Weird California
Weird California - By Joe Parzanese

Pyramid Mausoleums

Map Brand Park
1601 West Mountain Street, Glendale, California 91207

Map Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
1831 W. Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90007

Map Mountain View Cemetery
5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California 94611

Map Oddfellows Cemetery
2890 S Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, California 93401

Map Santa Barbara Cemetery
901 Channel Drive, Santa Barbara, California 93108

The Dorn Pyramid in Oddfellows Cemetery, San Luis Obispo
The Dorn Pyramid in Oddfellows Cemetery, San Luis Obispo

Although the most famous pyramids in the world are in Egypt, California surprisingly has its fair share of the triangular shaped structures. But we're not talking about structures such as the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State University, but instead pyramids meant for their original intention: housing the remains of the dead.

At least eight mausoleums call California home: three in the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland alone, two in Los Angeles, and one each in Glendale, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. Each seems to have its own weirdness surrounding it.

Here is a list of the pyramids and their corresponding cemeteries in California:

Walter Pyramid
Walter Pyramid
Transamerica Pyramid
Transamerica Pyramid

Back of the Dorn Pyramid
Back of the Dorn Pyramid

Oddfellows Cemetery, San Luis Obispo

Located in the Oddfellows Cemetery in San Luis Obispo, the Dorn Pyramid is steeped in mystery. Fred Adolphus Dorn was a well-known and respected local attorney. His wife, Cora Russell Dorn gave birth to their son, Fred Adolphus Dorn Jr., sometime near May 23rd, 1905. Their son sadly died shortly after being born and Cora passed away only three days later due to complications from childbirth. So Dorn built a huge 25-foot tall pyramid as a memorial to his wife and child. He had granite quarried from Porterville shipped into San Luis Obispo, hand cut, and assembled into his monument. Because of its sheer weight, the serpentine rock beneath where it is erected is the only spot in the cemetery that could withstand its bulk. And at the time, it is estimated to have cost between $75,000 and $100,000.

The first unusual thing someone will notice, well except for the giant Pyramid looming out of San Luis Obispo's cemetery, is the marker of the mausoleum. It lists:

Those Entombed Inside the Dorn Pyramid
Those Entombed Inside the Dorn Pyramid

CORA RUSSEL DORN 7-5-1868 5-26-1905

Since the pyramid resides on land owned and cared for by whomever remains of the Dorn family today (if anyone) and there are no written records available, the exact nature of who is entombed inside remains a mystery. Is Fred Dorn Sr. inside? And if so when did he pass away? Why doesn't he have a date of death? Apparently at least Cora and Fred Jr. were cremated and placed inside. There is another grave up in Colma near San Francisco and it looks like Fred Dorn died in 1940 and is buried up in San Mateo County at the Cypress Lawn Cemetery. He is buried with his second wife.

Fred Dorn Sr. was in fact a member of the Free Masons Society, which may explain why he chose a pyramid for the form of his memorial. Additionally embedded in the pavement in front of each side of the pyramid is a symbol or quote. In the front, directly before the door is the quote "DISTVRB NOT THE SLEEP OF DEATH". Moving to the left, the symbol there is the Square and Compass Masonic symbol. At the back are the initials "NSGW" which possibly stands for the Native Sons of the Golden West, a fraternal and charitable organization founded in 1875 to promote the history of the early days of California. Strangely enough the organization has also been accused over recent decades of having a very pro white and racist perspective rumored to have claimed that God gave California to "the white people". On the last side is a three-linked chain. This is, I think, another Freemason symbol often shown with initials (F,L,T) inside each chain link although the initials are missing here. The symbol stands for friendship, love and truth.

Masonic Square and Compass
Three Chain Links

Do you dare knock on the door?
Do you dare knock on the door?

Lastly there are additional stones lying in front of the memorial which rumor has it are meant to one-day seal the monument shut once the entire Dorn family is interned within. Since they are still standing before the pyramid and the door is not sealed shut, one can only assume that more of the Dorn family is alive awaiting their final rest within the vast twenty-five foot monument.

And of course, what would a pyramid mausoleum be with out a ghost story. Just like many other graves in countless cemeteries across the nation, the Dorn Pyramid suffers from the story of the knocking grave. According to urban legend, if you visit the mausoleum on Halloween at midnight and knock exactly twelve times on the mausoleum door, you will hear a thirteenth knock from inside the monument right after your last knock. If you want to try it out, feel free, but other rumors state that security guards occasionally guard it on Halloween night as well.

Of course the weirdness in the Oddfellows Cemetery doesn't end there. Besides a large cannon as a tombstone, the cemetery also has a gate with no fence in one part of the cemetery. I believe there use to be a separated section of the cemetery, but over the years, the fence was removed and the gate was left to remember the separate section. Lastly, there is a tombstone in the shape of a couch, with seats where you can sit down on top of the deceased. The couch has been there for quite a while and the name of the resident within is hard to make out now.

