Grave Matters and Untimely Departures Returns to Fortuna

Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

In 1900, Mr. Henry Harrison Penoyer, better known as Harry, was struck and killed by a logging train near Scotia. The 28-year-old was then buried in Sunrise Cemetery in Fortuna.

His story will come to life this weekend, as one of the characters in Grave Matters and Untimely Departures, which allows members of the public to be part of mystery and mayhem in Fortuna's Sunrise Cemetery. Local actor Benjamin Shefchik will bring Penoyer to life, as one of eight new stories this year.

"Each year we find new and untold stories with a twist at Sunrise Cemetery," said Grave Matters co-producer Erin Dunn.

The event will take place on Sunday, October 27th, with the first tour at 1 p.m. and the last "flashlight tour" at 5:30 p.m. Parking is available at Newburg Park and then a shuttle will transport participants to Sunrise Cemetery. Each tour last approximately 50 minutes, and participants are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes.

"We love showing off the cemetery to visitors," said Grave Matters co-producer and Fortuna Cemetery District Board Chairman Ross Rowley.

The program is directed and researched by Alexandra Service (curator of the Fortuna Depot Museum), and includes some of the area's finest actors, several of them returning for another engagement at Sunrise Cemetery, including Service.

Service will play the part of Frances Mae Williams, a woman who died in 1902 at 45 while giving birth to her 13th child. She was related by marriage to the founder of Williams, Calif., and made her way west from Illinois when she married Harvey Williams. She is buried next to her son Georgie, who died in 1900 at the age of 2.

"One of the most exciting things about Grave Matters is the way it involves the community in learning and preserving our local history," Service said. "So many people have told me that Grave Matters has become their favorite annual event, and have said how wonderful it is to have an event like this that showcases Fortuna's own fascinating history."

Samuel Raymond Clark, also known as "Sturdy," and played by local actor Brian Walker, will welcome guests to the theatrics of the cemetery. His story is that he was killed in 1929 at age 40 following a fight in his Garberville establishment (probably a speakeasy) after being struck with a billiard cue.

Tickets for the Grave Matters and Untimely Departures event are $15, and can be purchased at the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce office, or on the day of the performance, in the Newburg Park parking lot.

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel

Photo Caption: Frances Mae Williams (played by local actor Alex Service) was 45 years old when she died in childbirth in 1902. Her story is one of eight included in this year's Grave Matters and Untimely Departures.