The Friends of the Fortuna Cemetery District will present the annual production of “Grave Matters and Untimely Departures” Sunday beginning at 2 p.m. at Fortuna’s Sunrise Cemetery. The last tour (dubbed the “flashlight tour”) leaves at 6 p.m.
With eight new stories, this year’s “Grave Matters” includes a Rio Dell woman who was involved in a land feud with deadly results, a young mother who died to save her child, a Pacific Lumber Co. worker who died in a woods accident in 1905 and one of the two Fortuna men who died during their World War I service.
Directed and researched by Dr. Alexandra Service (curator of the Fortuna Depot Museum), the cast of “Grave Matters” includes a bevy of local actors, many of them returning for another engagement at Sunrise Cemetery.
Tickets for “Grave Matters” are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Green’s Pharmacy (1058 Main St.), at Grocery Outlet (Strong’s Creek shopping center, Fortuna) or on the day of the performance in the Newburg Park parking lot.
Tours leave every 10 minutes. Each tour runs approximately 50 minutes and will take place rain or shine. Comfortable shoes are encouraged. Parking is available at Newburg Park where a shuttle will transport patrons to and from the cemetery. No vehicles are allowed in the cemetery during the performance.
“Every person’s life has stories worth telling,” said Service. “Each year when we research our new ‘Grave Matters’ characters, we discover stories with as much adventure, drama, tragedy and mystery as anything Hollywood could dream up.”
The stories and cast for the 2018 “Grave Matters” include:
· Mary Juhasz played by Alex Service. In 1913, Hungarian immigrants Mary and Mike Juhasz were involved in a land feud with the Giacomini family. Mike Juhasz never dreamed of the way his wife planned to end the feud, which led to her becoming the second Humboldt County woman tried for murder.
· Abe Thomasson played by James Wright. A Minnesota native and son of British immigrants, Thomasson left the farm to join his uncle in Humboldt County. A few years later, the young man was dead, the victim of a woods accident that must have shocked even Humboldt County’s most experienced veteran loggers.
· Sarah Effie Newell Fletcher played by Julie Clark. Fletcher’s father was a prominent Fortuna lumberman. Her husband was chief of the Fortuna Volunteer Fire Department. But who was Fletcher? The historic record gives a tragic glimpse into her life story.
· Albert Heath played by Bob Service. Heath brought his family to California from their Iowa farm and found work as a teamster. Tragedy struck when a young son died of tuberculosis, and more tragedy was soon to come. In the summer of 1913, while working on construction of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, Heath died at Fort Seward in a bizarre accident involving too much dynamite.
· Margaret McTaggart Billings played by Pam Service. Billings has the distinction of being the earliest-born woman buried at Sunrise Cemetery. She was born in Scotland in 1815 and immigrated to Canada at the age of 11. At the time of her death in a freak accident in 1900, she had 24 living grandchildren and 36 living great-grandchildren.
· Dora Rutledge Scott played by Zoe Osborn. Nineteen-year-old Scott lost her life but became a hero to generations of her family when she saved the life of her child in a house fire in Scotia in 1906. Her descendants today lovingly preserve the memory of her sacrifice, which ended a young life, but created a family.
· Blanche Dorton McCauley played by Sara Krause. On Nov. 27, 1926, Blanche and James McCauley had been married for just 10 days and were on their honeymoon trip along the Redwood Highway. They died together near Phillipsville in a car accident caused when they tried to help a family they had met along the road.
· Bruce McDonald Chapman played by Bo Banducci. Out of the hundreds of Fortuna men who served in World War I, only two died during their military service. One of those two was 22-year-old Chapman. His family’s service flag had five stars, for Chapman and his four brothers had all volunteered to fight for Uncle Sam. Chapman served in France in the “forest engineers,” and it was in France that he died, less than one month before the end of World War I.