Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Boom to Bust, 19th Century Style

We had ample time to contemplate the current economic crisis over the weekend, which was spent in Mokelumne Hill CA (affectionately called Moke Hill.) It's in California's Gold Country, a couple of hours northeast of the Bay Area, so about a hundred and fifty years ago, Moke Hill was suffering an economic hangover of its own. But it's held on, and a friend had rented outed the town's one hotel, the Hotel Leger, for a funky 40th birthday celebration for her husband.

First thing we figured out was that there's not a lot to do in Moke Hill besides hang out at the saloon or pool of the Hotel Leger. The town, which sprang up in the 1850s along with the discovery of gold in the area, was once so bustling that it was the county seat for Calaveras County (made famous in Mark Twain's story.) The picture, above, was taken in 1900, and that building is the hotel in which we stayed. The town has a great historical society and web site, source of all I now know about Moke Hill's history, including this snippet on Asians in Calaveras County.

Nowadays, Moke Hill is about one block long and as we stood on the balcony with our birthday beers on Saturday night and peered up and down the street we noticed two signs on every building: one, giving the year it was built and a bit of history, and two, a "For Sale" sign. We resolved to spend some money in the local establishments before we left and now I can tell you there's a good corn nut sale going on at Moke Hill Nuts, if anyone's got a hankering. And Frank's Diner makes the best cowboy biscuits this side of the old Hub Cafe.

The hotel itself was a great place for a party, but not for the faint of heart - aside from the Victorian period furnishings that had my 6'1" husband's feet hanging off the end of the bed, the place is also furnished with ghosts. We were booked in Room 7 which supposedly is haunted by George Leger himself; I took one look at the dark brown wallpaper and yellow light streaming through the window and begged them to change us to a ghost-free room, thanks. But the manager on duty said there's a failsafe way to avoid the spectral disturbance: "Just tell them. Say, 'I'm not interested in seeing you'," she counseled. "I do that and I've never seen them, but lots of my staff have."

So I was the lady running back and forth to the room for beach towels and cameras muttering "I don't need to see you!" if you passed me in the hall.

The people at the hotel and in the town were friendly and welcoming, and after buying beers all night at the saloon for our party and for the peppy SoCal bachelorette party that stopped by, my bar bill was $24.

The pool was great (if bracing) and there are rivers nearby for tubing; Calaveros Big Trees State Park is supposed to have good hiking, and Jackson has antiques and such. So I'm contemplating a visit back to Moke Hill with the kids in tow, and maybe some Mark Twain short stories to read in the car on the way there. And some holy water and garlic.

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