Hollywood Cemetery- Tabitha Yewer

Touring Richmond gave me great insight into the city’s history and character.  I was able to better understand the nature of the city of Richmond from learning about each place we drove by and stopped.   Tyler Potterfield was able to enhance my ability to see past the physical and see the overall meaning of what the founders and builders of the city were trying to portray.  The topography of Richmond would create difficulties when crafting and planning the city’s layout and buildings, but the engineers designed the city to use the terrain to their advantage, creating magical vistas reminiscent of those in Richmond, England, after which the city was named.  Another way the designers molded the city around the natural environment was working around the ridge that defines the territory.  Places such as Shockoe Hill were named after the land and resources that characterize the area, “shockoe” meaning flat rock.  One place that stood out to me on the tour was Hollywood Cemetery.

Hollywood cemetery was constructed initially to hold white and Protestant people when laid to rest.[i] As the diversity of the city grew and as attitudes toward diversity matured, the number and type of people who were able to be put to rest at the cemetery grew.  The parameters of the cemetery expanded and more and more people were able to use Hollywood cemetery for their loved ones.  Thousands of people are buried there among the holly trees that gave the cemetery its name.  It is a place rich in history, and many people who fought in the Civil War are buried there.  There are other cemeteries in the city where many people are buried, but none so full of history.

Confederate men who fought in the Civil War were, at first, not allowed to be buried at Hollywood cemetery because of the feelings of the nation directly following the war.[ii] There is much conflict in the city of Richmond over the issue of Confederacy.  On one hand, Richmond was the capitol of the Confederacy and so most were behind the cause of the South, but on the other, the Confederacy did not actually secede from the Union.   This conflict is evident in that Confederate flags can still be seen waving from cars and housed in Richmond.  Wives of the soldiers who fought in the Civil War fought against the ban to have their husbands buried in the cemetery[iii]– they felt that an honorable burial should be available to their loved ones as well as others, no matter their views or past actions.  Also, the right to be buried in the capitol of the Confederacy that they so loved would be important to these soldiers.  Finally the ban was lifted, and graves of many of these men were relocated to Hollywood so they could also be buried in such a historic and beautiful place.  Soldiers of other battles such as Gettysburg were moved to Hollywood for similar reasons, and also to add to the history of the location.  The only Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, is buried at Hollywood cemetery along with 25 other Confederate generals, which is more than any other cemetery in the country.[iv] This adds to the meaning of the city of Richmond itself, seeing as Richmond was once the capital of the Confederacy.  Hollywood cemetery is also the resting place of two Presidents of the United States, James Monroe and John Tyler, both of whom have intricate graves at the cemetery.

At first the cemetery was desirable because those who were white and Protestant were the only ones allowed to be buried there.[v] Because being these things, white and Protestant was advantageous, the Hollywood Cemetery itself became more wanted as well, creating a cyclical nature of the cemetery’s desirability.  As more and more people were buried there, the history of the cemetery increased as well, adding to the lure of the place itself.  Even though the Confederate president was buried there, two Presidents of the United States were buried there as well.  Perhaps President Monroe and President Tyler found the irony pleasing and interesting, and thought this too would add to the attractiveness and history of Hollywood Cemetery.

The location of Hollywood cemetery, set upon hills and overlooking the James River, only adds to the ambiance and history of the place itself.  It is curious that such a prime location would be chosen to hold the cemetery, but perhaps it would be seen as being more significant and meaningful.  It is rich with the lives of many, and signifies the growth of the city of Richmond through time.  Those who are and will be buried within it can be sure that they are resting in the most beautiful and renowned of all graveyards, and buried in a place with so many influential and notable people.

[i] T. Tyler Potterfield. Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape.  (T he History Press, 2009).

[ii] Potterfield, NoneSuchPlace.

[iii] Potterfield, NoneSuchPlace.

[iv] Potterfield, NoneSuchPlace.

[v] Potterfield, NoneSuchPlace.

Tabitha Yewer

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2 Responses to Hollywood Cemetery- Tabitha Yewer

  1. urjm9wv says:

    Interesting piece, particularly the theory of cyclical desirability in Hollywood. I agree that its prestige and history cause many to purchase plots for their families there, and I would be intrigued to know more about the religious side of it. Certainly it would be desirable for other protestants to be buried with their religious kin, but how was Hollywood cemetery viewed by the rest of Richmond. As elitist? With scorn? Or did all of Richmond view Hollywood as a beautiful crowning jewel for the city? I’m not sure, and perhaps answering that question would take a fair amount of research, but I imagine some controversy exists regarding Hollywood.

    Nicely written and very clear!


  2. uryn2bk says:

    This is one of my favorite blog posts. I very much admire your detailing of the controversial disputed right to bury Confederate soldiers in Hollywood. Southern history, particularly that of the Civil War (or the War of Secession, to speak on behalf of the South), is a very tumultuous subject. Rebel flags in pick-up truck windows are not met with the same enthusiasm in the North as they may be in Southern areas; the history of the conflict, the secession, and the resulting war is still very much alive and palpable. Virginia, and the Richmond area in particular, are in a geographically interesting region: it is described as neither a North or South state but rather “Mid-Atlantic”, as if it could be so hard to envelop all of the sentiments and cultures of these two geographic regions that they must be melded into a new category. Virginia’s current climate has a semblance of both Northern culture and Southern tradition, which makes learning about a controversial historical entity such as the Civil War a unique experience and full of debate about ethics, motives and legality. Truly the conflict that you write about that occurred only a few years after the war is still a sensitive subject today, which reflects on the remarkable relevancy that history can assume.

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