Hollywood Cemetery commands a breath-taking view of the James River. The beauty of the flowing water is perhaps only rivaled by the meticulously curated space of the burial ground. The meandering pathways guide visitors through the rolling topography of the cemetery, never revealing the whole to the eyes of the living. Tacitly, this design compels visitors to focus on the deceased loved ones in their immediate surrounding. In this regard, their sorrow and awe are not quite diffused through the vast space. Instead, these mixed emotions are directed inwards, manifested into solemn thought.
Along Oak Avenue lies the McCarty family lot that inspires just that. In particular, the headstone of James D. McCarty seems to embody the workings of Hollywood Cemetery. At first glance, James’ tombstone appears to be consisted of two separate parts: a broken column with a flower wreath draped atop and a simple message block leaning against it. Interestingly, the intentionally destroyed column corresponds with the unfortunate demise of the occupant—murdered by the discharge of his own gun. The life abruptly terminated, illustrated by the broken man-made column, is the result of another man-made weapon. I think this is a distinction from the broken tree trunk motif, where the deceased presumably died of natural causes. Moreover, the flower wreath is assembled from a part of nature, which speaks to the artificiality of the greater natural landscape that encompasses the tomb. The message block, casually leaned against the column, conveys an air of aloofness. Appropriate, given James’ young age when he passed. This lamentation over the loss of a young life is further cemented by this part of the message: “The young, the beautiful, the brave.” Indeed, carved in an indented section and with a different font than the rest of the slab, the sentence is the most pronounced part of the slab.
The intricate interaction between the elements of James’ tombstone is demonstrative of the overall tension of natural versus man-made within the cemetery. The picturesque Hollywood Cemetery is a carefully constructed man-made space intended to emulate the natural. In juxtaposition, James’ tombstone underlines the materiality of human life.