A cemetery — which some residents called fake — popped up on an Acton property right in the path of where a high-speed rail was proposed, which raised eyebrows of residents who said they believe the entire thing is a ruse to stop the rail project.
Google Satellite Map images of the property from 2016 did not show any tombstones as of Monday.
The land at the intersection of Sierra Highway and Red Rover Mine Road began turning heads recently when a resident said she noticed something she hadn't seen before: tombstones.
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Dale Bybee, the man who owns the property, said the tombstones had been there for some time, and perhaps residents began to notice them because he was clearing brush on the property.
"It's been here for a while. Some of them are just bases," Bybee said. "They could've been stolen or families came and took the tops."
Bybee said that the cemetery has real tombstones.
"And it happens to be in the path of one of two routes chosen by the high-speed rail [project]," Bybee said.
Residents started reaching out to Acton City Council as they began to notice the curious gravestones and supposed burial area.
"I've known it was here, yes," Pam Wolter, member of the Acton City Council, said.
Wolter has been fielding calls.
"[They've called] wondering what it's all about," Wolter said. "And knowing full well that one of the routes goes very close here."
The California High Speed Rail Authority, which has a project for a proposed rail that would go from Palmdale to Burbank, said the routes under consideration — including the one that goes through the "cemetery" — were in the environmental analysis phase. The Authority did not have information on a cemetery in the area.
"Our cultural resources team has no information related to any existing cemetery sites in the vicinity of Sierra Highway and Red Rover Mine Road," Adeline Yee, California High-Speed Rail Authority Spokesperson, said. "However, we will be working with the property owner and continue to evaluate potential cultural resources in the area."
As the story unfolded, NBC4 reached out to the LA County Assessor's office. An official said because Bybee's property is a zoned as an agricultural space, it certainly would be allowed to have a burial ground on the property.
So what's the deal?
"Whether it's real or not, it's a visual statement as to what's happening," Bybee said in a second interview with NBC4.
Bybee said he didn't mean to mislead anyone, but there are no bodies buried under the tombstones.
The tombstones are real, he said. He got them from Whittier Historical Museum, which had them after a different cemetery was abandoned in the 1950s.
Bybee said his "cemetery" is a symbol of his hope that the high speed rail will be abandoned — like the real cemetery where the tombstones came from.
A newsletter released by the Whittier Historical Museum confirmed that Bybee had indeed taken the 24,000 pounds of tombstones from the backyard of the museum to his home in Acton.
"I have a lot of acreage and I wanted to create a replica cemetery," Bybee said in the newsletter. "When I brought them home, my wife freaked out and my kids were creeped out. When I’m finished it’s going to look like a western-themed cemetery like the displays from Knott’s Berry Farm."
The newsletter, a 2015-2016 edition, goes on to detail that the gravestones came from Founder's Memorial Park, which used to be called Deadman's Park, on Newlin Ave.
The cemetery, which has history reaching back to 1880, was abandoned in 1958, the newsletter states.
The newsletter also says family members had the opportunity to claim the headstones before they eventually ended up in the backyard of the Whittier Historical Museum.
Bybee told the museum his plans for the replica cemetery were to lure possible producers who sometimes film in Acton.
In an interview with NBC4 on Monday, his plans for the "replica cemetery" had changed.
"The high speed rail is decimating people and taking people's homes and people's properties and businesses for a train that may never be built," Bybee said. "Including mine."