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.
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.
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.
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.