This adventurous property owner spent lockdown snowed in at a California ghost town! For offbeat American entrepreneur Brett Underwood, avoiding Coronavirus reached a whole other level.
Reports came in that a snowstorm had cut him off in the old mining town of Cerro Gordo.
“I came up here looking for an adventure and I found that” he told The Insider. Underwood and pal Jon Bier snapped up the location for a cool $1.4 million in 2018.
Cool became freezing in March, when Underwood agreed to look after the place for a while. On site caretaker Robert Louis Desmarais wanted to attend to matters at home following the Coivd-19 outbreak, so the owner stepped in.
There was something else he stepped in however… several feet of snow. A multi-day storm laid down several blankets of the white stuff, meaning Underwood was up close and personal with his historic acquisition like never before.
Translating as “Fat Hill”, Cerro Gordo was a silver mining hub for Los Angeles from 1865 onwards. One Pablo Flores discovered the first glimmers of precious metal amongst the Inyo Mountains, after which the town flourished for decades, becoming host to the state’s most prosperous silver mine.
Later digging up zinc, it finally lost its lustre approx a century ago and the town was abandoned to the elements. Covid-19 isn’t the first pandemic that Cerro Gordo has dealt with. It witnessed the devastating effect of Spanish influenza on the world between 1918 – 20.
22 buildings stand on the 360 acre site. And these structures would be Underwood’s only company during the weeks he spent in this Winter Wonderland-turned-Alcatraz. There was limited internet access, but nothing beats face to face human contact.
Resident crows Heckle and Jekyll probably didn’t have the same effect. The nearest community is miles away – if a crisis occurred, a pick up point would be halfway there, and he’d need to reach it on foot.
As a caretaker trapped in the snow, parallels with Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ weren’t lost on the hardy Underwood. He had a tape of the movie lying around, though wisely decided not to stick it on!
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The General Store at Cerro Gordo. Victor Beaudry opened the first general store in Cerro Gordo in 1866. It had a store in the front and a butcher in the back. We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning out and arranging the front and now the back serves as a museum for anything found on the property. We’ve found pocket watches, helmets, dynamite boxes, dynamite (left in the mines), and much more. Hope you all can check it all out one day!
King’s central character Jack Torrance was surrounded by ghosts. For Underwood, he appeared to have a similar issue. Cerro Gordo carries many echoes from the past, some of them no doubt from gunshots. “At one point, the town averaged around a murder a week,” wrote The Insider, “and miners used to put sandbags in their bunks to stop stray bullets during the night.”
In 2018 the New York Times covered the sale of “Fat Hill”, making reference to “a single saloon with swinging doors, two out-of-tune pianos and a mysterious bloodstain on the wall beneath three bullet holes.” If this was a Western movie it would be directed by George A Romero rather than John Ford. Underwood reported seeing the lights go on inside locked buildings. Plus some light-fingered spook regularly relocated his wallet while his back was turned.
He couldn’t even get away from the paranormal vibes at home. Underwood based himself at the Belshaw House, built in 1871 and previously occupied by eminent local smelter Mortimer Belshaw. 30 souls reportedly perished in the tunnels beneath the house. The property was featured on ‘Ghost Adventures’ and is somewhat jitters-inducing.
The TV team believed the ghosts of 2 children were at large in Cerro Gordo, restlessly roaming the town after dying inside a closet. A horror of a different sort lurked for Underwood in the shape of no running water.
The impromptu relief caretaker, in his early thirties, was freaked out but philosophical. “For the most part, I leave the ghosts alone and they leave me alone” he said, quoted by the New York Post. “I try to respect their space.”
Streaming services were out due to a weak connection, though ultimately Underwood welcomed the lack of Netflix et al. Speaking to The Insider he revealed, “I’m all right with that. It kind of makes me slow down a little bit, which I think is important in times like this.”
Amongst the ice and the eerie atmosphere, the entrepreneur – who also runs a backpacker’s hostel – found plenty of time to reflect. Quoted by the Post, he said, “When I do look at the news and I see how chaotic and terrible things are, there’s a part of me that isn’t in a huge rush to reenter the world.”
The New York Times wrote about Underwood’s plans for the town. These included “creating a music studio within the bunkhouse for musicians and building an observation deck in the town”.
Recent developments have put certain priorities on hold. The period of isolation has inspired Underwood to focus on other activities, such as astrophotography and animal tracking. He believes a giant print he found in the snow could belong to Bigfoot!
In late June, Underwood tweeted that the “Power is out at Cerro Gordo because lightning downed a power line in hail storm. Last 3 days we’ve had earthquakes. Then the fire last week.” The drama just keeps on coming. He has a sense of humor though, adding: “You know in Truman Show where he gets near edge of bubble to leave and they make weather crazy to keep him in? That’s what it feels like.”
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It took one man, Pablo Flores, to put Cerro Gordo on the map in the 19th century. Now a single individual is battling the elements to keep the town over 150 years later…