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Historian reflects on 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre's' legacy in Leander

A metal archway at the entrance of a cemetery  says "Bagdad Cemetery."
Kailey Hunt
/
KUT
Dedicated fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre make pilgrimages to Bagdad Cemetery in Leander where the iconic opening scene of the 1974 horror classic was filmed.

Kathy Howell is not a fan of horror movies, but she knows a lot about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That's in part because she's a local historian in Leander, and also because one of her ancestors is Col. C.C. Mason, one of the first settlers in the Leander area.

"There were three wagon trains that came to this area. The first one (was) in 1851, and that was led by Colonel C.C. Mason, who was my fifth great grandfather," Howell said. "And his tombstone is actually the tombstone that is shown in the opening scene of the movie."

Bagdad Cemetery in Leander, TX on Oct 30, 2022. Kailey Hunt/KUT News
Kailey Hunt
/
KUT
Col. C.C. Mason, one of the first settlers in Leander, is buried in the cemetery.

Mason's tombstone is located in Bagdad Cemetery in Leander. Dedicated fans of the movie sometimes make pilgrimages to the cemetery where the iconic opening scene of the 1974 horror classic was filmed to dress up and take pictures.

Howell, who serves as vice chair of the Leander Historical Preservation Commission, said she doesn't mind that the scene was filmed where her relatives are buried.

"It’s part of our history," she said. "It’s part of Bagdad Cemetery’s history."

A State Historical Survey Committee historical sign outside of Bagdad Cemetery in Leander, TX on Oct 30, 2022. Kailey Hunt/KUT News
Kailey Hunt
/
KUT
A historical sign outside of Bagdad Cemetery notes the cemetery opened in 1857.

And Howell said she recognizes the historical importance of the movie to horror fans.

"The reason why it has a cult following is because it was the first movie of that genre that was economically feasible," Howell said. "So (for) fans of that genre, this is the beginning. This is a very, very important movie."

 A movie poster for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Courtesy of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' Archive
A movie poster for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

But Howell said many others with relatives buried in the cemetery, including members of her own family, do not feel the same way.

"I have relatives that it upsets them greatly that the movie was filmed there," she said. "They feel that it was extremely disrespectful to the people that are buried there."

Howell said many of the older families in Leander can trace back their ancestry to the cemetery. It opened in 1857 with the burial of 3-year-old John Babcock, whose father later gave the tract to community. Other early burials include veterans of the Texas Revolution and the Civil War.

Howell said it's important for fans who visit the cemetery to realize people's ancestors are buried there. She said that, while rare, there have been instances of fans attempting to desecrate and vandalize graves.

“Those are real people to me," she said. "Colonel C.C. Mason is a real person to me. … It’s important to remember that they have descendants that are living, and it’s important to respect that."

Watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre official remastered trailer, which features the iconic opening scene at Bagdad Cemetery below:

Kailey Hunt is KUT's Williamson County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at khunt@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @KaileyEHunt.
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