Dressing up for the 1800s | NevadaAppeal.com

Dressing up for the 1800s

Story and photos by Steve Ranson | LVN Editor Emeritus
Page Design by Laci Thompson


While Bodie was known as a rough town more than 100 years ago, it was no match for Mother Nature when a swarm of earthquakes rattled the area in late December 2016 and closed the park indefinitely.

A small crew including a former park supervisor and current president of the Bodie Foundation surveyed the town by trudging through 9 inches of snow and looking for any damage.

Brad Sturdivant spent many years as the park supervisor before retiring and now heads the Bodie Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration of the famous ghost town located 13 miles southeast of Bridgeport.

He said the series of earthquakes and smaller aftershocks 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.

Other buildings suffered glass damage, but the Foundation said the mining town is rebounding well from the earthquake activity and will welcome visitors to Bodie Days on Aug. 12.

Every year since the late 1990s, John Pinckney dons his dark, gray pinstripe suit and walks up and down the streets of Bodie, greeting visitors who have come to one of the West’s best-known ghost towns.

“I’m attracted to Bodie,” Pinckney said during last year’s Friends of Bodie Day, a celebration to honor the founding of the old mining camp that sprung up near the California-Nevada border in 1859. “It’s like a living museum except you don’t see as much as the people who lived here.”

In its heyday, Bodie, which lies 20 miles southeast of Bridgeport, Calif., within the Bodie State Historical Park, once boasted a population of more than 10,000 souls and was one of the richest towns between San Francisco and Denver. During Friends of Bodie Day, which is Aug. 12, scores of people from Nevada, California and a handful of other states, enjoy dressing up in apparel reminiscent of the mid-to-late 1800s.

Now visitors come to Bodie for the 30th annual event to see a community that’s one-tenth the size it was in the 1880s, and several thousand buildings dotted the sagebrush foothills of Bodie Hills, a low mountain range that extends east toward the Nevada border.

Like many other visitors who enjoy keeping in character, Pinckney represents Archibald C. Sparks from the telegraph office that overlooks Bodie. Pinckney, though, enjoys talking about the history.

When a disgruntled man assassinated President James A. Garfield in July 1881 at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C., news quickly moved via the telegraph lines. Pinckney said the tragic news reached many mining towns like Bodie, and the townspeople became fixated on the news of their president being fatally shot.

“Bodie had three newspapers, and 10,000 people had a thirst for the news,” Pinckney explained. “Bodie has a lot of history.”

Pinckney grew up in Washington, D.C., but he lived to see the weekly smorgasbord of western movies and television shows. His first recollection of Bodie is when he saw a clip of the mining town on a home-movie film taken by a neighbor. Now, Pinckney and others travel to Bodie every August to remember the contributions the town provided generations ago.

“This is a testimony to people’s hopes, people’s dreams,” said Pinckney, whose license plate reads “Bodie CA.”

Karen Hutchins and Terri Geissinger look forward to wearing their ensembles from the 1800s.

“It’s just part of the history back in that time,” Hutchins said. “It’s fascinating to go back in time.”

Hutchins, though, was astonished to learn that women in 1800s’ Bodie cooked and cleaned in dresses, prompting Hutchins to reflect on the Old West era.

“I’m glad I don’t wear this every day,” she said, “but it’s part of history.”

Hutchins wore a long white dress with a white hat at last year’s event.

Geissinger, who dresses like the debutante of the ball in beautiful dresses remembered from that era, looked eloquent in her gold dress last year. She said many people who dress up in western apparel have an interest in past events that Bodie Day offers … a glimpse into a roaring mining town.

“We have a lot of horse-loving folks who dress up,” Geissinger pointed out. “People enjoy wearing period costumes, but we allow no firearms in the park.”

Likewise, Tracey Jean Wolfe and her husband make the annual trek to Bodie to see old friends and slip into a day in the life of the Old West along the eastern slope of the Sierra Mountain Range.

Wolfe, whose great-great-great grandmother traveled west to Placerville, Calif., in 1853, said she used ingenuity to put together her ensemble for Bodie Day.

“I bought and mixed (my apparel) and then matched it with history,” she explained, wondering what it was like for women of the day to wear the big dresses and sit in a saddle.

“It must have been miserable,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing this all the time, but it makes you appreciate your ancestors.”

Georgia and Jim Kinninger, who spend time between Smith Valley and Bridgeport, look forward to dressing up for Bodie Day. Jim Kinninger said he’s intrigued with history and how people become part of the lore.

“Some people like to get into costume,” he said, nodding in approval.

For one visitor, dressing up is like putting on his ball and chain for a few hours. Jim Painter of Sacramento has dressed as a prisoner for two years.

“The people come through, take my photo,” said Painter who lumbers up and down Bodie’s streets with his latest in black-and-white striped apparel.

The first year Painter wore the prison garb two years ago when he stayed at the jail, soaking up the photo opportunism.

This is a 180-degree turnaround in wearing authentic apparel for the 1880s. Five years ago, his first time at Bodie Day, Painter decked out in his white shirt and vest and took on the persona of a photographer.

Fernley residents Terry Smith and Margurite Young looked content in their apparel and with the way Bodie characterizes the Old West.

“I like our history, it’s fascinating,” Smith said, looking at other people walking to and fro on Bodie’s main street.

“It’s a blast. I love it.”

Both women said they definitely feel at home. Smith said they choose costumes from a theatrical group to wear to Bodie.

“It helps for kids to get in it … knowing Bodie … when they see us in costume,” she added.

Young said she feels natural when walking around and has worn different outfits.

“I want variety with the way I look,” she stressed.

With 2016 being her first year to attend Bodie Day, Young said she wanted to check out the event and learn more about the area’s history.

“It’s a time period here,” Smith said of Bodie. “It’s a place to visit, but I’m glad I didn’t live back then. I appreciate what I have now.”