All posts by nobodyowens1

The Nagging Question

Hundreds of young trees dominated the underlying graves of East End Cemetery. East End was not manicured nor was clear where the cemetery began and where it ended. However, despite the overgrowth and disorder of the headstones, there was an unmistakable beauty in the midst of it all. One could see life progressing, whilst the dead were returned to Earth. Others would disagree and see nature’s second burial as a disservice to the dead. However, I found the budding plants to be a more fitting tribute, than the orderly stones and flat lawns associated with graveyards. This image led me to reexamine a question the class was asked on our first meeting. Should society actively preserve cemeteries, or is the dilapidation of graveyards apart of the natural order of a cemetery’s life?

At East End Cemetery volunteers spent countless hours unearthing headstones. Through which the group managed to create a decent resting place for the dead. I in no way wanted to discredit them or imply that their efforts were pointless. As a history major it was a struggle to determine whether or not graveyards needed to be preserved. One part of me desired to emphatically state: the safeguarding all history was important, we should maintain what was left to us in the present, we have much to learn from the tangible reminders of the past, etc. Yet another side of me wrestled with what that entailed. With over 7 billion people alive today, there would be over 7 billion deaths in years to come. The dead should be treated with respect, but humanity should not overrun the natural landscape to do so . After I came to this conclusion, something still felt inherently wrong about the condition of East End Cemetery. Then I realized the issue with the state of this cemetery was not the overgrowth of the area, but a disheartening commonality found between East End and others gravesites like it. It echoed the faded signs and sparse signage the class witnessed at the African Burial Ground. The graveyards predominantly composed of minority groups we visited were not being maintained with the same deference as their counterparts.

Many of the historical cemeteries in Richmond, were not open to African Americans. Segregation was still practiced throughout the South up until the 60’s. Even in death the races were divided. East End enabled the African Community that lived in Richmond to be buried with dignity. Various individuals purchased plots at the gravesite. According to our guide, the Cemetery was created with the attention of rivaling the landscape of Hollywood Cemetery. Since the city was not willing to provide African American’s with a decent burial place, the African American Community built its own cemetery. Unfortunately the preservation of the graveyard proved to be rather difficult, since it was private property. Moreover those buried at East End did not have the option of purchasing continuous maintenance for grounds. As families moved away, or passed away, the gravesites at East End fell into disrepair. At one time the surrounding forest absorbed approximately 16 acres of graves. Nonetheless, years of effort from sympathetic volunteers resulted in a peaceful resting place, clear of much of the derby and unruly vegetation.

For hundreds of years African Americans were denied the basic rights of human being. When African Americans were buried, they were given unwanted landscapes. Such areas were naked to the dangers of robbery and the natural elements. East End was an opportunity to put an end to this humiliation. Regrettably the Cemetery was still overgrown on our visit and in some areas littered with trash. The city stated that it could do nothing about the area because it was private property. This argument was understandable, but I failed to see why the African Burial Ground and similar sites also received such minimalist approach. I was not bothered by the forest reclaiming the land, but by the deliberate display of inequality. As a prominent historical city, Richmond should take an interest in the silenced communities that helped to create it.

Field Report 4

Located just a few blocks from the VCU campus I saw what appeared to be a Gothic castle. However upon entering, I was transmitted into a natural landscape filled with graves. Hollywood Cemetery was built in the late 1840s, with the intention of creating an experience for its guests. Through the design of the landscape anyone who visited the graveyard was left with a clear impression of fragility of one’s existence and life’s natural order.
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Hollywood Cemetery was unlike most graveyards. Here the headstones and monuments were not the main attraction. It was the layout of the cemetery itself that drew attention. Every area of the cemetery was different from the last, thanks to the vast rolling landscape. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century the idea of mankind’s mastery over nature was very prominent. During this same time as well  Transcendentalist Movement arose, which emphasized the natural world and one’s connection to it. These ideas were married to one another in the design of Hollywood Cemetery. The best way to accomplish this feat was by borrowing from the Europeans, as Americans so often did. Hollywood was akin to the style of an English Garden. In English gardens nature was tamed, but did not lose its natural form. For example, a tree foreign to the area would be planted or a false stream would be constructed. However despite these additions, the man-made scenery would have blended seamlessly into the natural landscape.IMG_0247IMG_0234

