Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Stonewall Jackson at Capitol Square

Gen. Thomas Stonewall Jackson statue at Capitol Square

Gen. Thomas Stonewall Jackson

Gen. Thomas Stonewall Jackson statue at the Virginia State CapitolWHAT: Statue of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson [slideshow]

LOCATION: Capitol Square, along Northern Boundary in downtown Richmond at the Virginia State Capitol.

ARTIST: John Henry Foley. 

DEDICATION: October 26, 1875. 

DESCRIPTION: This bronze 7 foot high standing figure was sculpted and cast in England. It was commissioned by a group of admiring gentlemen shortly after Jackson’s death. The state had the 9 foot pedestal erected and paid for the delivery of the statue.

George Washington equestrian statue at Capitol Square

George Washington equestrian statue at Capitol Square

George Washington equestrian statue at Capitol Square

Thomas Jefferson on the George Washington statue at Capitol Square

Thomas Jefferson

LOCATION: Capitol Square, northwest corner on axis with Grace Street extended. [slideshow]

ARTIST: Thomas Crawford, completed by Randolph Rogers.

COMPLETION: 1858-1869.

DESCRIPTION: A commanding equestrian figure of George Washington, 20 foot high mounted on a 40 foot high granite pedestal. The pedestal is surrounded by six 12 foot high bronze standing figures of John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Nelson, and Andrew Lewis. Sitting out from the main grouping are six allegorical figures, each on their own pedestal. These figures represent Independence, Revolution, Bill of Rights, Justice, Finance, and Colonial Times. A cast iron fence surrounds the entire statue edifice.

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Equestrian figure of George WashingtonI’m fond of statues and honoring our historic heroes, but I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the quality or composition of sculpture art. I’ve always liked the George Washington equestrian statue at Capitol Square. It is majestic and striking – and also more than 140 years old.

The image of Washington on his horse is not the way I picture him in my imagination, but it will do. If you want the more subdued and presidential version, go inside the Rotunda in the Capitol. It’s good to have options.

The equestrian statue has had its critics over the years. An excerpt from the Richmond Times-Dispatch on artwork at the Virginia State Capitol:

The Washington equestrian by Thomas Crawford may be the central piece of the outdoor collection, but it has come under the most vicious attacks.

Novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing in his Italian notebooks, gave a detailed description of this “very foolish and illogical piece of work — Washington mounted on a very uneasy steed, on a very narrow space, aloft in the air, when a single step of the horse backward, forward or on either side, must precipitate him; and several of his contemporaries standing beneath him, not looking up to wonder at his predicament, but each intent on manifesting his own personality to the world around.”

In his “History of American Sculpture” for the National Sculpture Society, Lorado Taft found the work “so bad … that the approaching traveller can scarcely trust his eyes.”

He thought the horse looked like pasteboard being blown from its moorings, concluding that “there may be worse horses in American sculpture; there is certainly none more amusing.”

Taft also commented on the grave welts and sags captured by Joel Hart in the marble of Henry Clay, but what drew his attention was the face. “There is no getting away from the admirably ugly head,” he wrote.

Shockoe & Hollywood not only neglected cemeteries in Richmond

Katherine Calos of the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote an excellent story on the volunteer “Friends of” groups that have been organized to help maintain and restore Richmond’s famous Hollywood Cemetery in Oregon Hill and the lesser-celebrated Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Jackson Ward.

The cemeteries, both on the National Register of Historic Places, are the burial grounds for some of Virginia’s most prominent people: U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, governors and mayors.

Now the cemeteries are benefiting from two volunteer organizations — Friends of Hollywood Cemetery and Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery — that formed recently to bring new attention to the riches and the needs of each place.

Burial plot at Shockoe Hill Cemetery for John Marshall, former chief justice of the United States

It’s good to see something positive written about our historic cemeteries, rather than reports of vandalism, robbery or storm damage.

Hollywood is famous for many reasons and is a tourist attraction for the city.  Shockoe Hill does not have that advantage. A few years ago when I worked for the Times-Dispatch and the Discover Richmond website, I realized that I had never been to any of Richmond’s “other” historic cemeteries. In 2007, I made it my goal to visit as many as I could.

I made a stop on the way to work on morning at Shockoe Hill [see slideshow] — It reminded me of Hollywood for the artistry of the headstones and the fact that it has several famous figures in Richmond’s history — including the Civil War – but the maintainance wasn’t quite what you’d expect at Hollywood.

Hebrew Cemetery in Jackson Ward

Hebrew Cemetery in Jackson Ward

Across Hospital Street, Hebrew Cemetery [see slideshow] is much smaller, so the plots and stones are packed in tight. There is no lack of ornamentation or interesting ironwork in this resting place. You can find so many great family names in our city’s history there as well. My visit there was brief, but the artistic images of that day are still etched in my mind.

A disappointment, I visited the Jewish Cemetery [see slideshow] in Shockoe Bottom expecting to see many stones. Almost all of the markers were moved long ago, and only the large gate is worth seeing.

Fort Harrison National Cemetery in Varina

Of course, there are many Civil War burial grounds that are part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park sites.  My favorite is at Cold Harbor National Cemetery, but I have also visited Glendale, Fort Harrison, Richmond and even City Point in Hopewell.  

The cemeteries are all somewhat similar and the upkeep for these resting places has much more financial backing, but I was told by a groundskeeper at Glendale that the number of visitors to these hallowed grounds are diminishing. I expect that will change as we approach the Sesquicentennial — the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War (2011-2015).

The cemetery at Blandford Church [see slideshow] is Petersburg’s version of Hollywood Cemetery and is a treasure worth visiting — especially for the Tiffany glass windows inside the church [see slideshow].

