The Salons of Bodie

During our trip to the Inyo Canyon area, we got truly lucky.  Not just because of the weather (which I need to write about in a later post), but because we got to see many places that are usually closed this time of the year due to heavy snow conditions. Bodie State Park is one such. I have only visited the Inyo canyons twice so far and both times, they woke the spiritual in me. Maybe it was the sheer magnificence of nature in the area, I don’t know. Spiritual Mysticism or Spiritual Naturalism

Bodie State Park is a ghost town. A bustling, mining town a century ago, there are no more than a few hundred shacks left in a dilapidated condition in the town now. If ever one needs a humbling lesson in the ephemeral nature of our existence, the bristlecone pine forest and Bodie ghost town have it covered between themselves.

As I peered into the dust covered windows of the various buildings, a dozen observations flitted through my mind.

The apothecary seems to have catered to similar problems judging by the bottles still on display there. There was a house with dusty furnishings – a rattled bath-tub, an old kitchen. A picture on the wall said, ‘Nothing endures but change’. The school house with a steeple on its roof looked remarkably like schools do today: with wooden chairs and desks all facing the teacher up in the front. Some things don’t change even in a century, I mused.

As we meandered up and down the ghost town, we stopped to listen to the park ranger. He was giving details of life in the town at the height of its glory, and we stood there enthralled, each of us contorting a story and an image of life in those times in our head.

Bodie was a town of maybe 8,000 or 10,000 people, and they seemed to have had quite a good life. Traveling caravans had theatrical performances here, fresh octopus and seafood supplies arrived regularly from San Francisco on iced wagons. People from nearby hills trudged up to this town for a day out or for market supplies. It certainly sounded like a bustling, happening place and looking at the town in the present age was a disconcerting sensation. Hundred or two hundred years from now, would people be taking a cruise out to where we live, and saying that this used to be a bustling place too? Given the current rate of global warming, it is a very plausible scenario.

Standing there in the town with the vastness of the Sierra Nevadas engulfing us on all sides, it seemed surreal to imagine that this very place was witness to human drama, tragedy, hope, love affairs and scandals. There was family life, culture, entertainment, education, sickness and health here. One could imagine the barber’s son eloping with the mine owners daughter or some such thing. As if the ranger had read my thoughts he said pointing down the hill to the right – this part of town had 50-60 salons too.

My mind buzzed and I asked him – “Really for a town of 10,000 people, they needed 50-60 salons? They must have been a pretty well groomed lot. And everyone had to trudge down to one part of town too.“

The ranger gave me a quizzical look, and thought of saying something but decided to let it go. “Beyond that, were the jails – you know so that area was not very respectable back in the day.”

My! I thought, not only did people have to cut across town to get a haircut, but also scout near the jails? Assuming 50% of the population were males, that is approximately 1 salon for every 100 males, and considering they probably needed a haircut once a month …. I could imagine the mothers giving out the money to the little fellows with dire warnings as to what happens if they strayed near the jails, and how they were to get a hair cut and head straight back home.

I don’t know whether pedicures and manicures were popular during the day for the women or whether their hair styles were demanding ones or simple ones.


What about pet grooming salons? Did folks a century ago groom their pets as dearly as they do today?

It struck me how keenly these authors of historical fiction have to think. For instance, were there razors and portable blades 100 years ago, or did people have to go to the salon for everything?

I mentioned these profound revelations to the husband and he gave me a look similar to the one the ranger had given and said with a smile playing at the tip of lips, “You realize that by salon, he did not mean hair cutting salons like today, right?”

“What do you mean? Oh! “ I said my eyes widening and the husband laughed.

“Oh! You are naive!”, he said laughing, “Why else would they be clustered together like that?”

Looking around at the ghost town around me, suddenly made me realize that half the world’s cares, worries and problems were just as man-made a century ago as they are today. Some things at least don’t change.

2 thoughts on “The Salons of Bodie”

  1. I had to look it up. Salon as in a ‘gathering’?? Gosh I have to drive that side again, our trip through 395 cancelled. May be next summer.
    Weather was good? No chains needed?

    1. Hi SK, A post coming up on getting caught in a snow storm – but it was on the way back towards the tail end of our trip. Apparently, saloon meaning bars – rough side of town that also had shady places, bar room brawls, all the vices and violence that the Western movies had!

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