April 27, 2016

Photo Essay: A Fake Cemetery (with Real Headstones)

Update: As of 2/16/19, the fake cemetery was still there...

Most really old cemeteries in Southern California are off the beaten path—because the roads have been re-routed or the towns have been vacated or they generally just creep people out.

So imagine the surprise of stumbling upon a cemetery with historic headstones right off the Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, just north of LA.

Especially if you're from the area and you don't quite remember those headstones being there before.

If you're not an Acton local, the cemetery at Sierra Highway and Red Rover Mine Road is still a bit odd...

...its grave markers nestled into the brush...

...arranged somewhat haphazardly...

...and spaced out with a lot of room between them, compared to the local pioneer cemeteries of the same era.

It was so strange that it attracted the attention of local media, who asked the property owner, Dale Bybee, if it was real.

"Yeah, they're all real stones," he said. And he wasn't lying.

But he fibbed about where they came from.

He said they'd been in this spot for "a while" (still not exactly a lie) and that he'd uncovered them when he'd recently been clearing some brush.

That would be some story if it were true, but it's not.

The headstones may be real, but the cemetery is a fake.

There are no bodies buried here (that anyone knows of).

This plot of land hasn't been consecrated.

It isn't holy, but it is valuable—not only to its owner, but also as it's adjacent to the "high speed rail" line that's being routed from LA to San Francisco, right through the Antelope Valley.

Whether you call this pop-up cemetery a stunt or a protest, either way it drew attention to the matter.

And, it gave a home to a bunch of tombstones that had been displaced from an abandoned cemetery in the San Gabriel Valley in the 1950s...

...and had been sitting in the backyard of the Whittier Historical Society.

Screenshot: Google Satellite View 

In the days before modern technology, Bybee might have gotten away with his fake cemetery. His land is zoned for agriculture, which would've allowed burials on site.

Screenshot: Google Street View (May 2015)

But thanks to Google Satellite View and Street View, there's a public visual record of the property dating back to 2007 that shows no brush overgrowth and no headstones.

To me, it's art. It has the feeling of Stonehenge or yarn-bombing or street murals—something that just appears one day, without anyone taking credit.

When it comes down to it, though, it's just a bunch of headstones clustered on an empty lot. If Bybee had buried some bodies there, now that would've really been something.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Fake Iraq in the Middle of the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: Robber's Roost Ranch Fake Ghost Town

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