Since those visits to most of the cemeteries, I haven’t made many returns (other than Hollywood). The best thing I found about going the cemeteries – besides the artistic beauty I find in the stone markers contrasting with sun and the natural surroundings — is that I have a deeper appreciation for our history and the people who made it. 

When I pass over the Shockoe Valley bridge on Interstate 64 headed toward Richmond, the Hebrew Cemetery is in full view. The tall brick walls surrounding Shockoe Hill Cemetery can also be seen from the highway. Sitting on the rocks at Belle Isle or crossing the Robert E. Lee Bridge downtown, you can see the headstones and the majestic hillside at Hollywood Cemetery. 

There are also other needy and forgotten cemeteries like Oakwood and Evergreen — which the RTD’s Michael Paul Williams has covered extensively. Oakwood was in the news recently for a new iron fence added to a memorial and Evergreen has had several weekend cleanups. 

I plan to volunteer with one of these friends groups some weekend to help clean these cemeteries. Respect these places. Honor the memories of the heroes of Richmond’s past.

‘Graces’ statue at Maymont in the snow

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When it snows (at least in the South), it makes almost any photo look special. Even a bland scene can turn into artwork after a good snow storm. 

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Maymont is one of my favorite places to visit in Richmond. If you’ve been there, you know the landscape itself is artwork. The big snowstorm this past weekend in Richmond left a white blanket of photographic enhancement.   

The Three Graces statue at the Dooley Mansion is a reminder of the Victorian Age, and looks even more lovely in an icy blue tone.

Here is the information from my “Statues & Monuments” page, from researcher Kathy Albers:  

“THE THREE GRACES” [see slideshow]   

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LOCATION: Maymont, just south of the Dooley Mansion Porte cochere.  

ARTIST: Antonio Canova.  

DEDICATION: Late 1800′s.  

DESCRIPTION: Three marble females standing figures approximately 5 1/2 foot high on an 2 foot high marble base. The three graces, Splendor, Mirth, and Good Cheer are carved in the Roman tradition intertwined with garlands, ribbons and drapery.

While I’m mentioning it, Maymont is known for its holiday decoration and a tour of the inside of the Dooley Mansion in its Victorian splendor is a unique treat. Or, take an evening carriage ride!

Very Richmond #6: The Byrd Theatre

Richmond’s Grand Movie Palace

I guess I’m not a huge movie fan. If I want to see to a movie, I can usually be patient and see it when the price goes down. 

Maybe I’m just a fan of whatever is playing at The Byrd Theatre, “Richmond’s Premiere Movie Palace” in the trendy Carytown District. A nightly survey of the paying customer would show a great mix of Richmond’s culturally enhanced — those with a more refined taste in where to spend a night at the cinema. There, you’re not going to the movies, you’re going to The Byrd. Big difference.

A history (paraphrased from the Byrd Theatre’s website):

It was built in 1928 as one of the Nation’s Grand Movie Palaces and today is both a State and National Historic landmark. The 1,300-seat Byrd Theatre, named after William Byrd, one of the founders of Richmond, is one of the nation’s finest cinema treasures.  The first movie was Waterfront, shown at The Byrd on Christmas Eve in 1928. Patrons paid 25 cents for a matinée and 50 cents for an evening movie. Today patrons pay $1.99 for a movie.

The price is right, but I’ve often said I’d pay $2 just to watch house organist Bob Gulledge and the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ crank a jaunty tune on a given Saturday night. 

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The Mighty Wurlitzer organ alone is worth a visit on the weekends

The organ is so engaging, who needs Dolby Surround Sound? The entire wall behind the theater curtain is the organ. My friend and former co-worker at Andrew Cothern once did a behind the scenes look at the gigantic Wurlitzer that showed off the large amount of working parts, long pipes and the general enormity of the organ. Amazing how it can withstand 80+ years of vibrations and aging.

Here’s more on The Mighty Wurlitzer: “A landmark within a landmark”

The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is perhaps the Byrd’s most recognizable trademark. The Rudolf Wurlitzer Company, which custom made organs for the leading theatres of the country, installed the organ when the theatre was built. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” theatre organ was designed as a “one man orchestra” to accompany silent movies.

My little kids seem to appreciate the novelty of it too, which assures me we’ve been teaching them to appreciate things that are authentic, unique and cool — not just new, flashy and current.

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I love the little things about The Byrd Theatre

Yes, the old theater seats are run-down and maybe a little cramped. If a new theater at premium prices with perfect (and loud) sound is what you want, go for it. I’d rather give my money (we usually donate an additional $5 when we go) to the Byrd Theatre Foundation than a monopolistic mega-movie theater.

More paraphrasing from the website:

The Byrd Theatre has never been remodeled with a few exceptions involving the stage area to accommodate up-to-date screens and the lobby to make room for a concession area. It is an architectural treasure chest adorned with paintings, marbled walls, gold leaf arches, a richly appointed mezzanine, and some of the original patterned mohair-covered seats. An 18-foot, two-and-a-half ton Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier suspended over the auditorium contains over 5,000 crystals illuminated by 500 red, blue, green and amber lights.

You want to know just how Very Richmond The Byrd Theatre is to me? My wife and I have often said that the :55 second anti-litter clip from the “Virginia Litter Control and Recycling Fund Advisory Board” (or something like that) would be worth $2, just to hear the audience (that has the hilarious and ancient cult-classic memorized) calling out the lines along with the actors:

Carytown's shining marque

“Litter! In the bathrooms. In the aisles.”


“It’s pretty gross!”

“I…I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

“Someone needs parental guidance.”

“This kind of trash doesn’t belong here….Or anywhere else!!!”

I probably have some of the lines wrong and I’m missing some dialogue, but if you recognized that I missing something, then you don’t need me to tell you how cool and Very Richmond The Byrd Theatre is.


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