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Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery from “Twin Peaks”

Oct 20th, 2011 | By | Category: TV Locations

As I mentioned in my post last month about The Old Place restaurant, thanks to fellow stalker/David-Lynch-aficionado Brad, from the Brad D Studios website, I recently discovered that fave television series Twin Peaks was shot almost in its entirety in Southern California.  Because I have long been a Twin Peaks fanatic, I was beyond eager to start stalking the many locations mentioned on Brad’s blog – the most exciting of which was Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery, the site of the funeral of Laura Palmer (aka Sheryl Lee) in the Season 1 episode titled “Rest in Pain”.  Surprisingly, even though Sierra Madre is located just a few miles east of Pasadena and even though the cemetery has been featured in several spooky productions over the years, until perusing through Brad’s site in early September, I had never before even heard of it!  So, because the place fit in perfectly with my Haunted Hollywood theme, I waited to drag the Grim Cheaper out there until this past weekend.

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Pioneer Cemetery was originally established in 1881 by Sierra Madre’s founding father, Nathanial Coburn Carter, who, that same year, purchased a 1,103-acre plot of land from Santa-Anita-Park-racetrack-founder Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin.  Carter set aside 2.32 of those 1,103 acres to build a cemetery and the first burial, of one of Carter’s servants, took place just a year later in 1882. Today, Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery is the final resting place of over 1,700 souls, including Carter and his family, as well as numerous veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

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I cannot tell you how absolutely amazing it was to wander the grounds of the place and see tombstones dating all the way back to the 1880s, some so old that the inscriptions had simply worn off.  And while I realize that “charming” might be an odd word to describe a graveyard, that is exactly what Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery is.  It is an extremely small and quiet space, with cherry blossom, sycamore, oak, and palm trees dotting the landscape, as well as several stone benches on which one can sit and reflect.

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In the “Rest in Pain” episode of Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer’s friends and family gather at Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery to lay the slain teenager to rest.  This being Twin Peaks, weirdness, of course, ensues – one of the mourners has a Tourette’s moment and starts screaming out “Amen”, Laura’s father, Leland Palmer (aka Ray Wise), jumps on her coffin as it is being lowered into the ground, and a fist-fight even breaks out.  Yes, at a funeral!

Laura Palmer's funeral location

Laura Palmer’s funeral was held in the northwest section of Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery, in the area denoted with a pink “X” above.

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Her funeral location is pictured above.

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The crooked tombstone that was visible in the background of the scene is, I am fairly certain, the same tombstone that is circled in the above photograph.  In real life, it reads “Fannie J. Garey”.

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The tree in front of which James Hurley (aka James Marshall) stood during the funeral is located just east of Laura’s burial site.

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In real life, James’ tree is located behind a large gravestone that reads “Gibson P. Kelly” and next to a gravestone that reads “Zola M. Croman”.

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A view of tree from the funeral site is pictured above.

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And I, of course, just had to pose like James while there.  That’s my brooding face above.  Winking smile

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Amazingly, Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, 1976’s Family Plot, in the scene in which George Lumley (aka Bruce Dern) heads to the supposed “Barlow Creek Cemetery” to look for a missing person whom he has been hired to find.  According to a fabulous Sierra Madre Patch article, before filming began, production designer Henry Bumstead, who was a San Marino resident and often used nearby locations in his movies, had the Pioneer caretakers cease weeding the property so that it would appear to be unkempt and dilapidated.  The shoot also happened to take place on two particularly gloomy L.A. days, which only added to the macabre atmosphere.  And cinematographer Leonard South lit the set without using any artificial lighting to further add to the dismal effect.

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The caretaker’s shack which appeared in the scene has since been replaced with a more modern-looking structure.

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Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery also shows up once again towards the end of Family Plot, in the scene in which Joseph P. Maloney (aka Ed Lauter) is buried.

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For that scene, Hitch brought in a thirty-foot scaffold so that he could shoot the chase sequence between George and Mrs. Maloney (aka Katherine Helmond) from above.

