main Street was basically sin city. The maid eventually took her own life. Her spectre haunts the Cain house reputedly. Children who had rooms on the second floor claimed that this heavy set Chinese lady appeared to them. Rangers have lived in this house and one of their wives wrote of an experience she had, "I was lying in bed with my husband in the lower bedroom and I felt a pressure on me, as though someone was on top of me. I began fighting. I fought so hard I ended up on the floor. It really frightened me." A ranger named Gary Walters had a similar experience in the same room, only the door opened on its own. He also felt as though he were suffocating. Music is heard coming from one of the rooms that is empty.

Two other houses in the town are said to be haunted as well. A woman has been seen peering from an upstairs window at the Dechambeau House. At the Mendocini House it is said that people hear the disembodied sound of children’s laughter. There is also the smell of food cooking and the sounds of a social gathering. Bodie Cemetery is haunted by Albert and Fannie Myers three-year-old daughter Evelyn. Some claim she was hit in the head accidentally by a miner's pick in 1897. Her grave is topped with a child angel, sculpted from white marble. A man visited the cemetery with his daughter and she giggled and appeared to play with something he could not see.

Is there such a thing as the Curse of Bodie? Does the ghost of the man whom the town is named for still wander the streets here? Are there other spirits here? Is Bodie haunted? That is for you to decide!

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