A gold-mining town in northeastern California that flourished during the 1870s and 1880s, Bodie has become known as one of the most extensive ghost towns of the American West. It is now a state park managed according to the preservation principle of “arrested decay” and, as such, is an unusual instance in the United States of a cultural heritage site presented through ruins. Investigations of comparable tourist venues have emphasized the role of preconditioned conceptions in shaping visitors’ reactions. Bodie offers an opportunity to consider in addition the direct effects of visual experience—the combined impression made by the geography of the site, the juxtaposition of the structures and setting, and the fragmentary furnishing of buildings—whether resulting from accidents of time or organizational decisions made at the park. Offering a minimum of written interpretation, the park is a display of fragments that creates a distinctive impression of authenticity while offering a message very different from both historical setting and the information offered to visitors. Bodie exemplifies the power of visual appearance to create meaning, whether intended or not.
The full article is available at Project Muse.
Image: View of Bodie State Historic Park, toward east, with Standard Company stamping mill in the distance (Diana Strazdes)