a different sort of angel… Dave Mattis: March 24, 1973 – January 2014

At my first haunt, Grisly Gothic Gables, sometimes we needed to have wall panels attached to the floor with concrete screws.  One of our crew members, “Donk,” usually did this for us, so we called it ‘donking the wall.’

This past year – and many years since Grisly – while building the Chamber of Horrors, I found myself checking walls and telling Bones, “No no, we have to Donk this panel, too.”


“Well, let me tell you about someone…”

donk 3

Donk is the fellow sorta in the middle of the photo, lounging in front of the fireplace.  This is a crew shot from Grisly, and in many ways I think it describes Donk.  He’s in the middle, but on the edge. He’s almost easy to miss….but only because you’re not there in person.

Donk was a member of our core group, our “Skeleton Crew.”  He was incredibly reliable – I can’t think offhand of him ever missing a performance – and while he refused to take on any sort of management title, he wore a radio for me because he was unofficial security. I knew that if he was in the haunt, my nearby female cast members were safe from any possible mischief or accidents.

When I think of Donk, I always think of his laughter first, his quiet determination to keep people safe second, and his mugging for the camera third.  Although he was generally camera shy in his day to day life, he had so much love for his characters and his special effect contacts that I honestly never realized he was known for avoiding photographs.

donk 4

And – as is so common – I didn’t know much about Donk outside the haunt.  I knew he was Wiccan – we discussed it on Facebook a few times – and I knew bits and pieces of his life, but I’m realizing now how little that actually was.  For example:  he wasn’t Dave to me, he was Donk.  He was gloriously DONK.  He loved to bellow “DAH-OOOOOONK!” – I can still hear the sound echoing down Philadelphia streets – and then laugh.  But it was only recently that I met the person that gifted him with that nickname.  It’s a quiet little reminder that, so often, we can love someone and consider them family, and never know every story that makes up that person’s life.

Last month, a stranger responded to a photo I’d posted and tagged Donk in, saying he had passed away.  A large part of me still can’t believe it.  I’ve been wanting to write a memorial since, but it’s an impossible thing to really believe the news.  I’ve found myself reading through old emails…like you do…and found this, which had been a response to my talking to him about my struggle with depression:

“…been there ,but i realized ,that’s when you need to embrace your friends (real friends ) not to shy away cause that’s when the loneliness causes you to do things ..out of character . besides your too sweet and hot to get depressed…”

I remember laughing and feeling wrapped in his affection and understanding.  I read that now and wish I’d had the chance to return that love.

donk 2


I don’t generally believe in angels.  I make an exception in Dave’s case.  Most of us never know how much we affect other people’s lives and stories.  Donk’s influence went so much further than he ever knew, and he’s one of those people that just brought joy to others’ lives.  I hope he knew, on some level, how much of a positive he was to the world around him, and I find myself believing wholeheartedly that not only does his joy continue, but that he’s protecting and loving us from wherever he is now.


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