The workers at the Bodie State Historic Park are used to receiving letters in the mail talking about the “Bodie Curse.” In fact, almost every time someone checks the mail, they receive a letter of remorse from people who thought they could take a little souvenir from the park, only to receive a lifetime of bad luck instead.
Bodie, California is a ghost town sitting just north of Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevadas and was once home to 10,000 people during the gold rush of the 1800’s. Today, it sits abandoned with much of the old town intact and protected as a state park.
In a fascinating article posted by KQED News, the curse is explored as a happy accident for the park’s workers. According to state law, you are not allowed to take anything from the park. Its open surroundings make it easy for people to steal free historical swag, but many times, the park receives the artifacts back in the mail, citing the curse.
The letters include some remorse, but mostly tales of rotten luck:
“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.”
“Please find enclosed one weatherbeaten old shoe. The shoe was removed from Bodie during the month of August 1978… My trail of misfortune is so long and depressing it can’t be listed here.”
“This nail was taken from the town of Bodie… Nothing should leave Bodie. Also, who wants bad luck. Please put it back for me.”
It’s not just household items that bring are curse, but even rocks can bring you bad luck:
“You can have these godforsaken rocks back. I’ve never had so much rotten luck in my life. Please forgive me for ever testing the curse of Bodie.”
When the town was abandoned during a financial decline, many of its residents quickly left for greener pastures, leaving many of their belongings in their homes. The park sits as a relic to the Wild West – cursed and all.
During it’s boom, Bodie boasted 2,000 buildings, 65 saloons, multiple newspapers and, in classic Wild West fashion, nearly a murder a week. Today, you can see old pianos, pool tables and kitchen sets, almost as if no one had touched them in over 100 years.
While park officials continuously remind visitors that taking any artifacts is strictly prohibited, they can also let the curse do the talking for them. They’ve set up a exhibition to show the many cursed relics sent back to them. It’s a reminder for visitors: play at your own risk.
The curse takes many forms. To some, it’s somewhat small occurrences like getting a flat tire leaving the park or their fish dying right after their visit. To others, its years of bad luck, torn relationships or faltering health of family members (of course, if you believe in karma, you could argue that these type of things happen to people who steal from state parks).
The curse didn’t originate from a paranormal experience in one of the houses. In fact, the curse was made up by a park ranger fed up with the rampant theft at Bodie. The curse then took on a life of its own.
Although the returned items can be problematic as they can’t be returned to their original resting spot. In order for Bodie to be authentic, it must stay in its original state of decay, giving it the authenticity that is difficult to find anywhere else. It’s a living, breathing museum.
Bodie stands as a beautiful relic of what brought many of the early Californian’s to this beautiful state – the chance to strike it rich. Gold miners took approximately $34 million in gold during Bodie’s peak years. But if you find a piece of gold there today, you should probably leave it where it lies. The curse probably isn’t worth the payout.
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine