Happy Twin Peaks Day

Welcome to Twin Peaks

Happy Twin Peaks Day! It was on this date, 24 February, back in 1989 that FBI Agent Dale Cooper first rolled into Twin Peaks, a fictional Washington town located “”five miles south of the Canadian border, and twelve miles west of the [Idaho] state line.” The time was 11:30 am. Twin Peaks, of course, is a fictional place and the coordinates provided by Coop would place it Pend Oreille County, very near the town of Metaline Falls. In reality, the series, Twin Peaks, was mostly filmed in central King County, Washington — primarily in the towns of Fall City, North Bend, Spring Bend, and especially Snoqualmie. Filming also took place in Seattle and Los Angeles. I’ve attempted to map as many locations as possible from Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Twin Peaks: The Return, here. And here’s a great collection of other Twin Peaks Maps, from the Welcome to Twin Peaks website.

Cue the iconic opening credits sequence…

The significance of 24 February is not just that it’s the date on which Agent Cooper arrived in Twin Peaks… and had coffee and cherry pie at the Double R Diner… or that he first was amazed by Douglas Fir trees. It’s also the date that Twin Peaks High School‘s Homecoming Queen, Laura Palmer, was murdered in the wee hours of the morning. That same morning, another student, Ronette Pulaski was brutally assaulted and walked across the state line — which is why it became an FBI case. Of course, as the Twin Peaks universe expanded, fans also learned [spoilers ahead] that it was on 24 February 1990 that Leland Palmer committed suicide. It was on 24 February 1968 that a young Dale Cooper posted a signed note from Efram Zimbalist next to his poster for The FBI Story. And it was on 24 February 1902 that a logjam at the mill caught fire in an event that came to be known as the “Night of the Burning River.” All of those reasons are why 24 February is observed by Twin Peaks fans as Twin Peaks Day.

Here’s video I shot of the Columbia River in Twin Peaks (in reality, the Snoqualmie River) below the Great Northern Hotel (in reality, the Salish Lodge). Yes, I have very steady hands.

It’s almost impossible for me to view the river from hear without hearing, in my head, the beautiful theme composed by the late, great Angelo Badalamenti. However, just to add to the ambiance, I made a Twin Peaks playlist — composed primarily of music featured on the show but also fleshed out with a few songs I would imagine being performed at the Roadhouse or that just fit the overall vibe of the Twin Peaks/David Lynch multiverse.

The pilot of Twin Peaks aired on 8 April 1990. It was an absolute a phenomenon, equally beloved by critics and audiences. In fact, it was the highest rated “movie” of the 1989-1990 television season. Seemingly everyone was asking, “who killed Laura Palmer?” I was fifteen years old then — just old enough to remember when, in 1980, all the nighttime soap fans had similarly asked “Who shot J.R.?” Seven episodes followed.

I didn’t see any of Twin Peaks during its initial run, though, because it only ran until 23 May and — this being before streaming — I hadn’t programed the VCR to record it because I hadn’t seen any episodes that would’ve made me want to. Luckily, reruns were a thing, so I caught it the second time around. And I excitedly tuned into Saturday Night Live when Kyle MacLachlan hosted and they satirized Twin Peaks that September in a skit co-written by David Spade and Rob Schneider. When Season 2 arrived in October 1991, the VCR and I were ready — and I often had to tape it because ABC, annoyingly, kept bouncing it around the schedule — both a result of and contributor to its declining ratings.

Packard Sawmill in 2023

The second season was less focused than the first. After directing the second episode, David Lynch had turned his attention to filming Wild At Heart. But Lynch wasn’t the only creative voice at the series — nor, even, was co-creator Mark Frost. As was normal, back then, American television series were usually the product of a team of writers, which included not just creators Lynch and Frost but also Barry Pullman, Harley Peyton, Jerry Stahl, Robert Engels, Scott Frost, and Tricia Brock. Directors — in addition to Frost and Lynch — included Caleb Deshchanel, Diane Keaton, Duwayne Dunham, Graeme Clifford, James Foley, Jonathan Sanger, Lesli Linka Glatter, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Tim Hunter, Tina Rathbone, Todd Holland, and Uli Edel. When Twin Peaks was ultimately revived for Twin Peaks: The Return, every episode would be written by Frost and Lynch and every episode directed by the latter.

Back in Season 2, though, writers Peyton and Engels were promoted tot show-runners after episode 14. After the 15th episode, Twin Peaks dropped to 85th in the Nielsen Ratings. ABC announced that it was going on hiatus. A fan campaign to keep it on led to it airing fitfully and before the Season 2 finale aired, ABC announced its cancellation — which was pretty shady, if you ask me, since even the worst episodes of Season 2 were never worse than the best episodes of the competition — which included rightly forgotten fare like Father Dowling Mysteries, Major Dad, and Wings.

Still, the middle of Seasons 2 does feel at times a bit like treading water. I wasn’t particularly riveted by Annie Blackburn, Evelyn Marsh, John Justice Wheeler, Windom Earle but for viewers like me, it wasn’t just the plot and characters that drew us in — we were hypnotized by the setting, the music, the cinematography, the actors, the humor, the atmosphere, the recurring motifs, the mythology — in short, the magic. When I revisited the series in 2001, I realized that the mid-seasons dip wasn’t as deep as I’d remembered nor as wide. And the end of Season 2 is amazing. What’s more, Twin Peaks had opened or was opening the door for “quirky” (yet more commercially friendly) shows like Northern Exposure, Eerie, Indiana, Picket Fences, Wild Palms, and The X-Files. I have little doubt that, given a stable time slot, the truly indoctrinated Twin Peaks fans would’ve returned. And there were definitely indoctrinated fans.

There were obvious fans in the writing staff at Northern Exposure and The Simpsons, I felt like I was part of an exclusive club. I can’t be the only one who bought and read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town. I ordered a Twin Peaks T-shirt from the Burning Airlines catalog because, in the days before the internet, T-shirts like that were used not just to advertise that you got some conformists’ memo that notified you that you were supposed to wear a Nirvana or Ramones T-shirt — but to find fellow members of your tribe.

Some time passed before I found other Twin Peaks fans. My mom returned with my brother and I to her small hometown in Iowa (even smaller than Twin Peaks) so that she could be closer to family members when cancer took her. I’m not sure if anyone in my graduating class of 55 cared about Twin Peaks. Meanwhile, I rented the European theatrical cut of the pilot, with its different ending from the video store. I looked for, but couldn’t find until years later, Diane… The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper or the next Lynch/Frost television series, the barely seen On the Air, which featured some of the same actors from Twin Peaks, and which ABC aired only three of seven episodes. I did watch, however, American Chronicles, Boxing Helena, and Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted because of their connections to Twin Peaks.

Diane… The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper

In my freshman year of college in Iowa City, I didn’t know any Twin Peaks fans either. But when Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me opened in cinemas, in 1992, I knew that it wasn’t playing at the Campus III and so, assumed, that it was showing at the Sycamore Cinema. I walked an hour to the cinema, only to find that it wasn’t showing there either. I was baffled. How could a David Lynch film not screen in a college town? When I eventually did see it — at the student-run Bijou Theatre — I was surprised by the radically different tone but even more so, the mostly negative critical response. It seemed like everyone was over Twin Peaks but me… well, maybe me and, naturally, some folks in Japan.

In 1993, Bravo reran Twin Peaks as part of a showcase titled Too Good For TV. Each episode included new introductions from the Log Lady and the Log. A couple of then-new acquaintances and I used to gather together to watch them on together. Five years later, in 1998, I drove through Snoqualmie on my way back to Iowa City from Seattle. From what I could tell, Twin Peaks was something that had happened but was done and their lives moved on. I passed by the diner which stood in for the Double R. I didn’t see any acknowledment of the Twin Peaks connection then. I spent most of my remaining money on a room at the Salish Lodge, the interiors of which bear no similarity to those on the television series. There were no signs, then, of the Twin Peaks connection, either. I climbed into the largest bed on which I’d slept.

The Double R Diner (Twede’s Cafe)

After that, I had almost no money left for gas, food, or lodging. I drove for 36 hours back to Iowa City without sleeping or stopping to eat. In Montana, talk radio DJs complained about black helicopters, Hillary Clinton, and the “healthcare conspiracy.” I felt like I was losing my mind. I looked in the rearview mirror and didn’t recognize the puffy, purple, bespectacled man in a sweat-stained A-shirt that I saw there. When I crossed the border into Iowa, I figured I was close enough that I could afford a bite at Taco Bell. I coasted into Iowa City with my Taurus and myself both running on fumes. I fell into my bed and then fell into a very long sleep. I don’t remember what, if anything, I dreamt of.

