“The Bagdad Cafe in Newberry Springs, California, has no connection whatever with Bagdad or the original Bagdad Cafe and the two should not be connected in the mind of anyone seriously interested in history. The movie Bagdad Cafe was filmed at the Sidewinder Cafe in Newberry Springs on old Route 66. After the movie was made the name just stuck so the Sidewinder adopted the new name. It has been called that ever since. Nothing remains of the original Bagdad Cafe in Bagdad.”
~Joe De Kehoe
The Silence and The Sun
Bagdad is a ghost town on Route 66, west of Amboy and east of Ludlow, California. Situated in the middle of the desert, Bagdad is 75 miles southeast of Barstow in a long valley between the Bristol and Bullion mountains.
The main wagon trail into California used in the late 1800s crossed the Mojave to the north of what is now Bagdad, along the Mojave Trail.
The Railroad built a stop and named it Bagdad in 1883. It was a coaling and watering place for the steam locomotives which had to replenish water quite frequently. Water was brought in 20 tank cars every day from Newberry Springs as the water in Bagdad’s wells was briny.
The post office opened in 1889 and two roads were built to link it with the gold mine at Orange Blossom and the silver and lead mines to the south. The ore was shipped out by railcars.
The 1900s saw Bagdad grow into a village with a Harvey House hotel at the station and a post office.
The Automobile Club of Southern California map of 1912 shows Bagdad, but it is merely marked as a station 7 miles west of Amboy followed by “numerous cross washes” until Siberia located 8 miles further west. The following year’s map showed more detail.
Bagdad has always been one of the driest places in the United States. It recorded the longest period of drought anywhere in the history of the country from July, 1912, to November, 1914:
767 consecutive days without precipitation.
“The few old buildings that escaped destruction by fire in 1918 are threatened by fierce desert winds, as a huge oil tank with its sides blown in attests. Except for one other spot, Bagdad has less rain than any other place in or near the Mojave Desert a mean annual average of but 2.3 inches; in four out of 20 years it has had no rainfall at all.”
~WPA American Guide Series, 1939
(Works Progress Administration reference guide)
Bagdad Cemetery lies north of the tracks near the former site of the railroad depot. There are 17 graves, 10 of which have badly weathered wooden crosses or the remains of wooden markers with no information.
The cemetery has a perimeter fence of wooden stakes with a single strand of barbed wire.
“Some of the graves are simply rings of stones or mounds of dirt. All the graves look to be very old.”
~Joe De Kehoe
In 2007, one grave, possibly two, looked to have been excavated by grave robbers. For the ensuing years since, an unsung hero by the name of “Roland” tenderly maintains the cemetery and has brought it back to pristine condition. Many thanks to Roland for keeping it immaculate.
One unconfirmed report commented that the people buried in Bagdad are mostly Chinese Railroad workers who succumbed to a cholera epidemic in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Another option is that they were the victims of the June 20, 1914 Bagdad train wreck, that killed two passengers and injured eight when the east-bound California Limited train crashed into an open switch, demolishing two cars.
More tragedy occurred. There is no monument marker for the crew of the USAAF Beechcraft AT-7, serial number 41-21052, crashed. The flight had originated from Mather Field near Sacramento, California and was to end in Tuscon, Arizona.
On April 9, 1942, at 8:40 p.m., the AT-7 crashed as it attempted to land at the Bagdad Auxiliary Airfield located just south of Route 66. All five aviators aboard died.
Since no landing was scheduled, the Army board of inquiry could not determine the cause of the accident other than pilot disorientation.
The truth about who lies in eternal rest in Bagdad Cemetery may never be known because the burial records for Bagdad were lost in a fire.
“At one time, Bagdad was a roaring mining center. Between 1875 and 1910 the mountains of the Mojave were extensively exploited for their deposits of copper, silver, borax, gold, and other minerals.”
~Jack D. Rittenhouse, 1946
“Bagdad was a lively little place. People from all over the desert would come here because of the Bagdad Cafe, owned and operated by a woman named Alice Lawrence. The Bagdad Cafe was the only place for miles around with a dance floor and juke box. The Bagdad Cafe was a happy-go-lucky, popular spot.”
Paul Limon, Cadiz resident.
Bagdad was bypassed in 1972 when Interstate 40 opened 20 miles to the north and the two-lane stretch of Route 66 through here became a deserted, seldom-used road. Bagdad’s last buildings were eventually bulldozed into oblivion.
Bagdad also has the dubious pleasure of hosting a US Weather Bureau meteorological station on-site. Remember that drought record?
Sadly, we have been recently made aware that Roland unexpectedly passed away. We will miss you, our friend, but we promise your legacy will carry on.
Go to Old Route 66 from Interstate 40, then drive 20 miles south. Bagdad is 75 miles SE of Barstow and 20 miles west of Cadiz. A lone Salt Cedar Tree circled with stones at its base marks the turn-out. Thank you, Roland!
There are no signs or historic markers for Bagdad on Route 66. This portion of Route 66 has been recently resurfaced. The cemetery is located on the north side of the train tracks. N 1/2 SEC 30, T6N, R11, San Bernardino Meridian. Latitude: 3458277704/ 34 degrees 34′ 58″ N Longitude: 155.8755563/ 115 degrees 52′ 32′ W.
The Silence and The Sun by Joe De Kehoe, Trails End Publishing Co. 2007.
A Guidebook to Highway 66 by Jack D. Rittenhouse, University of New Mexico Press, 1946.
Historic Aircraft Wrecks of San Bernardino County by G. Pat Macha, The History Press, 2013.