Visitors to Fortuna, CA, on Sunday, October 29, 2017, may be greeted by some of its most permanent citizens, those residing in the Sunrise Cemetery that overlooks the historic town. These residents depend on their soulmates, local actors in period clothing, to convey the true stories of their lives and the sometimes scandalous tales surrounding their demise. Visitors must be brave enough to approach their tombstones to hear their spirited stories.
Visitors will hear from some of the cemetery’s residents, both the infamous and the obscure, during the Seventh Annual Grave Matters & Untimely Departures. Perhaps Henry Rohner, a founding citizen of Fortuna, will greet you. Born in Switzerland, he came west to pan for gold in 1849, opened the first store in Rohnerville, and built the first lumber mill and substantial house in Fortuna in 1882.
Or perhaps you will meet poor literary “Lottie” Charlotte Farmer, a lover of poetry and southern culture who grew up in the shadow of “Ole Miss”. Did you know that Lysol could kill not only germs but people? Lottie knew, when she committed suicide in the town library in 1932, in the hope of escaping her difficult life in Fortuna to join her literary heroines like Anna Karenina in an eternal book group beyond.
Some mysteries will never be solved. Was Jack Walters’ yuletide death the suicide of a jilted lover or murder by a jealous rival? Others, like Earl Miller, rest unmarked in the county plot, their fate and final resting place unknown to family. Out of work in the Depression, Earl rode the rails out to California and became a lumberjack. If only he had known how easy it was to be poisoned during Prohibition if you drown your misery with alcohol that wasn’t meant to be drunk?
Rest assured, not every grave holds scandalous stories – here lies Dr. Comfort, who loved the people of Fortuna for whom he cared, Ora Herriford, who died saving her daughter from drowning in a well, and brave Lancelot Beacom, who died not in the trenches of France when wounded in battle, but succumbed to Spanish flu instead.
Who knows what permanent residents will appear from their graves to tell you about their lives in Humboldt County this Halloween? You’ll only know the answer when you come to Grave Matters & Untimely Departures this year. Don’t let your arrival in Fortuna be untimely, too – make your reservation at the Redwood Riverwalk Hotel soon!
7th Annual Grave Matters & Untimely Departures
Date: Sunday, October 29, 2017 Time: 2:00 – 6:00 pm, rain, shine, or spooky thunderstorm.
Length of tour: Approximately 50 minutes; tours depart every 10 minutes. Comfortable shoes are suggested for the tour.
Location: Sunrise Cemetery, Newburg Road, Fortuna, CA. Vehicles are not allowed to park in the cemetery.
Admission: $15.00 per person. Tickets may be purchased at the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce or the day of the performance at Fortuna’s Newburg Park, where visitors may park and take the cemetery shuttle.
Proceeds benefit the Fortuna Cemetery District.