CBS Sunday Morning: Ghost Towns
Ghost Towns may seem like the stuff of movies, but they are very real in forgotten parts of the American West, as Barry Peterson found out for Sunday Morning. Once-rich mining towns supported as many as 70 saloons from 1877-1880. One such town is Bodie, California, where Terri Geissinger now works as a historian and guide for the Bodie Foundation.
In towns like Bodie, the real money went to “the whiskey and the women,” where ladies of the evening could make in a week what miners would take home in a month. It was briefly one of the state’s biggest towns, with restaurants staying open 24 hours. Just as quickly as it surged, the town died when the gold dried up. Now, Bodie is “the largest unrestored ghost town in the country,” according to Geissinger.
Sunday Morning: Bodie, California Ghost Town
Bodie is now a National Historic Landmark, and Peterson marveled at artifacts of the past that were left behind so many years ago, such as pool cues and kitchen pots. Madam Mustache ran a gambling house, where she served only milk and champagne, forbidding the sale of beer and whiskey, as well as barring “foul language and…dirty men.”
Another memorable character was Lottie Johl, a former professional companion who moved to town after marrying a successful businessman. Her death remains a mystery. No one is sure whether she was poisoned or “took too much medicine.” Ghosts may still haunt these types of towns, and Geissinger bore witness for Sunday Morning, as someone who has slept overnight in town. She recalled seeing the spectre of a young man in an old-time baseball uniform late one night.
CBS Sunday Morning: Colorado Ghost Towns
Then there is Derry Ranch Placer, Colorado, where thousands came to the Rockies before leaving suddenly. Author Kenneth Jessen has spent plenty of time in ghost towns like this, and he has tales of his own to recount. He recalled the sounds of children playing and a train coming down a track. Colorado was once home to 1,600 ghost towns. Most of those have been returned to nature, and Jessen said it won’t be long before Derry Ranch Placer is only a memory.
However, some spots, such as Bonanza, are still considered by the state to be towns. Over the past decade, 43 such towns have had their status revoked, and Bonanza may be next on that list. A jail and schoolhouse remain, but that’s about it, as the town’s sole resident, Mark Percovich, explained to Sunday Morning.
Sunday Morning: Ghost Town Coffins
Bonanza’s Canon House was once a hotel, and though there are a few more visitors in the summer, it’s those quiet winters that have Mark feeling connected to the town’s past. “I get a sense of some lingering thing here,” he said, reflecting on those moments when he feels not quite alone.
Back in Bodie, Peterson visited the town morgue, including baby coffins that featured windows. Geissinger said legend was that the dead would have their legs broken to fit into smaller caskets. Could those residents of ghost towns have been on to something special? It’s possible that they are hanging around to preserve their own history, according to folks like Geissinger. There is something enticing about American ghost stories, isn’t there?