Virtual & Walking Cemetery Tours Share North Bay History This Halloween

Whoever said, “Dead men tell no tales,” never visited a cemetery tour like the ones that pop up in the North Bay every Halloween season. Even with this year’s pandemic making group gatherings difficult in parts of the region, two local groups are telling tales about the historical figures residing at local cemeteries.

First up, Tulocay Cemetery in Napa holds a thousand stories waiting to be told among its grassy hills and century-old tombstones. This week, the Napa County Historical Society launches the first phase of an ambitious three-year project to tell several of these stories through interactive, self-guided and virtual tours of Tulocay and the surrounding community.

The society debuts “Echoes of Napa Valley: The Tulocay Project” on Thursday, Oct. 29, online at 7pm. The creative team at NCHS will be on hand for a discussion about the project before NCHS presents a virtual cemetery tour that is “hosted” by an actual historical figure.

Of course, the dead are not actually rising from the grave, but actors will embody figures like Maria de Jesus Higuera Juarez (1815-1890), who comes to life to host the virtual Oct. 29 tour.

“Echoes of Napa Valley: The Tulocay Project” will cover figures like Juarez and her husband Don Cayetano Juarez, early North Bay settlers who obtained the original land grant from the Mexican government for what is now Napa and gifted Tulocay’s acreage.

Other figures who are coming to life for virtual tours includes Nathan Coombs, founder of the city of Napa. The project will also highlight the First Peoples of the Napa Valley, the Patwin and Wappo, whose stories remain largely untold.

The project is operating in partnership with New Tech High School in Napa, where students are developing dramatic monologues and graphic displays, and Napa Valley College Performing Arts, which is providing opportunities to workshop new performances.

NCHS also hopes to inspire the audience to research their own stories and ask themselves important questions about community, identity and culture.

‘Echoes of Napa Valley: The Tulocay Project’ debuts on Thursday, Oct. 29, at 7pm. $10 donation. Napahistory.org.

In Marin County, Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery has stood for 140 years in San Rafael, situated on twenty acres of hilltop property along Los Ranchitos Road. The cemetery currently provides a final resting place for over 14,000 persons. Some of those people are famous; some of them are infamous.

This weekend, Marin History Museum hosts the Halloween-appropriate “Walking Tour: Mt. Olivet Cemetery & Its Famous–and Infamous–Residents,” on the morning of Oct. 31. Historian Marcie Miller will lead the guided tour and will reveal who resides at the cemetery, from some of Marin’s most prominent pioneers to convicts executed at San Quentin State Prison such as Juanita Spinelli, aka “The Duchess,” who was the first woman to be executed by the state of California via San Quentin’s gas chamber in 1941.

The walking tour of Mt Olivet Cemetery, 270 Los Ranchitos Road, San Rafael, begins at 10am on Saturday, Oct. 31. To pre-register, email [email protected] or call 415.446.8869.

Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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