The waterfall below the lodge

In the summer of 2022, Una asked where we should go for vacation in January. It was the middle of a long, hot, and seemingly endless summer in Los Angeles and I was missing the reliably wet and cool Pacific Northwest. We’d been to Portland not that long ago. Una had been to Vancouver even more recently. She’d never been to Seattle, though, and I hadn’t been there since my sister was at the University of Washington so we decided on that. Una asked if we could visit the Twin Peaks locations. I, of course, was game — but remembering my first visit, wasn’t expecting much. Still, in the 25 years since I had last visited, Twin Peaks has benefit from both the passage of time and deepening interest.

A lot has changed since 1998, in other words, and I’ve met more fans. There’s a Twin Peaks Wiki, the Twin Peaks Blog, the Welcome to Twin Peaks website. In 2001, I dated someone who was Cousin Lil for Halloween. In 2007, after years of waiting, Twin Peaks Music: Season Two Music and More was released. Fellow fan and critic Genevieve Yue hipped me to a retro game called Black Lodge in 2011. Obviously, Una’s a fan and she and I visited a Melrose Twin Peaks pop-up in 2017. But, most helpfully, there are online maps of Twin Peaks filming locations, which I consulted to make my own.

Inside the Double R Diner

To get to Twin Peaks, I drove a rented Toyota from Seattle. The rain was coming down so hard it was sometimes hard to see the road. Our first stop was Twede’s Cafe for breakfast. Because this is America, the portions were painfully large, leaving us no room for cherry pie. We decided that we’d return later, after a bit of digestion, for dessert. The coffee was merely fine, not “damn fine.” Not that I regretted ordering it nor having it topped off several times. Nowadays there’s lots of Twin Peaks merchandise for sale at the diner and one of our server’s was wearing a Laura Palmer T-shirt. He asked if we were friends of “the show” and when we affirmed, told us that he’d just finished Season 1 with his girlfriend but was nervous about watching Fire Walk With Me as he’d heard that it was a tough watch.

The Twin Peaks Sheriffs’ Station

We drove past Twin Peaks High School and headed to view Snoqualmie Falls from below and above. We decided to visit the Salish Lodge and perused the gift shop — which now features numerous items of Twin Peaks merchandise. We weren’t even close to being able to eat and so thought we might get a drink at the Attic. It wouldn’t open, though, for another hour so we headed over to Leo and Shelly Johnson‘s home and there was a mailbox labeled “The Johnsons” but we didn’t bother the inhabitants. We also drove by the big tree trunk on the train tracks, the gazebo where Harold Smith went to meet Laura, to Packard Sawmill, the former site of the “Welcome to Twin Peaks — Population 51201” sign, the Twin Peaks sheriffs’ station (where a Twin Peaks sheriff’s truck was parked), and finally back to the Attic for a drink and to enjoy the view. Afterward, we crossed the bridge where Ronette stumbled across the border, which made it a federal case and resulted in Agent Cooper’s being sent to Twin Peaks on 22 February.

One of the peaks seen from the bridge Ronette Pulaski walked across

On our way back to Seattle, we swung by Big Ed’s Gas Farm, which is pretty much unrecognizable. Across the street was the Ed and Nadine Hurley Residence, which I failed to note. It wasn’t on the Twin Peaks location maps that I knew of (there are a few). I put it on my map, of course, and if you have any other sites, I’d appreciate your contributing them. I’ll see you in 25 years!

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and the 1650 Gallery.
Brightwell has been featured as subject and/or guest in The Los Angeles TimesVICEHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAOffice Hours LiveSpectrum NewsEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m YoursNotebook on Cities and CultureKCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles.

You can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsiNaturalistInstagramMastodonMediumMubithe StoryGraph, and Twitter.

One thought on “Happy Twin Peaks Day

  1. I enjoyed this, Eric! I follow you for your great LA maps but as chance would have it, we just got back from a trip to Snoqualmie — something we’ve talked about for years! The Peaks love is real and still very much alive. Raising a cup of coffee and forkful of pie to you!

    Liked by 1 person

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