Big Bill
Beth David Fence
Tombstone Loveseat

Brand Park, Glendale

The Brand Mausoleum
The Brand Mausoleum

Our next pyramid mausoleum can be found in the town of Glendale and belongs to an early pioneer of the town named Leslie Coombs Brand. Alive from 1859 to 1925, Brand made an enormous impact on the town of Glendale by organizing the local utility companies, building the first private air strip in town as well as the first electric railroad, and relocating the city center to what is now Brand Boulevard. He is called "The Father of Glendale" for his efforts in building the city. Upon his death, Brand left his entire estate to the city upon the death of his wife as long as his land was utilized as a library and park. Today his original 5000 square foot mansion has been expanded with an additional 21,000 square feet and is host to the city's wonderful library and Brand Park, a 31 acre park located at the bottom of the Verdugo Mountains.

The park has a multitude of hiking and bike trails, picnic areas, a basketball court, a baseball diamond, playgrounds, a Japanese Tea House, a historical 1888 Doctor's House, and of course the grand library itself.

Leslie Brand
Leslie Brand

Back behind the park lays the Brand Family Cemetery where the family is buried along with their dogs. To get to the cemetery, walk down the road past the Doctor's House. Keep heading off to the left. You will pass several signs that specify no pedestrian access. On your right eventually will be what appears to be a large reservoir and on your left a steep mountain wall. Be careful as garbage like trucks fly down this narrow road out to what I think is a recycling center or something. There are several blind turns, so it may be difficult for them to see you. It is a fair distance from the library to the cemetery, so it is advisable for safety to take a friend as you will end up pretty far out and in a fairly remote area. When the road splits, go left and stairs leading up to the cemetery will eventually appear on your right.

The cemetery is enclosed within a high fence and when I visited the gate was locked up tight. There might have been other entrances elsewhere within the fence but I was unable to find one and unwilling to traipse through the forest looking for weak points in the fence. However, it appears that the youth of Glendale are more than happy to find entry within as I discovered a young couple fooling around slightly to the right of the massive Brand Family Pyramid Mausoleum. (That green blob in the picture is the boy protecting the half naked girl from being exposed in my picture. It took me a few pictures before I realized they were there.) The cemetery contains at least the massive Pyramid Mausoleum, as well as a few additional graves and a stone marker (possibly another grave) in the shape of an open book. Urban legend states that at least one baby is buried in the cemetery and that on cold dark nights, you can hear it crying. Mr. Brand, his family, and their dogs are suppose to be buried there.

The cemetery is so remote that rumors of more than teenaged sex abound about the nightly affairs that supposedly take place there. Besides teenagers, gangs, cultists, and other strange things prowl the night behind Brand Park, at least according to local legend. Regardless, the area is pretty far out there and remote so it is advised that you do not go out there alone. Strangely also before I got to the cemetery in the mountainside, there was a perfectly square hole carved in the side of the mountain on the left. I sadly did not investigate the contents of the strange hole.

The Brand Library
The Brand Library

To add further to the strange rumors and legends, the library itself is rumored to be haunted by none other than the ghost of Leslie C. Brand! Apparently the ghost haunts the stairs and tower area of the library, which is off limits to visitors. Footsteps have come from the overhead room, books have fallen, and shadows have been seen on the stairs. Additionally workers in the library have heard voices on the staircase and seen people walking up the stairs who weren't there. Few staff members will go up into the tower and for example, years ago, when the custodians cleaned the library, the crew refused to clean the tower so the supervisor was forced to clean it on his own. Many of the workers have reported odd feelings, strange sensations, and seeing odd things out of the corner of their eye. A cat use to live in the library and its hair would stand on end when it entered certain older portions of the library.

The workers there seem to believe the ghost is of Mr. Brand since he passed away on the premises of the library. Apparently his picture in the library appears to look at you from time to time as well. The nearby picture of Mrs. Brand does not exhibit the same strange behavior. Does Leslie C. Brand still prowl the tower and stairs of his grand mansion? Visit the Brand Library and find out.

Santa Barbara Cemetery

Santa Barbara Cemetery is truly a beautiful cemetery. Rolling hills situated right next to the deep blue Pacific Ocean makes a wonderful place to be buried. Even President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy considered it for their final resting place, purchasing plots and even stone for their monument before a few years later changing their minds and selling the land back.

But the strangest monument in the cemetery is the Sahlberg Mausoleum. Those interred inside have no obvious connections to Santa Barbara or the surrounding area, but are instead Mexican gold hunters who had the pyramid built to house their remains.

