Very Richmond #4: Iron Dog at Hollywood Cemetery


Iron Dog is one of the more popular legends of Richmond

Hollywood Cemetery, located in the Oregon Hill neighborhood, ranks high on most Richmonders’ lists of places to show visitors. It was established in 1847 by private citizens who wanted a cemetery to rival Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. It was founded in 1849 as a “rural decorated cemetery” and as early as 1851, the cemetery had become a public park. It now contains more than 52,000 monuments and graves of many famous Americans.

One of the best liked and well-known monuments is the cast-iron Newfoundland standing guard over a grave. Iron Dog is by far more famous as a curiosity than for the person buried there. In fact, there are many versions of the Iron Dog story, and the Valentine Richmond History Center helped to identify several.

Click for a larger image

Iron Dog

What is fairly certain is that a female toddler is buried there, last name Rees. I’ve seen at least three first names — Florence, Elizabeth and Bernadine, with the latter being the most likely. She apparently died of a childhood disease (maybe scarlet fever) in 1862 before she reached the age of 3.

A fine article by Walter S. Griggs Jr. in the Summer 2006 Richmond Guide has three versions of how Iron Dog got to the area he notes became known as “Black Dog Hill”:

  1. It was moved to the gravesite to keep it from being melted down to make bullets. “Even a desperate nation did not melt down cemetery monuments.”
  2. Iron Dog’s owner remembered how much the girl liked to pat the statue, so he gave it to her family to guard her grave.
  3. The girl’s family bought Iron Dog and placed it at the grave as a memorial to her.

Yet another version of the story has her father placing Iron Dog on the burial plot long before the girl died, as detailed in this undated entry from the Richmond Times-Dispatch archives:

Some local historians think Rees’ father was simply preserving a family treasure in hard times. The Confederate government was confiscating cast iron from families during the Civil War. Even local churches — with the exception of First Baptist Church on Monument and Boulevard — gave up their church bells during the war years.

Another twist that seems easy to debunk is that the Iron Dog came from Petersburg. That seems erroneous. A letter to the editor at the RTD (date unknown) says the dog belonged to Charles R. Rees who ran “photography gallery” in Richmond during the Civil War. Iron Dog was kept at the store and was moved by Rees to Hollywood Cemetery to keep it from being melted down for bullets. The letter was penned by a woman named Ada R. Bailey who claimed to be Rees’ granddaughter. She said Rees moved to Petersburg in 1880 — several years after the dog was first placed in the cemetery — backing the theory that the dog was from a Richmond store.

No matter which version you want to believe, the lore of the story is what people seem to love most. Trinkets, toys, coins and flowers are often said to be found at the grave and on the black Iron Dog, as if we all have some relation to the little girl and her famous guardian.


Iron Dog watches over the grave of a girl, who died as a toddler

26 responses to this post.

  1. […] pet it and dote on it as if it were real. When she died, the owner placed it by her graveside. Another legend says the cast iron Newfoundland was placed in the cemetery to avoid being melted down and turned […]


  2. […] crowd favorite, this iron dog guards the grave of a young girl who died in 1862. Several local legends describe the dog’s arrival to this spot. I like the least sentimental version: The family was […]


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  5. […] The grave itself has become something of a modern day altar, strewn with baby toys. Did grieving parents leave the toys or did children who were touched by the story leave them? I found a blog post on the grave by Richmond on the James. […]


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  11. […] Very Richmond #4: Iron Dog at Hollywood Cemetery […]


  12. Posted by Angela Smythe on September 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    The undated newspaper article that you reference is from the Richmond Times Dispatch of May 16, 1949: Story of the Iron Dog in Hollywood Cemetery, by Ada R. Bailey. What a charming story!


  13. […] go out to Grady Beans for finding Leinie at Hollywood Cemetery by the Iron Dog statue. If you didn’t know, Hollywood Cemetery is dog friendly…of course, pick up after your […]


  14. Hi there, I check your blog daily. Your writing style is witty,
    keep doing what you’re doing!


  15. I love the story behind this amazing cast iron dog.


  16. […] in the cemetery, which appears on the website’s virtual map, as well as having his own article here, at a great blog I just ran across devoted to Richmond. At any rate, I think the animal statuary […]


  17. Posted by Judy Nuckols on January 6, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Who wrote “The Ghosts of Richmond ?” I had gotten the book as well as the “Ghosts of Virginia” back in the early 90’s; but they’ve gotten lost between moves. I’d heard about the vampire that’s in one of the vaults near the entrance.


  18. Posted by Sandra Wash on July 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I grew-up on Oregon Hill but never had and desire to go into Hollywood Cemetary but I was in there the other day and the place is totally awesome..some 18,000 soldiers are burried there..not to mention a ton of history


    • Posted by Debbie on March 5, 2013 at 8:47 am

      I grew up on Oregon Hill as well and visited Hollywood Cemetary several times. Recently, I visited it again and was amazed at the improvements and history that I wasn’t aware of as a child.


  19. […] picture is from the blog Richmond on the James, which also has a bit of story about the origin of the dog and its relocation to the […]


  20. Posted by adrievla on December 12, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    I love going to the cemetary and hanging out by myself.
    I was wondering if you have heard any stories about The tomb of the vampire reads W.W. Pool. Mr. William Wortham Pool ?
    please email me.thanks.


  21. There is a really wonderful story about this in “Ghosts of Richmond”.
    I had told my little granddaughter about it, and she wanted to see the dog. When we were in Va. this summer, we went to Hollywood Cemetery.
    An amazing place!!
    Well worth a visit.


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