A grave matter at Sunrise Cemetery

Mary Lentz

Beacon Correspondent

Whether folks came for the eerie stories, the local history, or the entertainment, there was something for everyone at last Sunday's Grave Matters and Untimely Departures at the Sunrise Cemetery in Fortuna. From 2 to 6 p.m., the lives of ten of the cemetery's residents came to life in the persons of ten talented performers: Alex Service, Dianna Heberger, David Hamilton, Pam Service, Tyler Elwell, Kelsey Larson, Daniel Kennedy, Bob Service, Ellsworth Pence, and Don Brown.

Lorraine Spivey came from Eureka because she likes cemeteries, "I've lived here all my life, and I've been to most of them ... I've always liked visiting cemeteries. They're quiet and mysterious."

Dianne Samuelson of Ferndale enjoyed the history and the performances themselves. "It really brings local history to life, and all the actors did a fabulous job and never broke character. I tried to say hi to a professor I've known since '78, and she wouldn't even look at me. So they really stay in character."

Erin Dunn, one of the co-producers of the event, said that attendance numbers were up by 300 this year. She thanked everyone who helped make the fundraiser for the Fortuna Cemetery District such a success.

Alex Service, who researched the characters for this year's show, said they've already scheduled next year's performance for the Sunday before Halloween.

"Our current plan is for the third annual Grave Matters ... to again take place at Sunrise Cemetery. After 2012, we may branch out to some of the other cemeteries in the Fortuna Cemetery District, which includes seven cemeteries in Fortuna, Rohnerville, and Hydesville. There are definitely enough interesting characters ... to warrant many more tours."

Ross Rowley, the other co-producer, explained the challenging logistics of holding a performance in one of the district's smaller cemeteries. "We are concentrating on (Sunrise Cemetery) because of ease of operation for now. It's getting people there-the other ones are on hills almost at 40 degrees."

Rowley went on to surmise why hilltops were popular settings for cemeteries back in the early 1900s.

"I would imagine that view had everything to do with it ... the old Hydesville Cemetery has a view of Alton and the Van Duzer River Valley. Why did they choose that place? I think to the Odd Fellows that started all these back in the 1850s, they were memorial gardens more than cemeteries. At the turn of the century they had bands playing in little gazebos and they had picnics and fountains. They would have held town events at the memorial gardens."

Director Carol Escobar hoped that this year's audience got the message that everyone's life tells a story worth hearing. "One of my things is this - every single person in existence has something interesting in them... that could be made into a two-hour movie."

The characters portrayed in this year's performance had advice for their listeners as well. One such nugget of wisdom came from dance instructor, Dandy" Ned Spesert (1885-1924): "Feet and family carry you through a lot in life, and neither one gets the care and attention it deserves."

photo captions:

photos by Linden Lentz

1. Diana Herberger played Maud Passmore.

2. Don Brown portrayed Fred Pollard.

3. Daniel Kennedy and Kelsey Larson as Robert Murtagh and Sheila Davenport.

4. Alex Service portrayed Mary Rohner.

5. TOP: David Hamilton played 'Dandy' Ned Spesert. BOTTOM: Tyler Elwell played Leo Gallagher, Jr.