All posts by leighogus

Field Report 5

 

Getting to into Evergreen Cemetery is difficult but managing to navigate through it might be even more of a challenge. Walkways and paved roads are completely covered over by growing kudzu and it seems that there were never any marked pathways in existence. Even if all the new growth was cleared, many of the tombstones are already lost or destroyed by acts of vandalism. It’s disheartening to see the state of the final resting place of notable people like Maggie L. Walker and Arthur Ashe, who are so important to the history of Richmond, along with the graves of 5,000 other African Americans.

 

It is easy to imagine that Evergreen Cemetery was once as beautiful as Hollywood Cemetery. Rolling hills and steep ravines, as well as, the two creeks, run throughout it. It is written in Selden Richardson’s Built by Blacks that Evergreen,”… was planned to be the African American equivalent of Richmond’s high-style Hollywood Cemetery for whites.”(Richardson p. 164). When the land was still maintained and still had continual landscaping, I think the two could have definitely been comparable. The two different spaces share more than just appearance. When they were built, they served as a gathering place for the communities. Michael Plater mentions in African American Entrepreneurship in Richmond that there were few places where the African American community in Richmond could meet together other than churches. In response to this, Richmond morticians like R.C. Scott built large rooms onto their funeral homes to hold fraternal meetings and other social events. These unconventional gathering places also included cemeteries. As at Hollywood Cemetery, family of those interred would gather on holidays, like Memorial Day, to picnic by their relatives’ graves and used the graveyard like a public park. Now though, few people visit the graves at Evergreen for that same purpose.

 

Some family members of the deceased still come to Evergreen to maintain their family plots. As time moves on though, less and less of the family members are still doing this. When the Jim Crow laws were enacted in the American South, there was a mass exodus of African Americans who fled up North to escape the harsh new laws leaving their family burial plots behind. Today their descendants still continue to leave Richmond for job opportunities in other places. Now the remaining families either have forgotten their ancestors at Evergreen, as they have begun to be buried in other better kept graveyards in Richmond, or are too old to be able to navigate the treacherous walkways. As a young healthy individual, I struggled staying upright and not tripping over the fallen trees and vines that litter the paths. I cannot conceive how difficult it would be for someone much older trying to manage to make it through to their family graves.

 

Not every visitor who comes to Evergreen has the same innocuous purpose as visiting or maintain family plots. The lack of maintenance and the reclaiming of nature of the monuments is not the only force that is making the gravestones vanish. Vandalism has always been a problem for Evergreen. The grave of John Mitchell Jr., a journalist, newspaper editor, and civil rights activist, who reported on the lynching and other injustices of the Jim Crow South when everyone else was too afraid, and his mother’s grave, have been defaced multiple times since they were erected. In times of racial discord, vandalism rises. Due to Mitchell’s well-known identity as a civil rights activist, he seems to be targeted more than others. In 2002 to make sure his grave could not be tampered with again, a large gravestone was put in place so that it could not be easily moved.

 

Evergreen is still privately owned and technically operated. The family that once owned the cemetery has lost interest in maintaining the land. Volunteers have stepped forward to clean Evergreen and the neighboring East End cemetery. Even the city donated a dumpster to help make clearing the cemeteries easier. Sadly without enough people to help continually manage the 50 acres, the kudzu and other foliage grow back rapidly.

 

Recently many of the families have begun to reinter their relatives in new cemeteries with better conditions. The decline and disrepair of a place that was a beacon of pride for the Richmond African American community is heartbreaking. Unless a massive effort from the community to restore this site is begun, Evergreen will slide further into destruction until it completely disappears.

Field Report 4

The instant someone steps though the front gates of Hollywood Cemetery the juxtaposition between the bustling streets of Oregon Hill and the quiet escape that the cemetery provides is striking. The rolling hills with their lush plant life make Hollywood almost too beautiful to be a place where the dead are buried. Though one would think that the tombstones would mar the magnificence with a sense of melancholy, they have the opposite effect, creating a feeling of otherworldliness that makes it so unique compared to the other cemeteries in Richmond.

The birth of Hollywood Cemetery came from the inspiration William Haxall and Joshua Fry had after they visited Mount Auburn Cemetery outside of Boston. In his article The Cemetery as Cultural Institution, Stanley French states that Mount Auburn was the first cemetery of its kind. Both Mount Auburn and Hollywood are considered rural cemeteries; an invention of the mid-nineteenth century where a burial place is on the outskirts of the city rather than inside of it. French credits the creation of this type of cemetery in response to the “…rapidly increasing population the old graveyards became so crowded that they were frequently little more than stinking quagmires chronically offensive and occasionally serious public health hazards.”(French p.42) Comparing Shockoe and Hollywood, one can easily see that why rural cemeteries gained popularity near urban environments.

