July 03, 2014

Photo Essay: The Unseen Buried at Pioneer Cemetery (Updated for 2019)

[Last Updated 8/9/19 9:13 PM PT]

KCET ran a story about Pioneer Cemetery in Sylmar that's better than I could've written on my own.

After all, I visited Pioneer back in April, and I hadn't figured out what to say about it.

Maybe it's because there isn't much actually to see at the San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery...

...which is managed by the San Fernando Valley Historical Society.

The second-oldest cemetery in the San Fernando Valley, it's landmarked both at the state and city level, but what appears unremarkable about these four acres – its emptiness – is its astounding characteristic. You can't see where most of its interred are buried.

Founded in the 1870s as Morningside Cemetery, the last person was buried there in 1939, after which it was abandoned. There have been at least 750 graves there (including victims of the St. Francis Dam Disaster) [Ed: although SFVHS says that recent ground-penetrating radar studies revealed only 204 of them]. Of those, there are only 15 markers, and 30 bases of markers that have been vandalized, stolen, or otherwise removed.

Although some of the lost headstones have been returned (including that of the family of Civil War veteran Joseph Ansley)...

...the wide, open patches of unmarked land may be clear above ground...

...but you can't step anywhere without hitting somebody's grave.

You just may not know it.

During my first visit, I initially thought there just wasn't anything there.

I was gravely mistaken.

Like at Grand View, it's the unseen that's the most haunting.

Update 8/9/19: A recent research project has revealed 529 burials at Pioneer Cemetery, based on their death certificates. You can see their names and memorials here.

Further Reading:
What Lies Beneath: The Many Mysteries of Pioneer Cemetery (KCET)

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Verdugo Hills Cemetery – Deteriorated, Vandalized, and Washed Away
Photo Essay: Grand View Memorial Park – Closed to Public, Neglected, and For Sale
Photo Essay: Savannah Memorial Park Pioneer Cemetery, Memorial Day

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