All posts by joshpress29

Field Report 5, The Outskirts

After our trip to Evergreen and East End Cemeteries, it would be difficult to not draw comparisons between these and Hollywood. Hollywood was originally set on the outskirts of the city before the city expanded to surround it. Evergreen is in fact inside the cities borders, and East End is set just outside the city of Richmond however in their case the city didn’t expand in that direction to include them. Hollywood has walkways and drivable roads set amongst rolling hills of green grass and trees speckled amongst the well maintained family plots. Evergreen and East End have hills, it has green and it has plots; however the hills that these two have are completely covered in dead leaves, new growth and briar bushes that stick the legs anyone venturing into the unknown. The green that these two cemeteries have is comprised not of lush green grass but instead by overgrown trees that tower over the undergrowth of new ferns and poison ivy. Lastly, the plots that make up Evergreen and East end, compared to Hollywood, these two… they have plots and a few of them have been fenced in to establish their plot from the others but that is where the similarities end. In Hollywood, the family plots are organized with names of the people buried there, they are maintained, the majority of the graves can be read and all of the graves in Hollywood are upright. This is not the case at Evergreen and East End; a few families have fences around their gravesites here and if they are it is not in the same the lavish way they appear in their cross-town counterparts ploys. The few plots in Evergreen and East End that managed to be fenced did so with very plain iron or with stacked cinderblocks. Many of the individual graves in these two cemeteries were impossible to make out or completely toppled over by the overgrowth or fallen tree limbs.

All of this being said, it isn’t a hard ask to imagine these two cemeteries in their hay day minus the overgrowth and trash. Both are located in what would have been nice areas along a creek and rolling hills. In addition to the once beautiful scenery, many prominent black Richmonders are buried here, people like Maggie Walker and her family, John Mitchell Jr. and his family. These people are in large part what helped to give our city its history. Walker and Mitchell’s plots are located next to each other in Evergreen on the top of the tallest hill in the area, Walker’s memorial is a large cross that would have been able to been seen from anywhere in the cemetery. It would have been a beacon of hope amongst a city that needed it. Now it is a symbol of a hope that lies in an all but forgotten patch of land outside of the city dump. So that leads to the bigger question of how did these two cemeteries fall into such disarray? There are many different potential answers to this question. One is the fact that these are primarily burial grounds for blacks and the city’s track record with such things isn’t very bright. This aside, Evergreen is privately owned by what was once a corporation but is now just a single man. Without financial help, a cemetery, especially a rural cemetery, will be reclaimed by nature. It was promising to see the work that John Shuck and the volunteers put into these two historic areas but the battle is much more than a handful of people can take on. It was disheartening to go down to the area in Evergreen that they had cleared before moving up to East End because it had already begun to overgrow again. These people clearly need help, whether it be from the state, local churches or the owners son; without help from somewhere, a large piece of Richmond history could be lost to time and nature.

Field Report 5, The Outskirts

After our trip to Evergreen and East End Cemeteries, it would be difficult to not draw comparisons between these and Hollywood. Hollywood was originally set on the outskirts of the city before the city expanded to surround it. Evergreen is in fact inside the cities borders, and East End is set just outside the city of Richmond however in their case the city didn’t expand in that direction to include them. Hollywood has walkways and drivable roads set amongst rolling hills of green grass and trees speckled amongst the well maintained family plots. Evergreen and East End have hills, it has green and it has plots; however the hills that these two have are completely covered in dead leaves, new growth and briar bushes that stick the legs anyone venturing into the unknown. The green that these two cemeteries have is comprised not of lush green grass but instead by overgrown trees that tower over the undergrowth of new ferns and poison ivy. Lastly, the plots that make up Evergreen and East end, compared to Hollywood, these two… they have plots and a few of them have been fenced in to establish their plot from the others but that is where the similarities end. In Hollywood, the family plots are organized with names of the people buried there, they are maintained, the majority of the graves can be read and all of the graves in Hollywood are upright. This is not the case at Evergreen and East End; a few families have fences around their gravesites here and if they are it is not in the same the lavish way they appear in their cross-town counterparts ploys. The few plots in Evergreen and East End that managed to be fenced did so with very plain iron or with stacked cinderblocks. Many of the individual graves in these two cemeteries were impossible to make out or completely toppled over by the overgrowth or fallen tree limbs.

