Ghost Town Calico, California

Ghost Town Calico, California

The historic ghost town Calico, California is located partway between Yermo and Barstow, just north of the I95.

In 1875, silver was found in the Calico Mountains. A small rush started five years later when several more claims were filed for silver ore discoveries valued at $400 to $500 per ton.

Discovered in 1881, the Silver King became Calico’s most profitable mine. By 1882, many businesses had opened on the flat hill between the Odessa and Wall Street Canyons.

The name “Calico” was derived from the variety of colors found in the mountains. That same year a stamp mill was constructed to start processing the ore, and the weekly paper Calico Print began.

In 1883, borax was located in Borate, a town three miles to the east of Calico. Large numbers of miners left Calico to try their luck in Borate, and that same year a large portion of the camp was demolished by a fire.

Less than a year later more silver was found in Calico, bringing back many of the miners. With the population swelling to 2500 people, the town operated a school, churches, a literary group, two dozen saloons and many gambling establishments.

The Columbia Mill near Daggett, California

Many of the mines merged in 1884, and four years later a massive stamp mill was constructed on the bank of the Mojave River by Oro Grande Mining Company.

The mill cost $250 000, and would soon connect to the Silver King mill by the ten-mile-long Calico railroad.

The Calico Mining District evolved into one of the most lucrative mining districts in California by the late 1800’s. At its peak, Calico yielded $45 million in borax and $86 million in silver.

However, when the price of silver dropped to less than half its value in the mid-1890’s the railroad was disassembled and the town saw the end of borax mining by 1907.

The town was temporarily brought back to life by the building of a cyanide plant in 1917, although the site was abandoned again by 1935.

Knott’s Berry Farm Restoration

Walter Knott purchased the site in 1950. Knott is the owner of Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, and as a child had spent a great deal of time visiting his uncle in the mining town.

During World War I Knott had assisted in building a silver mine.

The “Calico & Odessa” short line railroad is one of the attractions Knott refurbished. It travels through the canyons and past the mines.

One-third of the town contains the original structures, and the portions that have been restored have been built to display the history of the town.

Knott generously gave the town of Calico to San Bernardino County as a donation in 1966, which now operates the site as a County Regional Park.

The town is no longer a decrepit shadow of its former glory due to the efforts by Walter Knott, although it still shows the history of the former mining site.

Historians provide walking tours of the town, and the railroad runs within the borders of the site. Visitors can explore the blacksmith’s workshop, the saloons, and a school, along with a gold panning operation.

At the silver mine, visitors can explore underground to get a true feeling of the mining town.

The site is open from 8 AM to dusk each day. For tourists who wish to stay longer, there are camping cabins, bunkhouses, and a full-service campground located in the canyons just below the town.

The prices are reasonable, both for admission and for services found within the town.

In addition to the attractions, the town is known for being haunted…

Calico Spirits

Lucy Bell King Lane is the most commonly spotted ghost. At the age of ten, Lucy relocated with her family to the town of Bismarck, which overlooked Calico.

Lucy would slide down the hill to Calico to attend school, and hike up again at the end of the day.

She married John Robert Lane when she was 18, and they opened a store that sold cloth, hardware, nails, and other supplies.

In 1899, the pair left Calico. Their store had a brief brush with success before the fall of the silver market. The couple didn’t leave for long – in 1916 they returned to their former store, this time making it a home.

In 1920, they moved house to the former courthouse, which had also been a post office. John passed away in 1934, leaving Lucy to live in the house alone until her death in 1967.

Their home is now a museum dedicated to their lives, along with displays of photographs, mining equipment, and Native American items from before the mining era.

Lucy is still spotted in their former home and the couple’s store and is frequently seen walking back and forth between the two.

Often reports say she wears a full-length black lace dress, which is likely the gown she was buried in.

As well, pictures remove themselves from the walls and her favorite rocking chair rocks itself. Clerks at Lane’s General Store report hearing noises they can’t explain and movements in their peripheral vision.

Although Lucy is the most frequently seen resident of Calico, she isn’t alone. Several visitors have seen a small girl at the school house, approximately ten or eleven years old, who waves as people walk by.

There is another child who pinches visitor’s ankles, and strange red lights floating around the school.

Two British tourists had one of the most incredible visits to Calico. The pair took pictures with a woman in a period-appropriate dress at the school who described her experience as a woman named Margaret Oliver, the last teacher in Calico.

Upon arriving home, the pair found the woman did not appear in any of their photos, and there had not been any staff working at the school house at the time they had been there.

The Maggie Mine is one of the dozens of mines found in the hills around the town. Once known for generating $13 million in silver, the 1000 feet of tunnels are now open to exploration by visitors. Several paranormal experiences have been reported by tourists.

Stories of random cold spots and feeling one’s hair stand up have been shared, most commonly in the section of the mine that the Mulcahey Brothers made their home.

Some areas of the mine are not accessible to visitors, and mannequins have been placed around the mine to add to the ghostly atmosphere.

Close to this mine is Hank’s Hotel, the site where people experience feeling a tugging on their clothes and hands.

Although the hotel was once owned by an aggressive cowboy who once assaulted a tourist who sat on his fence, these incidents have been attributed to a young child who wanders along the boardwalk outside the hotel.

Tumbleweed Harris is also said to interact with visitors. The last marshal of the town has been seen on the boardwalk.

The Calico Corral is also popular with the spirits, where the sounds of a celebration are commonly heard coming from the barn.

One of the first buildings in Calico was Lil’s Saloon. Today a piano and a large crowd can often be heard coming from the building, despite the building being empty at the times the noise is heard. It is also common to hear spurs in the same area.

On the edges of the town, a woman named Esmerelda has been seen at the former theater wearing a long white dress. The building is now the R&D Fossils & Minerals Shop.

The spirits in Calico aren’t all people. A mail-carrying dog named Dorsey has been spotted near the cemetery and the Print Shop.

Postmaster Jim Stacy found Dorsey in 1883, and immediately adopted him. As well as being the Postmaster, Stacy had business interests in a mine in Bismarck.

It wasn’t long before Dorsey started carrying letters to and from Stacy’s partner in Bismarck. This gave Stacy the idea to have the dog work as a mail carrier, and for the next three years, Dorsey carried mail between the two towns.

In 1972, Kenny Rogers released an album titled The Ballad of Calico, which featured a song named “Dorsey, the Mail Carrying Dog”.

The spirits in Calico don’t seem to be malicious, so if you’re interested in haunted towns, consider visiting the ghost town of Calico, California.

2 thoughts on “Ghost Town Calico, California

  1. Hi Chris,

    I enjoy reading about historical sites whether haunted or not. You mentioned Knott’s Berry Farm. Several years back, my family and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. I didn’t know the history of that place until reading this. We lived in San Bernadino at the time.

    I enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh you’ve actually been there then Rosa? Pretty cool stuff!

      Maybe next time you go you’ll have your camera on standby…just in case anyone (or anything!) pops up!

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment with us.

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