Unlike Hollywood’s idealistic setting on the James, Shockoe has the unlovely view of the old white poorhouse and before it was torn down, the black poorhouse too. Hollywood was carefully planned out to give it a more natural feel opposed to the strict grid like pattern of Shockoe. The idea behind Hollywood was to create a beautiful environment to visit loved ones after their death while at Shockoe it was merely a parcel of land to bury the dead.

Even before Hollywood was founded, it was a gathering place for the public. Originally called Harvie’s Woods, this was a popular location for the public to hold picnics and have other outings because of its scenic views of the James River. By keeping the appeal of the natural beauty of the land in the form of a garden cemetery, people repeatedly returned for more than just burials. The idea behind rural cemeteries is that these places are meant to be visited and enjoyed. These cemeteries are meant to be seen as a thing of beauty.

The large elaborate tombstones of that cover the rolling hills Hollywood only aid in the beauty of the environment. French writes that these larger stones, or monuments, were popular in garden cemeteries. Compared to the gravestones of other sites I have visited, the grave markers of Hollywood dwarf them. Twenty foot tall obelisks, large craved angels, and elaborate mausoleums decorate the landscape. Possibly the growing extravagance of monuments is the attempt to compete with the overwhelming landscape or to bring attention to themselves in competition with the rather famous residents buried there.

Many notable people are buried at Hollywood Cemetery, including former Virginia governors, senators, and Confederate generals. There is even a section called “Presidents Circle” because James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis’ remains all reside there. In fact, James Monroe’s body was reinterred there and is one of the most visited graves. At the time of its creation, when people hero worshipped the famous dead, having these men buried there would have brought hundreds of visitors. This had something to do with the reasoning behind creating the Hollywood Cemetery.

Hollywood Cemetery is one of the most visited attractions in Richmond. On its website there are multiple options for different tours, maps of the more notable graves, and a Girl Scout guide. Blue lines loop on the pathways to guide visitors to the famous monuments. When I was there, our group even listened to a podcast in an attempt to find the resting place of a Supreme Court justice. Even from the beginning visitors could purchase souvenirs like postcards. Hollywood Cemetery fulfills more than just a resting place for the dead but as an escape from city living and a destination for travelers just as it was intended for 150 years ago.

 

Website: http://www.hollywoodcemetery.org

Field Report 4

The instant someone steps though the front gates of Hollywood Cemetery the juxtaposition between the bustling streets of Oregon Hill and the quiet escape that the cemetery provides is striking. The rolling hills with their lush plant life make Hollywood almost too beautiful to be a place where the dead are buried. Though one would think that the tombstones would mar the magnificence with a sense of melancholy, they have the opposite effect, creating a feeling of otherworldliness that makes it so unique compared to the other cemeteries in Richmond.

The birth of Hollywood Cemetery came from the inspiration William Haxall and Joshua Fry had after they visited Mount Auburn Cemetery outside of Boston. In his article The Cemetery as Cultural Institution, Stanley French states that Mount Auburn was the first cemetery of its kind. Both Mount Auburn and Hollywood are considered rural cemeteries; an invention of the mid-nineteenth century where a burial place is on the outskirts of the city rather than inside of it. French credits the creation of this type of cemetery in response to the “…rapidly increasing population the old graveyards became so crowded that they were frequently little more than stinking quagmires chronically offensive and occasionally serious public health hazards.”(French p.42) Comparing Shockoe and Hollywood, one can easily see that why rural cemeteries gained popularity near urban environments.

Unlike Hollywood’s idealistic setting on the James, Shockoe has the unlovely view of the old white poorhouse and before it was torn down, the black poorhouse too. Hollywood was carefully planned out to give it a more natural feel opposed to the strict grid like pattern of Shockoe. The idea behind Hollywood was to create a beautiful environment to visit loved ones after their death while at Shockoe it was merely a parcel of land to bury the dead.

Even before Hollywood was founded, it was a gathering place for the public. Originally called Harvie’s Woods, this was a popular location for the public to hold picnics and have other outings because of its scenic views of the James River. By keeping the appeal of the natural beauty of the land in the form of a garden cemetery, people repeatedly returned for more than just burials. The idea behind rural cemeteries is that these places are meant to be visited and enjoyed. These cemeteries are meant to be seen as a thing of beauty.

The large elaborate tombstones of that cover the rolling hills Hollywood only aid in the beauty of the environment. French writes that these larger stones, or monuments, were popular in garden cemeteries. Compared to the gravestones of other sites I have visited, the grave markers of Hollywood dwarf them. Twenty foot tall obelisks, large craved angels, and elaborate mausoleums decorate the landscape. Possibly the growing extravagance of monuments is the attempt to compete with the overwhelming landscape or to bring attention to themselves in competition with the rather famous residents buried there.