All of this being said, it isn’t a hard ask to imagine these two cemeteries in their hay day minus the overgrowth and trash. Both are located in what would have been nice areas along a creek and rolling hills. In addition to the once beautiful scenery, many prominent black Richmonders are buried here, people like Maggie Walker and her family, John Mitchell Jr. and his family. These people are in large part what helped to give our city its history. Walker and Mitchell’s plots are located next to each other in Evergreen on the top of the tallest hill in the area, Walker’s memorial is a large cross that would have been able to been seen from anywhere in the cemetery. It would have been a beacon of hope amongst a city that needed it. Now it is a symbol of a hope that lies in an all but forgotten patch of land outside of the city dump. So that leads to the bigger question of how did these two cemeteries fall into such disarray? There are many different potential answers to this question. One is the fact that these are primarily burial grounds for blacks and the city’s track record with such things isn’t very bright. This aside, Evergreen is privately owned by what was once a corporation but is now just a single man. Without financial help, a cemetery, especially a rural cemetery, will be reclaimed by nature. It was promising to see the work that John Shuck and the volunteers put into these two historic areas but the battle is much more than a handful of people can take on. It was disheartening to go down to the area in Evergreen that they had cleared before moving up to East End because it had already begun to overgrow again. These people clearly need help, whether it be from the state, local churches or the owners son; without help from somewhere, a large piece of Richmond history could be lost to time and nature.

Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery truly demonstrates what a rural cemetery, as described by Stanley French, is meant to do. The cemetery is full with long winding stretches of trail that lead the visitor deeper into lives of Americans past set against a beautiful landscape along the roaring rapids of the James River which can be heard the further in you go. Among the likes of former United States Presidents Monroe and Tyler in Presidential Circle as well as Confederates States President Jefferson Davies and other Civil War Generals and famous Richmonders, lies the man who at the time of his death, the Richmond Times Dispatch referred to as “the greatest Richmonder ever.” The man is Lewis Ginter and his mausoleum was the most intriguing piece of the cemetery to me. While he wasn’t born in Richmond, Ginter made his name here, born in New York, he first eared his stripes in Richmond when he was eighteen when he first invested in the linen industry. A few years later he would go to war, fighting for his adopted home for the side of the Confederacy. After the war Ginter found himself with nothing after the burning of Richmond and so he quickly took up stake in the real estate market as well as the tobacco industry. May people knew Lewis Ginter to be a kind, gentle man who didn’t actively seek to display his wealth unless it was to give back to the city he called home. Ginter’s death was due to complications in his personal life and also prolonged untreated diabetes, his request was to not make a huge scene with his funeral but the Times Dispatch at the time reported that his funeral was the largest in Richmond history. Many shops around town closed for the day, if they didn’t close some business owners offered to let their employees take the day to go to the funeral. Ginter is buried in a family plot that is located along the edge of the cemetery that borders the James River. It is nestled in between a rolling hill on one side and well places and landscaped trees that cast shade down. The mausoleum that he is interred inside is beautiful. The gorgeous stone mausoleum is raised four steps off of the ground and opens with two large bronze doors. Inside of the mausoleum, Ginter is inside of a large beautifully crafted cedar wood casket. On three of the walls inside the mausoleum there are three Tiffany company crafted stained glass windows. These windows all depict different interpretations of mourning and passing on to the next. The one directly behind the casket, across for the doors depicts an angel holding a stalk of white lilies symbolizing moving on to the next life. The others are a little harder to see because of he angle you have to look in the mausoleum through the doors. One is a jeweled cross, surrounded by vibrant grapevines and the other is a crown encased in overgrown foliage. Every aspect of Ginter’s resting place demonstrates the beauty of nature while also displaying death in a respectful way. Much like French describes the rural cemetery to be, Ginter’s Mausoleum is a place for someone to feel the light of hope amongst the darkness of death. Post-script: Walking past the mausoleum into the trees I came across a sundial, which I found later to be the resting place of Ginter’s niece, Grace Arents. I sat in this place for a while listening to the river and taking in the surrounding area, it was a place that I had never noticed before and one that goes under the radar of most who visit Ginter’s mausoleum. It was truly a place of beauty.

Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery truly demonstrates what a rural cemetery, as described by Stanley French, is meant to do. The cemetery is full with long winding stretches of trail that lead the visitor deeper into lives of Americans past set against a beautiful landscape along the roaring rapids of the James River which can be heard the further in you go. Among the likes of former United States Presidents Monroe and Tyler in Presidential Circle as well as Confederates States President Jefferson Davies and other Civil War Generals and famous Richmonders, lies the man who at the time of his death, the Richmond Times Dispatch referred to as “the greatest Richmonder ever.” The man is Lewis Ginter and his mausoleum was the most intriguing piece of the cemetery to me. While he wasn’t born in Richmond, Ginter made his name here, born in New York, he first eared his stripes in Richmond when he was eighteen when he first invested in the linen industry. A few years later he would go to war, fighting for his adopted home for the side of the Confederacy. After the war Ginter found himself with nothing after the burning of Richmond and so he quickly took up stake in the real estate market as well as the tobacco industry. May people knew Lewis Ginter to be a kind, gentle man who didn’t actively seek to display his wealth unless it was to give back to the city he called home. Ginter’s death was due to complications in his personal life and also prolonged untreated diabetes, his request was to not make a huge scene with his funeral but the Times Dispatch at the time reported that his funeral was the largest in Richmond history. Many shops around town closed for the day, if they didn’t close some business owners offered to let their employees take the day to go to the funeral. Ginter is buried in a family plot that is located along the edge of the cemetery that borders the James River. It is nestled in between a rolling hill on one side and well places and landscaped trees that cast shade down. The mausoleum that he is interred inside is beautiful. The gorgeous stone mausoleum is raised four steps off of the ground and opens with two large bronze doors. Inside of the mausoleum, Ginter is inside of a large beautifully crafted cedar wood casket. On three of the walls inside the mausoleum there are three Tiffany company crafted stained glass windows. These windows all depict different interpretations of mourning and passing on to the next. The one directly behind the casket, across for the doors depicts an angel holding a stalk of white lilies symbolizing moving on to the next life. The others are a little harder to see because of he angle you have to look in the mausoleum through the doors. One is a jeweled cross, surrounded by vibrant grapevines and the other is a crown encased in overgrown foliage. Every aspect of Ginter’s resting place demonstrates the beauty of nature while also displaying death in a respectful way. Much like French describes the rural cemetery to be, Ginter’s Mausoleum is a place for someone to feel the light of hope amongst the darkness of death. Post-script: Walking past the mausoleum into the trees I came across a sundial, which I found later to be the resting place of Ginter’s niece, Grace Arents. I sat in this place for a while listening to the river and taking in the surrounding area, it was a place that I had never noticed before and one that goes under the radar of most who visit Ginter’s mausoleum. It was truly a place of beauty.

The Richmond African Burial Grounds

When the class visited the African Burial Grounds one of the questions that stuck out to me the most was: Is this site an accomplishment by the city to bring this area to light or a failed half-hearted attempt, constructed to quell disgruntled people? In comparison to the beautifully managed, pretty-well preserved and privately owned state of the St. Johns Church yard, the African Burial Ground could not hold a candle.

 

As a home-grown Richmonder, it would have been impossible to grow up without 1) taking a field trip in elementary school to go visit the place where Patrick Henry said “Give Me liberty or Give Me death”, and 2) hearing about the site of the African Burial Grounds especially when talk of the Shockoe Stadium come up again every so often. However, as many times as I had heard about the Burial Grounds, I hadn’t been there until the day our class went. When I first got there, the Grounds looked like an athletic field that hadn’t been used in quite a while, there were street lights posted al around, big stretches of open grass area and on the far side of the entrance stood a city issued plaque that had begun to fall apart and rust. On the other side of the Grounds stood the Winfree Cottage, a historic structure that had ben located, moved and placed on blocks where it currently sits against a dirty wall that supports the highway. In stark comparison, St. Johns sits beautifully atop Church Hill with a wonderfully maintained churchyard and a fantastic tour guide who knows many of the stories that go along with the lucky peoples buried there. St. John’s is not quite perfect either. Many of the gravestones there have fallen into a state of disrepair leaving many of them without names to bear or stories to tell. In fact many of the dead buried under the churchyard are not marked because the stones making them had fallen and were not replace, so in a sense, this aspect of the Church is similar to The Burial Ground but it is still much more respected. Now back down the hill, The African Burial Ground has no such guide and no known stories of individuals that gave their lives helping to build the early settlement of Richmond. Much of the debate and discussion about the Burial Grounds now revolves around the building of a baseball stadium relatively close to the site. Many of the proponents for the Stadium have brought up that they would build a memorial to the Grounds and maybe that might bring some more recognition to the area that right now gets no attention and is hidden amongst the city? Maybe. But regardless, to answer the question, the African Burial Grounds, to me, seem like just another attempt to rectify a wrong done by Virginians of the past but by doing so they have only made the wrong worse. The Burial Grounds could offer so much more information to the city about how its was built and who it was built by but it lacks effort and funding. Unfortunately, the Burial Ground is just a half-hearted attempt that was made a few years back and has been once more left by the wayside as the city chooses to spend money on other improvements and developments.

Introductions

Hey guys,

Like most of you I am also a senior History major here at VCU. Currently I work at Amuse in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as a chef and after I graduate I plan on furthering my passion for southern food by using its history to further my understanding of how it developed. I’m excited to be taking this class with you all and Im looking forward to reading your posts.

Hope you enjoyed the snow, Stoked to see you Wednesday.