The Pilgrimage

By Gerald Smith
October 1997

One night early this summer, I decided to watch Charlie's The Pilgrim for the umpteen time. When the opening scene started, I immediately thought about the train station at Truckee, Ca. You see, I had been in Truckee earlier this year and had visited the train station and just could not get over how much it resembled the station in The Pilgrim. Even the hills in the background somewhat resembled the hills in The Pilgrim scene. After all I reasoned; Chaplin had filmed parts of Gold Rush in and about Truckee in that time period and just maybe The Pilgrim scene was shot there too. Intrigued, I broke out some photos of the Truckee Station and started analyzing them for a possible link. Well, it didn't take long before I realized my theory was about as wet and soggy as the snow surrounding the Truckee station. However, just as I was about to pack-it-in I noticed the words "at Saugus" on the The Pilgrim train station. Was this a possible clue or just something written in for the scene. After all, the first thought I had when seeing Saugus was of a town in the New England state of Massachusetts. However, I did peruse a detail map of Southern California. And to my delightful surprise, I came across the little town of Saugus, Ca.situated about 40 miles North of LA. Well, given this fact and my THEN & NOW sense of adventure, I immediately booked a trip to Saugus!

Pulling off I-5 at Magic Mountain Parkway, yes there's an amusement park in the area, I headed for San Fernando Rd. and the Saugus train station. After being on a number of THEN & NOW adventures, I've developed somewhat of a sixth sense. I mean, when approaching a THEN & NOW location, I start syncing in on it. It's a hard feeling to explain, but if you've ever felt it you know what I mean. Anyway, shortly after turning onto San Fernando this sixth sense thing kick in and sure enough this was the location of the train station. The train tracks and hills were there, BUT no train station. Somewhat disappointed, but still very enthused, I jump out of the car and took a photo of the location.

After spending about a half hour taking in the sights and sounds of the location, I headed down San Fernando for a bit of lunch. Well, I hadn't gone very far when something on the right really caught my eye. Excitedly, I made a quick u-turn and undaunted by car honks and one rather disapproving gesture, made a sharp left into the place on the right. First thing I did upon exiting the car was to take this picture through a fence. I'm sure you know by now what I had found; it was the train station from Charlie's The Pilgrim.

After taking a couple of shots of the back, I entered the station to find a very helpful staff from the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. They pointed out that the station had been moved to this location, Heritage Junction Historic Park, in the early 80s along with other local historical buildings. After taking a number of pictures inside the station, I asked if it might be possible to have access to the front of the station. As I had discovered when first arriving at the station, the front was completely fenced off and the only possible access was from within. After some thought, one of the staff said sure and moved a bunch of old boxes from the very entry that Charlie used in The Pilgrim. As I opened door and passed through the entry, I truly felt I was stepping back in time. As I walked the front of the station, I took a photo of the area where Charlie entered the station. After that shot, I followed Charlie's footsteps with a deep sense of regret and longing.

After thanking the staff of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society , I headed towards the California coast and another THEN & NOW adventure that I'll share with you in the coming months.

Chaplin Film Locations THEN & NOW
© 1997 JerRe