Keep The Gate Closed!
Someone left the gate of the cemetery open last night and
let in a terrible draft of cold air. It was so cold that
Bill Bodey got up and shut the gate with such a slam that
both hinges were taken off. The residents of that section
state that his language on the occasion was frightful.
Free Press, December 3, 1879)
pioneers of the mining camp of Bodie met their maker, their bodies
were taken to cemeteries in neighboring towns of Aurora and
Bridgeport. The trek to these cemeteries must have been sad and
lonely, over rugged terrain, for 13 miles or more. The swampy flat
at the southern end of the Bodie, provided a much more convenient
location for the dearly departed, and became the site of the first
water table was so high, graves often flooded, floating the coffins.
In 1877 some graves with markers intact were moved 880 feet to the
present day location that greets visitors as they enter the
boundaries of Bodie State Historic Park. It’s unknown how many
graves remain hidden in the original spot of the cemetery.
Over at Bodie the
burial ground is so wet that they have to bail out the
freshly dug graves to get the coffin in, and then they pile
rocks on it to keep it from floating until the funeral is
over, when the grave is filled with more rocks and with wet
earth. At one Place in the cemetery there is a coffin which
is partly protruding from the ground, it having floated up
from below. As the occupant was a Chinaman no notice can be
taken of it. At the funeral services for these burials the
preacher is at a loss to know whether to read the baptismal
or the burial service.
By 1880 as
Bodie’s population boomed and death tolls inevitably rose, the
cemetery grew to three discrete burial areas. The Freemason, or
Masonic at the south end, was final home for eight people. The 43
graves at the Miners’ Union section, also at the south end, were
particularly noted for constant upkeep and replacement of worn
headstones and picket fences. At the north end of the cemetery, The
People’s, or Ward’s section, was final resting to place to 109, with
a grand total of 160 graves in all three sections.
The boundry of
the Bodie cemetery was marked by a fence. Social status of those
within could be determined by which side of the fence one was
buried. Only "respectable" citizens could be buried inside the
fence. “Outside the Pale of Decency”, the bad men and bad women who
earned the title of gunman or prostitute were buried. Reformed
prostitutes, the likes of Lottie Johl, who married the town butcher,
were allowed to be buried just inside the fence in an almost
forgotten corner. Illegitimate children, and Chinese were also laid
to rest outside the fenced cemetery bounds.
Near the entrance
to the cemetery, the brick Heilschorn Morgue was built, and still
stands today. Better known as the Dead House, bodies were stored
here during Bodie’s harsh winters when the ground was so frozen that
funerals had to be delayed for several days. Blasting powder was
sometimes deployed to loosen ice and snow so graves could be dug.
During epidemics when large numbers of people took their final
breath, it was said the ground trembled and town windows rattled
from the continual blasting which struck foreboding and terror into
the hearts of snowbound and isolated residents. During these fierce
winters, wooden sleds were drawn through the snow instead of the
ornate horse drawn hearses that can be seen in the Bodie museum in
Before the bodies
were buried, of course, an undertaker was needed. More often than
not, a furniture store owner or cabinetmaker would be hired to make
coffins and take on the duties associated with funerals.
Mr. H. C. Ward
and Mr. A. C. Friend are mentioned the most often in the history
books as undertaking the grim tasks. Business was so brisk at one
point, for Mr. Friend and his wife, (who apparently took over many
of the chores) that a $3,000 hearse was ordered one year, and sold
out to the competition of Kelly and Carder the next, as dying played
Grave Question: Pat Brown suing H. Ward, undertaker, for
$146 due for services rendered digging graves. During the
trial it came out that it cost more to bury a rich man than
a poor man – comment causing merriment among the spectators.
It was explained that a rich man’s coffin was placed in a
big box but a poor man was buried in a box just the size of
the body. Jury returned verdict in favor or plaintiff for
the sum of $124.
Press, December 9, 1879)
The bad men of
Bodie may not have been allowed to lay to rest within the gates of
the cemetery, but Cornish undertaker Johnnie Heilshorn, was their
advocate in death. At the close of a funeral, “Shotgun” Johnnie
would announce “Come ye forth, all ye wee Nickies and ye big Nickies,
come forth and take a geek at the he before I screw ‘im down”. An
undertaker by trade, a rounder by profession a thief by
inclination, a dope fiend by choice, and a scalawag by association,
Johnnie and friend, “Big Bill” Monahan also apparently ran a little
side business which involved second hand coffins, freshly removed
from the graveyard.
weather, as well as thievery, have all tested the Bodie cemetery,
but it still stands today with 140 known graves. The last burial
occurred on June 18, 2003, when Robert “Bobby” Bell was laid to rest
with a marker announcing “Hello God, I’ve just arrived from Bodie. I
am the last of the old time miners” On Memorial Day 2010, souls
will rise again, and Mrs. Friend and Mr. Ward will gladly take you
to hear their stories.
Tis said before
he died his good wife sorrowfully and affectionately asked
him “Don’t you think you could eat a bit of something,
John?” With a wane smile he said” I do think I could eat a
bit of the ham I smelled cooking.” “Oh No! John dear,” said
his wife, you can’t eat that! I’m saving it for the wake!”
Lying Jim Townsend – last of the Bodie newspaper editors
Special Cemetery Tours
Sunday, May 30, 2010
in Bodie SHP
historic Park will honor the "Souls of Bodie" with 75
minute guided tours of the cemetery from 10 a. m - 3 p.
Tours begin every
hour at the Methodist Church and are free with $7
Bodie SHP admission.
This is a one-day