Bagdad Cemetery: Upon A Desert Driest

 

 

“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 Telegrapher, Peoria, Illinois, 1 Nov 1890.

 

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.

 

 

Mohave County Miner.  Mineral Park, Arizona.  23 June 1903.

 

The Salt Lake Mining Review, 15 Nov 1903.

 

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.

 

 

Bagdad, California.

 

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.

 

 

The Automobile Club of Southern California map of 1913.

 

The San Bernardino County Sun, 11 Nov 1913

The Bagdad sign in 2016, before it disappeared yet again at the hands of another thief.

 

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 Press Courier, Oxnard, California, 18 July 1925.

 

“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)

 

 

March 1943. “Bagdad, California. Going through the station on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad between Needles and Barstow.” Both the depot and the tenacious palm trees are but memories on the arid wind. Photo courtesy: Jack Delano. 

 

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.

 

Bagdad Cemetery, 2015.

 

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.

 

 

The two passengers killed in the train wreck were B.M. Cram and Charles W. Belden. Unfortunately, they could not be replaced as easily as luggage. Los Angeles Times, 14 June 1914.

 

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 Cemetery, 2015.

 

“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.

 

Photographs, courtesy of CALTRANS

 

The one and the only original Bagdad Cafe. Photo Courtesy: Steve Rider

 

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.

 

 

Photo Courtesy: Eastern California Museum, Independence, California. 

 

Bagdad also has the dubious pleasure of hosting a US Weather Bureau meteorological station on-site.  Remember that drought record?

 

Current Weather in Fahrenheit or Celsius for Bagdad, CA:  https://www.theweathernetwork.com/us/weather/california/bagdad

 

The Bagdad sign has been stolen repeatedly. Hopefully its latest incarnation will remain unmolested. Bagdad, California, July 2017.

.

 

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. 

 

To view our You Tube tribute to Roland at Bagdad Cemetery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xcDXuhOGGw&feature=youtu.be

Directions: 

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!

 

Roland’s hard work is evident. God bless the unsung heroes.

 

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.

 

Citations:

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.

http://theroute-66.com/bagdad.html

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-01-31/news/mn-422_1_bagdad-cafe

 

 

Jaylyn

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comments
  • Ever been to Rhyolite, Beatty, Amargosa Valley, Silver City, Goldfield, or Tonapah, NV? Explored Death Valley?

    • Howdy Angie. Yes, we’ve been to most of the places you mentioned plus lots more but just haven’t got around to writing the articles yet. Meanwhile, you may enjoy reading our piece about Ballarat in Death Valley. We have a search box on the site for anything in particular we covered you may be looking for. Thanks for your question.

  • William H Hartzler III

    February 9, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    Hello,

    I just ran across your article on Bagdad, and I must say it is very interesting. To get to the point, my grandparents, William and Willys Hartzler once owned the original Bagdad café/motel, gas station and garage. Grampa was known as “Slim” Hartzler, and he ran the garage whilst Gramma ran the store, café and motel. I’m pretty sure they had the place between 1962 and 1967. I have a picture of myself as an infant, with my dad and Grampa, sitting in the café. That picture was no doubt taken in 1964. I also have another picture of the front of the garage, where I can see Grampa talking to a customer, and I think my aunt Maggie is standing in the doorway talking to my older sister, who looks to be about 4. that would have been in 1966. Unfortunately I was much too young to remember Bagdad, but the memories lived on for years before Grampa and Gramma passed. My uncle Don still tells stories of the happenings there. I just thought I would share and say “thank you” for your article.
    Sincerely,
    William H Hartzler III

    • Hello William! How fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing your memories. We would love to talk with you more about Bagdad. Please call us at 760-987-0331. Thank you! Thanks so much!!

  • Rest in peace Roland.

  • Another place I visited because I wanted to see the REAL Bagdad cafe location. Roland truly was a guardian angel for that place.
    I’m assuming he’s the one that kept replacing the Bagdad signs and now ……

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