After leaving Grapevine Station, now known as Barstow, four prospectors headed to the North East, towards what they described as a "calico-coloured" mountain. This peak, the mountain range it was in, and the town that grew beneath it, became known as Calico. These intrepid prospectors that made their way to what would become the Calico Mountains, rising within the Mojave Desert region, discovered silver.
Situated in San Bernardino County, Calico became the service town to one of the most successful silver mines in America. On April 6th, 1881, claims were made on Calico Mountain, and the Silver King Mine was established.
By 1882, the town of Calico had a post office. The post office would become known for being the only one in America with a four-legged mail carrier. Dorsey, a black-and-white Shepherd dog, delivered mail from the post office to one of the mines for three years. San Diego man John Overshiner founded the Calico Print, a weekly newspaper.
Calico soon had three hotels, general stores, a meat market, bars, brothels, restaurants, boarding houses and a literary society. A school was established by the county. Wells Fargo opened an office, and Calico had a postal and telegraph service.
With the discovery of the borate mineral colemanite, and the continued successful mining of silver, from over 500 mines, by 1890 it was said that Calico had a population of 3,500 people.
When the Silver Purchase Act was enacted, the price of silver plummeted. By 1896, the silver mines at Calico were no longer economically viable and, along with the Silver King Mine, the post office and school in the town were closed. By 1907, Calico was almost deserted, and buildings from the town were relocated to the neighbouring towns of Yermo, Barstow and Daggett.
In 1915, an attempt was made to revive Calico. It was thought that unprocessed silver from the Silver King Mine could be recovered. By the 1930s, Calico was deserted, and it remained this way until Walter Knotts purchased the town.
Walter Knotts had begun a berry farm and, later, his wife had opened a Chicken Dinner restaurant. In order to entertain guests they had started building a ghost town on the farm, finding their materials from all manner of deserted places and buildings. Knotts was familiar with Calico, as he had spent time there in his youth with an uncle that lived there. Knotts and his wife, Cordelia, had also had a homestead in Newberry Springs, and Knotts had worked on the construction of the redwood tanks for the cyanide plant.
After purchasing Calico, Knotts brought many of the original buildings to his farm. He then set about using historical photographs to reconstruct Calico and create a Ghost Town attraction. He installed a long-time employee called Calico Fred Nolan as a resident caretaker and greeter at the attraction.
In November 1962, Calico Ghost Town was registered as a Californian Historic Landmark. In November 1966, Walter Knotts gifted Calico to San Bernardino County. The park has many attractions, including mine tours, gold panning, restaurants, a railway, and many stores. Calico became the first ghost town in America to be established as a residential area in 2012, with the construction of six luxury villas only 100m from the ghost town.
Calico is indeed a ghost town, with many paranormal incidents being reported. Dorsey the mail dog, immortalised in a song called "The Ballad of Calico" by Kenny Rogers, is said to haunt the cemetery and the print shop, which was the original Calico Post Office. His shadow-like spectre is seen flitting around.
Disembodied voices, the sound of an old-time piano, and the jangle of spurs have all been reported at the Calico Corral and at Lil's Saloon. Haunting the boardwalks of Calico is its last Marshal, Tumbleweed Harris. Visitors to Calico have claimed to have seen the ghost of Harris, described as a big man with a long white beard. Reports have been made of the ghost of an angry old cowboy seen lurking near the Calico Hotel. This apparition is notorious for having punched a man. A small child is also said to haunt the town, tugging at people's clothes and hands.
The building that once housed the theatre has a female ghost called Esmeralda, while the ghostly figure of a woman, dressed all in white, has allegedly been seen walking around the outskirts of Calico. The old school is said to be haunted by a teacher, and the ghost of a small child has been known to pinch at people's legs and ankles. A shadow person has been seen on the roof of the school house, and an unexplained red light has been seen shining from within the empty school. The apparition of a girl of about eleven or twelve has also been seen smiling or waving through the window of the school house.
One of the best-known ghosts of Calico is that of long-time resident Lucy Bell King Lane. She reportedly spent nearly seventy years of her life in Calico after marrying John Robert Lane and opening a general store in Calico. When the silver prices dropped they left Calico briefly, but returned to make their old general store their home. They eventually moved into the old Courthouse and Post Office. Her husband John died in 1934, but Lucy remained in Calico until her death, aged 93, in 1967. Today, her home is a museum in Calico. Her ghost is often sighted at her old home. She is described as wearing black, like the lace outfit she was buried in. Pictures are taken off the walls at night in her old home and stacked neatly, while her rocking chair apparently rocks of its own accord. In the general store, unexplained noises are heard, and people report having caught something out the corner of their eye, only to turn and find nothing there.
I enjoyed visiting Calico. It really was what I imagined an American western town would have been like. The mine tour is interesting, and I particularly loved the small train that takes you on a little trip. Being a teacher, the schoolhouse was fascinating to see.