Many notable people are buried at Hollywood Cemetery, including former Virginia governors, senators, and Confederate generals. There is even a section called “Presidents Circle” because James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis’ remains all reside there. In fact, James Monroe’s body was reinterred there and is one of the most visited graves. At the time of its creation, when people hero worshipped the famous dead, having these men buried there would have brought hundreds of visitors. This had something to do with the reasoning behind creating the Hollywood Cemetery.

Hollywood Cemetery is one of the most visited attractions in Richmond. On its website there are multiple options for different tours, maps of the more notable graves, and a Girl Scout guide. Blue lines loop on the pathways to guide visitors to the famous monuments. When I was there, our group even listened to a podcast in an attempt to find the resting place of a Supreme Court justice. Even from the beginning visitors could purchase souvenirs like postcards. Hollywood Cemetery fulfills more than just a resting place for the dead but as an escape from city living and a destination for travelers just as it was intended for 150 years ago.

 

Website: http://www.hollywoodcemetery.org

Field Report 3

At first glance the Hebrew Cemetery and the Shockoe Hill Cemetery look almost identical. Both were founded at the beginning of the nineteenth century and they share similar evolution in the styles of grave markers, despite the former being exclusive and the latter accessible for burial by the general public.

The neoclassical style popular at the start of the 19th century is evident at both sites. Grand obelisks mark the landscape and stone urns top many of the graves. Carvings of weeping willows and laurel wreaths decorate many of the stones. Other common symbols like flowers and other plants like ivy are shared. Oddly enough Christian iconography can be found in both cemeteries.

Lambs are found, and used repeatedly all over each site. The symbol of a lamb holds a double meaning. The “Lamb of God” is another title for Jesus Christ because of his sacrificial role. It also denotes innocence and purity and most often used for children’s graves. Growing up with a Jewish parent, I had always associated lambs with Christianity and never Judaism. I expected to see lambs all over Shockoe Hill Cemetery, which I did, but was shocked to see multiple appearances of the lamb in the Hebrew Cemetery.

The plethora of masonic symbols at the Hebrew Cemetery was also befuddling. When I think of Freemasons I instantly picture men like the Founding Fathers, white men of protestant European descent. I expected to see mass amounts of Freemason compasses in Shockoe Hill Cemetery because most of the men buried there fit in with the aforementioned description. Seeing so many of the same masonic symbols in the Jewish cemetery was really surprising. I willingly admit I know very little about the Freemasons, but had no idea that Jewish people were very active and important in that organization let alone allowed to be members.

I also noticed that as time progressed, less and less Jewish iconography were on the tombstones. The older gravestones often had the Cohanim Hands, the Star of David, and some Hebrew inscriptions. The many headstones from later dates had absolutely no representation that the person buried below was Jewish. The Jewish people have always been a separate community within a much larger one, as evidenced by having their own private graveyard next to a public community one. The separation of culture and beliefs causes issues with those in the outside communities. Possibly the secularization of the gravestones was a way to assimilate to the larger society without losing their own segregated traditions.

When a community is in turmoil the Jewish people often become scapegoats. When the South lost the Civil War, the Congregation of Bath Ahabah, who own the Hebrew cemetery, feared that the residents of Richmond would persecute them because they felt that Jewish population did not help in the effort against the Union. In 1866, The Hebrew Ladies’ Memorial Association was granted the land to use as a memorial for thirty fallen Jewish soldiers.  An elaborate fence with crossed muskets and laurels representing the virtue of the solider that fell in battle was erected. Hebrew Ladies’ Memorial Association used the graves of these men to show that they did aid the Confederacy and used symbolism that those who might criticize them would understand.

The desires to be part of the whole and still separate contradict each other. For their own safety Jews needed to find ways to assimilate their own beliefs with gentiles. They also still had a desire to preserve their cultural heritage. I think that the Hebrew cemetery is a good representation of these yearnings. Though a private cemetery, by being so close to the public Shockoe Hill it gives the idea that both graveyards belong to the same community and the sharing of gravestone epitaphs furthers the idea. At the same time because the Hebrew cemetery is privately owned it helps preserve the traditions of Judaism in an ever-changing world.

Field Report 2

The experience of walking on the remains of a person, no matter where I stepped was a unique and rather unsettling one. Built in 1741 by William Byrd II, St. John’s was the first public burial ground in Henrico County, which the City of Richmond was originally a part of. Unless a person chose a plantation burial, people of every religion were interred on the small square block the church sits on. Within a century after the church was built, the land it sat on was so full of graves it no longer was able to hold any more burials.

Despite the fact that hundreds of people were buried in the churchyard, very few gravestones still stand. Some headstones were made locally; most often the family of the departed commissioned and imported headstones from England or New England. A majority of the still standing stones are those imported ones. The reason why so many tombstones were not locally made was because Virginia does not have suitable local stone to make the monuments. To be able to afford the tombstone, the family of the deceased had to have been wealthy. Having an elaborate gravestone was a status symbol. Many of the surviving stones in the graveyard belong to notable people like Dr. James McClurg, a Virginia State Delegate to the Philadelphia Convention and mayor of Richmond, Virginia for three terms.

