hollywood cemetery richmond, victorian grave
Bronze angel holds a banner that says “They that lie here rest in peace.”

In the summer of 2013, my wife and I were in the Richmond, Virginia area for a wedding. One morning we drove to the city’s Hollywood Cemetery which is my second favorite cemetery after, of course, Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery about which I have written a book, titled In the Arms of Angels.

Hollywood has special meaning for us, especially Alesia. Her parents, Roger and Lois Crosby, are interred together in the mausoleum there. RIP Roger and Lois. You have a wonderful spot close to the James River.

hollywood cemetery richmond, james river
Hollywood sits along a rocky section of the James River in Richmond.

The 135-acre Hollywood Cemetery is situated along a rocky and rugged section of the James River in downtown Richmond near the Oregon Hill and Fan parts of Virginia’s capital city. A railroad line runs between the cemetery and the river.

Hollywood Cemetery was founded in 1849, a year before Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery opened. Both were created as part of a new rural cemetery movement in America. The idea was to relieve overcrowded church graveyards and to reduce the risk of contaminating urban water supplies because cemeteries were too close to where people lived.

Victorian Era Burials in Richmond

This initiative to move cemeteries out “in the country” – combined with the Victorian Age influences from Europe – led to park-like landscape designs featuring elaborate spiritual and fanciful monuments and memorials.

These Victorian era monuments were rich in symbolism and tended to romanticize death. They were also a way for the well-to-do to show (and show off) their wealth even in times of death.

Draped and shrouded urns, inverted flaming torches, wreaths, laurels and hands being held were just some of the symbols that can be found on funerary art from this era. Most such symbols held positive Christian meaning and were ways for family members to express love for their dearly departed parents, siblings and children.

Poignant sculptured grave monuments adorn some of the childrens’ graves in the cemetery. Nineteenth-century medicine and sanitary conditions in America were not what they are today. An alarming percentage of babies and children never made it to adulthood. Many parents lost one or more infants and children to an array of diseases.

The mausoleum-style burial chamber was the choice for some wealthy families and those who disdained the idea of burial in the ground. These vaults had above-ground shelves to hold the caskets.

The mid-19th to early 20th centuries were the golden age of stonecutters – a time when the work of these skilled artisans was in great demand across the nation. Many talented sculptors came over from Europe. Today, some of the more elaborate monuments and mausoleums like the one above would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build.

Hollywood: Burial Place of Presidents and Confederate Soldiers

At the entrance to Hollywood, a large map includes some of prominent people interred within. They include two U.S. presidents (James Monroe and John Tyler), several Virginia governors, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and nearly two dozen Confederate generals, not to mention some 18,000 Confederate soldiers.

Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston is the final resting place of six Confederate generals. That’s an impressive number, I think, but nothing compared to Hollywood’s 25. They include George Pickett of the famous Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg and Fitzhugh Lee (future Virginia governor), son of the legendary General Robert E. Lee.

Cavalry commander Jeb Stuart’s grave and monument get a lot of attention. Every time I’ve been to it there are fresh flowers and different photographs of the “Last Cavalier” who died at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in 1864.

Hollywood Cemetery has a large Confederate section dominated by this 90-foot granite pyramid erected in 1869. It memorializes thousands of Confederate soldiers buried nearby, including about 2,000 killed at Gettysburg.

A cemetery guide publication tells how the crane was not tall enough to place the capstone atop the pyramid. Eventually, a sailor serving time in a local prison volunteered to climb the pyramid and place the capstone. He accomplished the dangerous mission and was granted his freedom!

Note: This article was originally published on the Birds Eye View blog by Patrick Harwood.