Here’s a double dose of American nostalgia for you. Back in the 1950s, Maxwell House coffee had an “American Scene” series of TV shorts. This episode takes us to the ghost town of Bodie, California.
Gold was discovered in Bodie in 1859 and soon it became a boomtown with more than a dozen large mines and countless smaller claims. Some $80 million in gold was extracted from the surrounding hills, a huge amount for the 19th century.
Bodie is a popular destination these days and is lovingly preserved by the California State Parks. Back when Maxwell House filmed there, it was still not quite a ghost town. It had a population of nine, and one rugged miner was still looking for a big strike. The few diehards hoped that Bodie would become a boomtown once again. It was not to be.
So sit back and enjoy this show from the early days of television, talking about the early days of the Old West.
The old America is all around us. Americans used to be farmers. They used to go to drive-in movies. They used to think Route 66 was the greatest highway in the world. Some still do.
If you drive out of the city and leave the strip malls and cookie-cutter suburban homes behind, you’ll find it soon enough. Head down a county road and you’ll pass dilapidated farmhouses and overgrown gardens, the handiwork of people from our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation. Like this old farm in Clay County, Missouri, near the Jesse James farm. I was with a couple of friends on a Jesse James road trip and we drove many of the back roads of western Missouri, places where Jesse committed his crimes and hid out from the law.
Everywhere we went we found this old Americana. On the outskirts of Kansas City we found a drive-in movie theater unchanged since the 1960s, and still open for half the year. To the west of Lexington we followed a potholed country road that led to a tributary of the Missouri River. Half a century ago there was a ferry at the end, popular enough that this road was lined with gas stations, hotels, and nice homes. The ferry disappeared when I-70 was built, and one by one the homes and businesses were abandoned.
Then there’s route 66, half ghost highway and half tourist trap. And old boom-and-bust mining towns like Bodie, California, now a State Historic Park. Not to mention all the failed businesses, the empty big box stores and bankrupt shopping malls that are creating the new ghost towns of the U.S. Much of industrial Detroit looks like an archaeological site.
Next time you go on a road trip in the U.S., get off the Interstate and take a county road. drive slow and look around. You’ll find the old America that hasn’t quite left us.