Even with the many graves, the cemetery was able to create a sense of naturalism. Though some markers were more elaborate than others, they appeared to be at home. The use of stone for the markers and monuments paid  homage to the natural world and simultaneously demonstrated humanity’s control over it. No attraction displayed this more than the giant stone pyramid of Hollywood Cemetery. Pale grey stones, of various sizes were used to erect this pyramid. It was mentioned on the tour that the monumental pyramid, constructed for fallen Confederate soldiers, was in times past covered with ivy. In my opinion, the addition of ivy would have further illustrated the coexistence of mankind and nature. It was a shame that they later decided to overly groom this piece.
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The most scenic site within the cemetery was located near President’s Circle, overlooking the James River. It was an absolutely remarkable view. To the right resided the carefully manicured graveyard and to the left a rushing river surrounded by wild vegetation. The graveyard was utterly quiet and still, as if it was encapsulated in time. Dissimilarly across from Hollywood, the James River noisily roared and circling birds cried out. Here life and death were neighbors. The scene was practically poetic. In the early 19th Century this picturesque view would be perhaps even grander. Unfortunately, presently Richmond’s high-rise buildings detracted from scene and were a stark reminder of how much time has passed.

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Hollywood Cemetery was a daunting maze of grave markers and winding roads. Throughout the graveyard pathways were marked, by way of street signs and other such indicators. In addition to this, a bright blue line painted along the asphalt pathways led visitors to the cemetery’s more popular sites. At times Hollywood Cemetery felt more like a theme park, than a resting place for the dead. The current format of the graveyard, although necessary for tourists, seemed out of place. The original intention of Hollywood Cemetery’s design was to illustrate man’s control over nature, however the modern world marred this mystique. Needing signs and painted trail paths within graveyard was a bit comical to behold. The sheer complexity of the cemetery seemed at odds with the other sites we have seen thus far. The previous cemeteries we visited appeared more intimate, despite their numerous headstones. Perhaps it was because burial grounds, such St. Johns Church and Hebrew Cemetery were built on a smaller scale. Nevertheless, when one got past the obvious tourists gimmicks of Hollywood it was a beautiful place to behold.

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Field Report 4

Located just a few blocks from the VCU campus I saw what appeared to be a Gothic castle. However upon entering, I was transmitted into a natural landscape filled with graves. Hollywood Cemetery was built in the late 1840s, with the intention of creating an experience for its guests. Through the design of the landscape anyone who visited the graveyard was left with a clear impression of fragility of one’s existence and life’s natural order.
IMG_0194

Hollywood Cemetery was unlike most graveyards. Here the headstones and monuments were not the main attraction. It was the layout of the cemetery itself that drew attention. Every area of the cemetery was different from the last, thanks to the vast rolling landscape. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century the idea of mankind’s mastery over nature was very prominent. During this same time as well  Transcendentalist Movement arose, which emphasized the natural world and one’s connection to it. These ideas were married to one another in the design of Hollywood Cemetery. The best way to accomplish this feat was by borrowing from the Europeans, as Americans so often did. Hollywood was akin to the style of an English Garden. In English gardens nature was tamed, but did not lose its natural form. For example, a tree foreign to the area would be planted or a false stream would be constructed. However despite these additions, the man-made scenery would have blended seamlessly into the natural landscape.IMG_0247IMG_0234

Even with the many graves, the cemetery was able to create a sense of naturalism. Though some markers were more elaborate than others, they appeared to be at home. The use of stone for the markers and monuments paid  homage to the natural world and simultaneously demonstrated humanity’s control over it. No attraction displayed this more than the giant stone pyramid of Hollywood Cemetery. Pale grey stones, of various sizes were used to erect this pyramid. It was mentioned on the tour that the monumental pyramid, constructed for fallen Confederate soldiers, was in times past covered with ivy. In my opinion, the addition of ivy would have further illustrated the coexistence of mankind and nature. It was a shame that they later decided to overly groom this piece.
IMG_0198

The most scenic site within the cemetery was located near President’s Circle, overlooking the James River. It was an absolutely remarkable view. To the right resided the carefully manicured graveyard and to the left a rushing river surrounded by wild vegetation. The graveyard was utterly quiet and still, as if it was encapsulated in time. Dissimilarly across from Hollywood, the James River noisily roared and circling birds cried out. Here life and death were neighbors. The scene was practically poetic. In the early 19th Century this picturesque view would be perhaps even grander. Unfortunately, presently Richmond’s high-rise buildings detracted from scene and were a stark reminder of how much time has passed.