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And Mike, from MovieShotsLA, let me know that Pioneer Cemetery was also used in the 1978 horror flick Halloween, in the scene in which Michael Meyer’s psychiatrist, Sam Loomis (aka Donald Pleasence), discovers that Judith Meyer’s headstone, which is supposed to be located in Row 18, Plot 20, is missing.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about the Strode residence, Halloween director John Carpenter is a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan, so I do not believe it was a coincidence that he chose to film a scene at the very same cemetery where the Master of Suspense once filmed.

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In the Halloween scene, Dr. Loomis enters the graveyard and parks his car near what is actually Pioneer Cemetery’s exit, on the southeastern side of the property.  Amazingly enough, that area still looks almost exactly the same today as it did back in 1978 when the movie was filmed, minus a large tree, which as you can see above, has since been removed.

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But the three tombstones that Dr. Loomis parked next to still look exactly the same as they did three decades ago.

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The area where Judith Meyers’ headstone was located is directly behind James’ tree from Twin Peaks and in front of a large tombstone which reads “Sinclair”.

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Ironically enough, the back of the Sinclair tombstone can be seen behind James during Laura Palmer’s funeral scene.

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On a Twin Peaks side note – I had the amazing good fortune to run into Special Agent Dale Cooper himself, Kyle MacLachlan, at the Emmy Awards last month.  Kyle could NOT have been nicer and not only agreed to pose for a picture, but also chatted briefly with me about Twin Peaks and how much he loved being a part of it.  For this stalker, who had answered “Special Agent Dale Cooper” when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as an Eighth Grade yearbook quote, this was a particularly special moment.

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Big THANK YOU to Brad, from Brad D Studios, for telling me about this location!  Smile

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Pioneer Cemetery

Stalk It: Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery, from the “Rest in Pain” episode of Twin Peaks, is located at 553 East Sierra Madre Boulevard in Sierra Madre.  Laura Palmer’s funeral was held in the area marked with a pink “X” in the above aerial view.  James Hurley’s tree is located behind a large gravestone which reads “Gibson P. Kelly” and directly next to a gravestone which reads “Zola M. Croman”.  In Halloween, Dr. Loomis and the caretaker enter the cemetery in the area marked with a blue arrow above.  The spot where Dr. Loomis parks his car is denoted with a blue oval and Judith Meyer’s gravesite is located just west of a large headstone that is marked “Sinclair”.

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4 comments

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  1. Zap Rowsdower says:

    The cemetery scene of the movie Testament(1983) was also filmed at Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery.

  2. PIERRE FASSIE says:

    Some of the final scenes of “The Equinox a Journey into the Supernatural” directed in 1965-1967 by Dennis Muren and Jack Woods, were shot by the tall stone cross of the “Hawks” burial site. This independent horror film was made by very young amateurs. It was then distributed by Tonylyn Productions, a small company that released it in 1970 with additional footage to make it into a feature-length movie under the title “Equinox.” Both versions are presently available in a Criterion Collection (#338) 2-disc album. Both the original and the lengthened versions are on the 1st dvd. They are now cult classics. Dennis Muren went on to become a very well known special effects artist. He worked on work on the films of Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and George Lucas.
    The commentary of the original version, “Equinox,” identifies the “Sierra Madre Graveyard” as the location, and explains why the “Hawks” cross was used.
    The Criterion edition comes with a very informative booklet and a 2nd dvd with many extras. A Wikipedia article gives additional information on that movie.

  3. John (Bay Area) says:

    Excellent! More cemetery posts, please! I’ve always wanted to visit the Hollywood Forever Memorial Park next to Paramont Pictures based on what I’ve read about its classic headstones and all the old time Hollywood actors who are resting there. I’m sure you would find countless movies that have filmed there beyond what Seeing-Stars.com lists.

  4. Her mom says:

    I had forgotten about your yearbook quote! How funny! And in high school, you wanted to be Agent Dana Scully and/or Lt. Daniel Kaffee, remember?


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