It was common that the less wealthy were often buried without any marker at all and that partly explains the unequal deceased to headstone ratio. Many noteworthy people like George Wythe, who taught law to Thomas Jefferson, and Eliza Arnold Poe, the mother of Edgar Allen Poe, were buried in the graveyard without any markers until they were added during the twentieth century. Unlike Eliza Poe, Wythe did not lack a grave marker because of lack of funds but because he was a Quaker.

The central Virginia climate is also pretty harsh on the stone monuments. Humidity, rain, and hurricanes do not help the preservation of the graves. Many are crumbling and the inscriptions have completely eroded. The St. John’s Church Foundation has begun trying to preserve the surviving tombstones but with no funding coming from the government or the Episcopal Church, they have to rely on private donations and ticket sales which might take a while.

As the congregation of St. John’s grew, the church needed to expand the building to accommodate the extra members. Extensions were added to the church in 1772, 1830, and 1880. The expansion of the church made it necessary to destroy gravestones to make way for the larger building. Though they did attempt to try to keep as many as they could, many grave markers are in the middle of the walkways or in the steps around the churchyard. In the basement of the church multiple tombstones are still standing in their original places or stacked against the walls.

In Aries Western Attitudes Towards Death and Crowell and Vardney The Funerary Monuments and Burial Patterns of Colonial Tidewater Virginia both write that in the beginning of the Christian church most burials were inside the church under the floor boards or within the walls. Later on when churches were running out of space, the English traditionally allowed only those of rank to be laid to rest within the church walls. St. John’s is an Episcopal Church descended from the English Anglican tradition. It could be perceived that being buried underneath the church itself is an honor. Though if the idea that the monument of the grave itself is a symbol of the dead’s status, why would they want a building to be right on top of it? Personally I think those who paid the money to have a grave made for themselves would not be too pleased to know that now very few people can see it.

 

 

Field Report 1

Visiting the American Civil War Museum special collections was amazing. Seeing items that were incorporated in the mourning process  up close gave a better persecutive of the lives of those who wore them. Having hair as a memento of a passed loved one was not unfamiliar to me, but having locks or other personal possession of a famous individual was completely foreign.

Having the hair of a dead relative made into jewelry or other keepsakes allows the mourning individual a material way to remember the person they knew and had a personal connection with.  To wear something made of a loved one in a sense makes them permanently with the mourner. When a stranger has a lock of a famous person’s hair they never knew the idea behind the hair jewelry is lost, no longer being used for mourning but as a trophy or souvenir.

If no photo was taken before or right after the death of the deceased hair came in as a secondary substitute for those mourning their loved one. The recently departed who were once in  the limelight who have had at least one photo or portrait of themselves that could have been massed produced. For example the piece of Stonewall Jackson’s hair and fragment of his uniform commissioned into a locket most likely belonged to someone who did not know him. The commissioner of the locket did not do so to mourn Jackson’s death but rather a way to display and show off his possession of the items.

This idea is furthered by how people also bought or stole the locks of famous people while they still were alive. Robert E. Lee’s barber often sold Lee’s hair after a trimming. Lee’s horse’s tail and mane were almost bare because many people would rip out handfuls of it’s hair. These actions to gain ownership of the hair objectifies Lee’s existence, that people rather own a part of him than know him.

The stealing of things in a false memoriam to the famous dead not only pertains to hair or other personal possessions but to objects at the funerals and used for public mourning.

The American Civil War Museum had a vast collection of fragments that once were bunting on building after the death of Abraham Lincoln. Taking a piece of these items seems to be the equivalent of modern “pics or it didn’t happen”.  Having  this scrap of black fabric from the White House, either the one in Washington D.C. or in Richmond, was the only way may could have physical proof that they were there.

The clamoring to have a part of these notable people is something that resonates throughout western history. Philippe Aries writes in his novel Western Attitudes Toward Death of how people used the body parts of saints as relics and built shrines to them. Though these relics promised healing powers, the desire to have them comes across as a form of people. Having a patch of Stonewall Jackson’s uniform  translate into having a piece of Christ’s loincloth. Instead of placing the scrap into a relicquire the owner put it in a locket. In both cases, those deemed important enough to save a physical part of have had shrines built in their honor. The saints had basilicas and the generals have Monument Avenue.

The idea of owning a part of someone still is very common today. Going on eBay a person can buy Justin Bieber’s hair or go to an Auction and purchase a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote. Museums are full of stuff that famous people once owned. Entire homes are turned into public attractions because people like Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain once lived there. Rather than using these personal items as a physical outlet of mourning they used instead as hero worship.