IMG_0242IMG_0245

Hollywood Cemetery was a daunting maze of grave markers and winding roads. Throughout the graveyard pathways were marked, by way of street signs and other such indicators. In addition to this, a bright blue line painted along the asphalt pathways led visitors to the cemetery’s more popular sites. At times Hollywood Cemetery felt more like a theme park, than a resting place for the dead. The current format of the graveyard, although necessary for tourists, seemed out of place. The original intention of Hollywood Cemetery’s design was to illustrate man’s control over nature, however the modern world marred this mystique. Needing signs and painted trail paths within graveyard was a bit comical to behold. The sheer complexity of the cemetery seemed at odds with the other sites we have seen thus far. The previous cemeteries we visited appeared more intimate, despite their numerous headstones. Perhaps it was because burial grounds, such St. Johns Church and Hebrew Cemetery were built on a smaller scale. Nevertheless, when one got past the obvious tourists gimmicks of Hollywood it was a beautiful place to behold.

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Field Report 3

At Hebrew Cemetery the intermingling of culturally traditional pieces and period pieces has created a visually intriguing place. While aesthetic aspects such as inscriptions, and headstones deviated from the traditional graves. Certain aspects of the Jewish community’s practices appeared stringent and unchanging. Eric Seeman wrote that Jewish inscriptions were once simplistic, however in America many became lengthy and detailed. Moreover, with reference to other graveyards in Richmond, the occupants of Hebrew Cemetery adopted Egyptian artistry akin to those in the gentile’s graveyards. In some areas of the gravesite an outsider would only know the religious orientation of the dead, by way of the Hebrew lettering etched into the markers.

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The cemetery was a beautiful place to visit. Before leaving on our tour one of the guides made a passing comment about security cameras. At the time I was puzzled by it. However the group later discovered some of the graves were under repair because of acts of vandalism. Seeman stated that it was essential for the Jewish people to take protective measures when creating a beth haim, the last resting place for the deceased. The modern security features were in no way traditional, but still exemplified the importance of the dead for Jewish people. The creation of beth haim was a religious ceremonial process, which core regulations persisted regardless of the country. In America, these practices remained intact. In the chapter “Crossing Boundaries, Keeping Faith,” it referenced an instance wherein the Jews who came to the Americas would not accept a plot of land that did not have defined boundary lines. The graveyard could not be properly enclosed to their specification and was thus an unacceptable place to lay the dead. This was illustrated by the many fenced in graves at Hebrew Cemetery, coupled with clear surrounding borderlines. Graveyard fences have long acted as margins between the living and the dead. In some cultures this boundary was created to contain the spirits and to keep the grounds from being tainted. For the Jewish people it was a defense from the outside world. According to Seeman, fences ensured that their dead would be safe from animals or outsiders that could possibly desecrate the area.

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After walking through the elaborate iron-gate of Hebrew Cemetery, I noticed something a bit out of place. Throughout the graveyard there were sporadic jumbles of stones. Not headstones though those were also present, but small stones one could be used as a paperweight. Throughout the cemetery there were piles of stones, single stones on the pathways, and most importantly stones atop the graves of the deceased. According to our guide, these stones were left in remembrance. When someone visited a grave that individual would place down a stone. The placement of stones signified the individual who passed away was revered or the grave was currently maintained and cared for. The more archaic reason for the stones was to keep marauders from potentially raiding the graves.  Similarly to this the Celtic people once used cairns to mark the place of the dead. Upon each visit an individual who came to the site would place a rock atop the ever-growing mound. By doing this, the graves would be safeguarded from grave robbers and at the same time it discouraged scavenging animals.

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From the visit it was clear that the Jewish graveyards contained many cultural unique aspects, in addition to practices that align with other cultures. Despite the resemblances the Jewish people faced many prejudices from others. In Europe the community was isolated from the rest of society. The Jewish people formed cultural practices that brought them together in life and death. The stones and fences were yet another measure of protection, which the Jewish community felt it needed in order to protect its loved ones. Sadly in the present acts of racism have recently occurred at Hebrew Cemetery. One would hope that society as whole will soon move past such discrimination, Thus the dead could be respected and the beauty their final resting place appreciated.

