‘GRAVE Matters & Untimely Departures’ Returns to Fortuna for an ‘Afternoon of Mystery & Mayhem’

This is a press release from the Fortuna Depot Museum:

Friends of the Fortuna Cemetery District presents the annual production of “Grave Matters & Untimely Departures” on Sunday, October 28, beginning at 2 p.m.at Fortuna’s Sunrise Cemetery (above Newburg Park). The last tour (dubbed the “flashlight tour”) leaves at 6:00 p.m.

With eight new stories, this year’s “Grave Matters” includes a Rio Dell woman who murdered a neighbor in a land feud, a young mother who died to save her child, a Pacific Lumber Company worker killed in a shocking woods accident in 1905, a freak accident during construction of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, 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 some of the area’s finest 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 Street, Fortuna), at Grocery Outlet (Strong’s Creek shopping center, Fortuna) or on the day of the performance in the Newburg Park parking lot.

The first tour begins at 2 p.m. and the final tour will start at 6 p.m.  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 Depot Museum curator 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:

Host: Mary Juhasz

Actor: Alex Service

In 1913, Hungarian immigrants Mary and Mike Juhasz were involved in a land feud with the Giacomini family.  Mike never dreamed of the horrifying way his wife planned to end the feud, which led to her becoming the second Humboldt County woman tried for murder.

Cemetery Resident: Abe Thomasson

Actor: James Wright

A Minnesota native and son of British immigrants, Abe Thomasson left the farm to join his uncle out west in Humboldt County.  A few years later the young man was dead, victim of a ghastly woods accident that must have shocked even Humboldt’s most experienced veteran loggers.

Cemetery Resident: Sarah Effie Newell Fletcher

Actor: Julie Clark

Her father was a prominent Fortuna lumberman.  Her husband was chief of the Fortuna Volunteer Fire Department.  But who was Effie Newell Fletcher herself?  The historic record gives a tragic glimpse into Effie’s life story, when she committed suicide in December 1911.

Cemetery Resident: Albert Heath

Actor: Bob Service

He 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, Albert Heath died at Fort Seward in a bizarre accident involving too much dynamite.

Cemetery Resident: Margaret McTaggart Billings

Actor: Pam Service

Margaret 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 eleven.  Her long life involved many moves to the western frontier, along with being mother to seven children.  At the time of her death in a freak accident in 1900, she had 24 living grandchildren and 36 living great-grandchildren.

Cemetery Resident: Dora Rutledge Scott

Actor: Zoe Osborn

Nineteen-year-old Dora 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 Dora’s sacrifice, which ended a young life but created a family.

Cemetery Resident: Blanche Dorton McCauley

Actor: Sara Krause

On November 27, 1926, Blanche and James McCauley had been married for just ten days, and were on their honeymoon trip along the Redwood Highway.  They died together near Phillipsville in a car accident caused by their trying to help a family they had met along the road.

Cemetery Resident: Bruce McDonald Chapman

Actor: 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 Bruce Chapman.  His family’s service flag had five stars, for Bruce and his four brothers had all volunteered to fight for Uncle Sam.  Bruce 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.



  • Sounds fun! Hope to be in that area then!!

  • Mrs. Margaret McTaggart Billings is my Great-Great Grandmother.

  • Dora Rutledge Scott was my great great grandmother. Her husband my great great grandfather was full a blooded Indian from mattole area. I’ve been looking for years for them and where they were buried. Just found all this out tonight. I didn’t know her name. Just my great great grandfather. Thomas Scott. Thank you to the folks at grave matters. Now i can honor her. I’m blown away….

    • There will be videos of the performances. You should see the one with Dora. It is very touching! Will probably take a little time to get the videos up but I’m sure you will be able to google 2018 Fortuna grave matters video..Dora Rutledge Scott…

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