The mysterious fire in a ghost town
Cerro Gordo, in California, was a mining town with a bloody past, one that does not forgive.
When the well-known LA Times journalist Louis Sahagun walked up to Cerro Gordo in the Inyo Mountains in California, he found Brent Underwood looking at the pile of wood sticks and ashes that was once the American Hotel.
Underwood and his partners bought the ghost mining town two years ago with the intention of restoring it. They knew of its bloody past, the terrible legend that hung over it as the home of Billy Crapo, a famous murderer, and a place where some 30 miners who had emigrated from China were buried in the 19th century. Buried, Sahagun recalled, in a pit. Because of this and other disasters, rumors began to spread that the town located 8,500 feet above the Owens Valley was haunted by ghosts.
Underwood loved the idea of urbanites and ghosts living side by side in time. He planned to turn Cerro Gordo into a tourist attraction with cabins so one could feel like a real gold digger and gourmet restaurants. But last week's fire, a combustion so mysterious that nobody could explain, made him seriously ponder whether it was a fluke or whether there was a dark and possibly stark hand lighting the fuse.
In the early hours of Monday morning, Brent Underwood woke up from a nightmare: It was 3 a.m., the flames were devouring the mining facilities, and as they hovered around the historic hotel, he heard the explosions of the propane tanks.
"The American Hotel opened its doors on June 15, 1871, and has burned down 149 years later, on June 15, 2020," Underwood told the reporter, the smell of scorched wood filling his nose.
A terrible irony or perhaps something more mysterious, since the Fire Department, Sahagun said, is still investigating the incident without having found the cause.
"All I could do was call 911," lamented the owner. "And then with the help of a caretaker, I used buckets to desperately throw water from the storage tanks into the flames."
However, by the time the firefighters managed to put out the fire, three structures including the old hotel had been reduced to ashes.
"We may never know exactly what started it," Underwood added, gazing at the charred ruins.
Since its foundation, this town dedicated to silver mining was a place surrounded by violence and extreme harshness. There, 500 people lived, mostly miners who slept on cots surrounded by sacks to protect themselves from the crossfire of bullets that whistled at all hours.
"In its heyday, there was one murder a week," writes Louis Sahagun. But, in addition, one of the houses that was destroyed by the fire had belonged, according to the journalist, to a man named William Crapo, who shot a postmaster while walking along a dirt road surrounding the hotel.
"The janitor here told me that he and another person saw a shadowy apparition moving in the hotel kitchen at 4 p.m. the day before," Underwood said, suggesting that the cause may have been paranormal.
A hypothesis based on the alleged apparitions that are part of the myth of the place. A town with very bad "karma," a place that had death as a companion and where even one of the episodes of the show Ghost Adventures, investigating the deaths of two children was filmed last year.
Just as the non-profit organization seeking to rebuild the town, Friends of Cerro Gordo, had just begun to raise the money needed for its restoration, the destruction of the American Hotel is unsolvable.
The spirits of the Far West seem not to want the old places of death to come back to life.