 

Field Report 1

Nestled beneath the American Civil War Center is a black fan dating back to the Civil War Era. Now a fan may seem to be an inconsequential item, another accessory to be overlooked. To a southern woman at this time it is nearly a necessity, a savior from the scorching humid summers, and stench of the crowded street. A proper lady would becarry one as if it were an extension of her body.

The color of the fan signals to all who see the item that its owner is in mourning. American’s choice of funerary garb stemmed largely from the country’s inseparable ties to Great Britain. Around the time of the Civil War, Queen Victoria set off a number of trends in the states. The Queen became famous for wearing head to toe black from the time of her husband’s departure, up until her own passing. The question still remains, why black? Black is the absence of color, taking into itself the surrounding light. It is the color of the night, stone, shadows, avian scavengers, etc. Depending on the occasion the color can instill a sense of mystery or one of fear. For Americans and Europeans it is the color of mourning. Black encapsulates Westerners anxiety over mortality. Our chosen clothing for mourning shows that we fear death, are uncertain of it, and for us it represents finality. Unbeknownst to the fans owner she has conveyed insecurity as well as grief to those around her.

Depicted delicately on the fan are a series of white hand painted Chrysanthemums. According to our guide at the American Civil War Center, Westerners became fascinated with Japanese culture during the latter half of the 19th century. Chrysanthemums can be seen widely throughout Japanese artwork. It is an incredibly meaningful and symbolic flower for the Japanese people. If I remember correctly the white Chrysanthemum was used as the sigil of the Imperial Family. Interestingly, these flowers bloom in the fall, which is traditionally associated with death, particularly in nature. During fall plants ready themselves for their winter sleep, and people prepare for leaner times. Simply put, it is the predecessor of winter’s conclusiveness. Like its live counterpart, the fan’s hand painted flower thrives while death surrounds it. The color of the flower is a stark contrast to the black. It is a small bit of whimsy in the midst of despair. White, representing the presence of all colors, is  symbol for truth and innocence. In contrast to Americans many Eastern countries traditionally use white to signal that a person is in mourning. The fan is a melding of cultural ideas from West and the East.

It is possible that the owner who painted the piece did so purely for fashionable purposes. At this time women were expected to go into a period of full mourning, wherein they would dress completely in black, for one year. Going into mourning itself would have been a very costly occasion, since an entirely new wardrobe was required to be made. The many layers of black clothing could easily overheat the wearer of such attire. Said mourner would likely need the fan to keep from fainting. Such a fan is practical if nothing else. Furthermore, as stated earlier it was trendy to have Japanese influence in one’s clothing. A woman in mourning was often showing grief whilst displaying herself as a future marital candidate. A man seeing a woman with this fan could deduce that the female is not only cultured, but fashionable and talented as well. The hand painting on the fan, coupled with its large width and its sheer fabric makes it substantial showpiece. An item of this quality most likely belonged to a lady of means. Now let us further consider a woman that has lost a companion be they family member, child, etc. This particular fan when opened can span the width of a petite woman’s shoulders, hiding the owner’s lower face and neck. Thus it can quickly shield the crying face of the mourner or act as a barrier between said woman and the rest of society. The painting of the fan also can help with the healing process by being a recreational therapy to keep her hands and mind busy.

At the time of the Civil War, America was wrought with death. The people needed a way in which to grieve that would be deemed acceptable by society. The fan located beneath the museum is just one of many temporarily forgotten expressions of love and sorrow. I can only speculate what the fan may have meant to its owner. Whether its symbolism is coincidental or not, I would never call this item commonplace.

 

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Introductions

Hello Everyone,

I am a senior here at VCU. Like many of you taking this course, my major is in history. After completing my undergraduate requirements, I plan to pursue my Masters in Teaching.  Once I obtain my degree, I would like to teach middle schoolers. To be  more specific I would like to teach the 6th grade. This class seems like it’s going to be particularly enjoyable, since the class will be visiting the sites in person.  As a side note, our first book Western Attitudes Towards Death  was both informative and well written. It was interesting to see how different western countries have either evolved and or maintained their treatment of the dead, mourning practices and the like. I look foreword to working with all of you this semester.  Good luck with your studies.