The Sahlberg Mausoleum
The Sahlberg Mausoleum

Down in Mexico, north of Puerto Vallarta, two men, August Sahlberg and Thomas Quirk, owned the Esperanzo Gold Mine in El Oro. They purchased the lot in 1902 and began construction on the massive pyramid now there. Sahlberg died at age 34 a year before the eight crypt mausoleum was finished. His mother, who had died in 1897 was also placed inside the pyramid after it was finished. Shortly afterwards a family friend, Emma Rigby and one of Sahlberg's brothers were also placed within the pyramid filling up half of the eight spots.

The Sahlberg Mausoleum
The Sahlberg Mausoleum

Thomas Quirk passed away in 1912 and as he was interred within, his wife Nellie Quirk, their daughter and her future husband quickly claimed the last of the spots. But in 1931, Mary E. Hindry arrived with her dead husband Willis Hindry demanding that he be placed with the mausoleum. Seeing no reason to dispute the claim, the cemetery placed him within the mausoleum and requested that Mary Hindry provide legal proof that he belonged with the pyramid within one year. Of course Nellie Quirk filed a protest at this especially since either her, her daughter or her daughter's husband would be displaced as long as Willis Hindry remained with the pyramid. After a year of residing within the pyramid, Mary Hindry was unable to provide any form of proof to Willis's right to reside within the structure and he was removed. He resided within a storage vault for an additional six and a half years until finally Mary Hindry ordered him to be cremated.

Nellie Quirk died in 1962 and was later placed with the pyramid as well.

Mountain View Cemetery

Mountain View Cemetery is an expansive cemetery that seems to continue on and on from rolling hill to rolling hill. Established in 1863, it is the home of a variety of notable individuals from millionaires, to California senators, to Confederate army generals, wealthy businessmen such as J.A. Folger and Domingo Ghirardelli, and even musicians such as John Lee Hooker. It also has the highest concentration of pyramid mausoleums within its walls boasting a record three pyramids and is home to the grave of the Black Dahlia.

The Gwin Mausoleum
The Gwin Mausoleum - photo by Devon Apple

One of the pyramids belongs to the Gwin family. William McKendree Gwin was one of the first California State Senators and served from September 9th, 1850 to March 3rd, 1855 as well as January 13th, 1857, to March 3rd, 1861. During the Civil War, Gwin pondered at one point having California succeed separate from the South as the Republic of the Pacific. He was placed in custody for awhile for being a secessionist sympathizer but was released when Abraham Lincoln intervened on his behalf. Eventually as the war heated up around his plantation in Mississippi, he fled to Paris. He supposedly also had a duel with a congressman named Joseph McCorkle. Both were apparently such lousy shots, that the only thing that was hit was a poor donkey some distance away that was unfortunately shot dead.

The COG Miller Mausoleum
The COG Miller Mausoleum - photo by Devon Apple

Next is the C.O.G. Miller mausoleum which sits just below Millionaire's Row, a street in the cemetery lined with crypts and mausoleums. Miller made his fortune as the head of the Pacific Gas Lighting Corporation. He and his wife, Einnem, are buried within along with a few other relatives and the pyramid was constructed in 1896.

Lastly we have the Bradbury Mausoleum. Sadly I know very little about this pyramid nor do I have any pictures. It is apparently not a true Pyramid Mausoleum, however, as it only has a pyramid on top of it.

Marcus Foster, the first victim of the Symbionese Liberation Army, is also buried within Mountain View Cemetery. Foster was shot eight times by bullets soaked in cyanide. The SLA is best known for their kidnapping and supposed brain washing of Pattie Hearst when she was only nineteen.

Rosedale Cemetery

Grigsby Mausoleum
Grigsby Mausoleum, in Rosedale Cemetery, photo from Library of Congress

Lastly is the Rosedale Cemetery. Established in 1884 it is now called the Angeles-Rosedale Cemetery. It was the first cemetery in Los Angeles to accept all races and religions for burial. The grounds apparently contain several pyramid shaped crypts (reports have varied from two to seven), one of which, The Grigsby Mausoleum is pictured to the left (photo from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-HS503-493). At least one other pyramid mausoleum is called the Shatto Crypt and houses George R. Shatto (1850-1893). Shatto in 1887 bought the island of Catalia for $150,000 and established its first town, Avalon. He passed away in a train crash.

Other notable people buried here include:

Several former Los Angeles mayors have been buried here and it is also home to the Chapel of the Pines, which is the oldest crematorium in LA, having been established in 1903.

Sadly on the day of my visit, the cemetery was closed and I was unable to get in. If you go and visit, be careful, some of the surrounding neighborhood is a bit rough so go with a friend and park inside the cemetery walls.

San Luis Obispo Odd Fellows Cemetery
San Luis Obispo Odd Fellows
Brand Park, Glendale
Brand Park, Glendale
Santa Barbara Cemetery
Santa Barbara Cemetery
Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland
Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland


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Last Edited: 2013-07-29

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