Who to Visit at Lake View Cemetery (Bruce Lee, Duh)
A walk through Seattle's past 🪦
October 11, 2022
Cemeteries draw people in during the spooky fall months. And Lake View Cemetery, established in 1872 and located in north Capitol Hill, is Seattle’s A-List of final resting places. It’s where you’ll find the most famous names, from the city’s settlers (now you’ll know where street names like Bell, Leary, Boren, and Mercer came from) to NW notables from more recent times (like John W. Nordstrom, founder of the Nordstrom chain, and George Tsutakawa, a painter and sculptor of the Northwest School). Lake View has around 40 acres to stumble through, with flat stretches of open land, some hills, and shaded back corners. While there are over 40,000 graves to look at, we’ve organized this quick afternoon walk past some of its VIPs. Please let us know if you run into any ghosts.
What to know before you go 💫
Wear comfortable shoes. The grass can get squishy depending on the season. There are no public bathrooms or water fountains (the closest are in Volunteer Park), so BYOW. (The “W” stands for water, though it could also be for weed.) If it’s sunny, we recommend sunglasses and sunscreen. Most of the cemetery is unshaded.
The dragon and the crow 🐉
📍Lot 276, Grave 3, SE
Martial arts star Bruce Lee and his son Brandon are Lake View’s cemetery superstars, and their gravesites are the most likely spot where you’ll bump into strangers or far-flung tourists. Bruce came to Seattle in 1959, where he met and married his wife Linda before moving to California in 1964. After his death in 1973, Linda arranged for him to be buried back in Seattle, likely to escape the media frenzy that surrounded the family in Hong Kong, where they were living at the time of Bruce’s mysterious death (Matthew Polly’s excellent Bruce Lee: A Life speculates it may have been due to heat stroke). Two plots were purchased for Bruce and his wife; sadly, the second plot ended up being used for their son Brandon, who died in 1993 due to a shooting accident on the set of The Crow.
You can find the Lee graves by walking straight back from Lake View’s gates. They’re directly behind the large white heart-shaped headstone for Vikki Yin Lai Miu. During the pandemic, the gravesites were relandscaped. Previously, you could wander up from any direction, but now the graves are cordoned-off and access is limited to paved walkway, a more formal experience than the casual hang it used to be.
📍Lake View Cemetery: 1554 15th Avenue E
Hours vary by season. Generally open at 9 or 10 am.
Leave the change 🪙
A local club promoter once told me when he wanted to get a beer, he’d pick up some of the loose change people leave on the Lee headstones. Don’t do this. It’s bad karma.
The doctor’s wife, who “did what she could” ⚕️
📍Lot 211, Grave SW
To the north of the Lee graves, at the base of a giant red sequoia tree (it’s pretty!), are the graves of David Swinson “Doc” Maynard and his wife Catherine, barely hanging on as they’re pushed aside by the tree’s roots. Doc Maynard was one of Seattle’s more colorful characters, a freewheeling spirit who earned and lost more than one fortune, had his hand in everything from the city’s first post office to its first brothel (Felker House). He also scandalized other settlers by treating Native Americans and whites at his hospital.
Maynard gave Seattle its name, an Anglicization of Duwamish/Suquamish leader Chief Sealth. His simple grave hardly seems worthy of his larger-than-life personality, though you could choose to honor his memory by knocking back a shot at Doc Maynard’s Public House in Pioneer Square. Catherine met her husband when both were heading west on the Oregon Trail and stood by him through all his financial ups and downs, a long-suffering attitude perhaps summarized by the mournful inscription on her headstone: “She did what she could.”
Heads-up: If you’d like to really dig into the cemetery’s history, Robert L. Ferguson’s The Pioneers of Lake View (Thistle Press) is an excellent guide, with a map plotting the locations of select graves. No longer in print, but readily available from online vendors.
The poet and the rock 🪨
📍Lot 240B, Grave 5, S1/2
Going clockwise around the Maynard graves, you’ll see the marker for poet Denise Levertov. It’s a simple, striking gravesite—just a black headstone bearing only her name and the years of her birth and death, no other inscription or fanciful illustrations, topped with a large stone. Levertov came a long way to get to Lake View; born in Essex, England, she went to the US after World War II with her American husband, writer and teacher Mitchell Goodman. After living in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and California, she made her way to Seattle, post-divorce, in 1989. The region’s natural beauty greatly inspired her subsequent work. Bring along some of her poetry to read (they have it at the nearby Elliott Bay Book Company) while you enjoy the view from the cemetery’s summit. Maybe the poem “The Mountain Assailed,” where she wrote about Mt. Rainier: “I feel your breath/over the distance/you are panting, the sun/gives you no respite.”
Don’t forget to stop at Louisa Boren Lookout, right across the street from Lake View. You get a top-of-the-world view across Lake Washington to Husky Stadium, Laurelhurst, and beyond. There’s also a futuristic black welded steel sculpture by Lee Kelly, giving a stark industrial contrast to the pastoral setting.
The princess 👑
Cross the first road to the north, turn right at the second road and walk down the hill. Soon you’ll come to the distinctive headstone of Princess Angeline. Chief Sealth’s eldest daughter, she was originally named Kakiisimla and later known as Kikisolma-Cud (among other names). Catherine Maynard gave her the name Angeline, adding “Princess” so that people would recognize that she was the daughter of a chief. Angeline converted to Christianity, and once white settlers had arrived, she earned money by taking in laundry and making baskets. She was buried in a canoe-shaped coffin near the grave of Henry Yesler (behind and to the left of her own grave), who owned Seattle’s first sawmill, and built Angeline’s final home, a cottage near what’s now the Pike Place Market. Due to its location on the backside of the cemetery, it takes more effort to visit this grave, but when you find it, it feels significant, putting you in touch with Seattle’s original residents.
Before or after your cemetery sojourn, a number of cafes, bars, and restaurants are a 10-minute stroll to the north of Lake View along 15th Ave E, mostly concentrated between E Mercer and E Thomas, including:
📍 Victrola Coffee and Art: 411 15th Ave E. Open at 6 am for early risers.
📍Rubinstein’s Bagels Capitol Hill: 403 15th Ave E. Pick up a bagel-to-go before your walk.
📍Hopvine Pub: 507 15th Ave E. 12 taps of local craft beer.
📍Olympia Pizza III & Harry’s Bar: 516 15th Ave E. A great place to unwind. Harry’s has a back patio.
And even closer:
📍Volunteer Park Cafe & Pantry: 1501 17th Ave E. Try the chocolate babka
Gillian G. Gaar is a Seattle-based journalist and the author of several books, including She’s A Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll and Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana. Twitter: @GillianGaar.