Ghosts Of Hollywood Cemetery
Ghosts and cemeteries are like peanut butter with jelly… alone they are fantastic, together celestial. And, if said cemetery is found in the middle of one of the 13 Colonies, kicking off its shoes and getting comfortable in an area with not one but TWO wars, then you might as well add some chocolate to that PB&J mix and call yourself a happy camper. To say the Hollywood Cemetery in Oregon Hill, Richmond, is chuck full of specters, poltergeist, wraiths, and all manner of things that go bump in the night is to undersell its Stephen King-like quality… This place is that maestro’s books all rolled up into a neat little package and then given to H.P Lovecraft to spice up. Today we are going to talk about the Ghosts of Hollywood Cemetery.
The Skinny on Hollywood Cemetery
Hollywood Cemetery is a huge, sprawling necropolis found next to Richmond, Virginia’s Oregon Hill community. To be exact, you can find its main entrance at 412 South Cherry Street. The joint is defined by is quaint hills and idyllic trails commanding jaw-dropping views of the James River.
Other historical celebs’ include the only Confederate States President, Jefferson Davis, and 28 Confederate generals. The resting ground has the distinction of collecting dead confederates. Aside from the 28 generals – among them George Pickett and J.E.B. Stuart – it also has over 18000 Confederate soldiers within its sandbox.
The Cemetery, for history buffs, the curious, or simply folks visiting Richmond trying to bring the past to life, is a treasure trove full of rich memories and world-changing personalities.
The History of the Hollywood Cemetery
The property that Hollywood Cemetery currently persists in was once part of William Byrd III’s territory. As the years flew by it changed hands a couple of times eventually falling into the grips of the Harvie family and was called “Harvie’s Woods.”
William H. Haxall was one of the patrons of Hollywood Cemetery. At the beginning of 1847, Joshua J. Fry and William H. Haxall, visited Boston. During their sojourn, they were gobsmacked by the Mount Auburn Cemetery. The duo was overwhelmed by the scope of the place and decided that they would return to Richmond and try to build a cemetery that would mimic that grandeur.
On June 3, 1847, Haxall, Fry, William Mitchell Jr., and Isaac Davenport Sr. bought from Lewis E. Harvie, a slice of the lots. An architect was hired, John Notman to outline the graveyard in the rural garden style. Its name, “Hollywood,” came from the holly trees dotting the slopes of the estate. A couple of years later, the plucky two, with the cooperation of local citizens, had scratched their itch and gotten their cemetery set-up.
Ghosts Of Hollywood Cemetery
The Confederate Dead
One of the most notable constructions in the graveyard is a 90-foot stone pyramid–planned and constructed by Charles Henry Dimmock. The huge statue/memorial was constructed with blocks of James River granite. It was sanctified on November 8, 1869, as a memorial to the 18,000 Confederate War Dead that are buried nearby.
The cadavers of the brave warriors were carried from various battlegrounds, including many from Gettysburg. If you died in the battlefield wearing a gray Confederate uniform chance were that your commanding officer would solicit a burial at Hollywood.
The monument took a year to assemble. The process was full of injuries, strange circumstances, odd accidents. Workers were certain that the task was cursed and that no good would come from its conception. It was a stillbirth monstrosity that would bring nothing but heartache and malediction to further generations.
One of the most legendary accounts of the type of insanity surrounding the building of the pyramid was its suicide squad-like work detail. Inmates were released from local jailhouses and used a manual labor cannon fooder. Inmates like Thomas Stanley, a condemned horse thief that ended up running part of the crew. The day the capstone was supposed to be placed, the proverbial angel on top, no one in the construction regiment wanted the job. No arms went up when the call was made for a willing hand. Stanley was “volunteered” personally for the perilous job. He climbed the pyramid, almost broke his fool neck a couple of times, and did the deed. Two days later, he was “transferred” without any indication as to where or when. You can read the “transferred” note in two ways. One, Stanley never made it off the pyramid. Or two, the climb was so hair raising insane and spine-tingling dangerous that the warden gave Stanley an unofficial pardon for his forceful “volunteering.”
Anyway, that’s one of the many tales surrounding the pyramid’s construction. The pyramid really is an engineered marvel – despite having no bonding. It’s one of top-ten tourist attractions in the area. Nonetheless, the real appeal of the behemoth comes from the fact that it is said to be haunted by those it’s commemorating. There are countless stories of bursts of ice-cold air that can be felt along the pyramid’s rear wall. Whispers of restless spirits worming their way into a visitor’s ear. Disembodied moans at dawn and dusk.
Here’s the clincher… Yes, there are more than 18,000 soldiers buried, all their religious rites taken into account in the area… BUT historians and archaeologists believe that over 11,000 cadavers might still be found – unidentified – nearby.
One of the most iconic ghosts of Hollywood Cemetery is that of a phantom pooch. In February of 1862, a two-year-old girl named Florence Rees perished of Scarlet Fever. The tragic cause of Florence’s departure was all too prevalent in the 19th century. Death was a way of life and unlike today’s antibiotic laden present everything back then was fatal; a papercut could be akin to lethal injection. So Florence’s died, like dozens of other girls that year of a rather baseline malady; nothing to really make her stand up from the crowd.
What is perplexing about Florence’s demise isn’t how she kicked the bucket, but how she was entombed. Florence is the only little girl in the cemetery and maybe in the whole United States with a distinct statue keeping watch over her grave. Florence guardian pooch is a life-sized, black cast iron Newfoundland dog. People from all over the world flock to Florence’s grave just to take a photo of the iron canine.
There are two prevalent theories as to why Florence is blessed with a doggy babysitter.
An unnamed merchant, cherishing how much Florence had loved his dog chose to grant the statue as proof to Florence’s kind heart.
The second story declares that Florence’s father, Thomas, a radical pacifist, placed the dog statue at his daughter’s grave to deter it. Iron was in short supply during the Civil War and the man knew that what he had was as precious as gold… but that ultimately it would end up for a struggle he opposed. Thomas Rees, feeling that no one would dare disrespect the memory of a two-year-old, placed the slab of iron in Hollywood Cemetery.
Stories abound about the hauntings linked to Florence’s dog. Those who come to pay their respects profess to hear stray barking near Florence’s final resting place. Meanwhile, those that come with dark motivations and ill intents swear to have heard a deep guttural growl warning them to stroll somewhere else. As teh cherry on top, the dog’s position is also said to vary, sometimes facing the opposite way.
The Vampire of Richmond
Ghost, vampire, wizard poltergeist, mass hallucination the Vampire of Richmond is one of the area’s most enduring legends. It’s a tale of heartache, murder, tragedy, bloodsucking fiends, ghouls, and just about everything Ghost lovers love. The vampire is one of the most famous Ghosts of Holywood Cemetery.
And… If you want to know the skinny on this Anne Rice leftover, you’ll have to visit our soon to be published in-depth report on the malicious fiend and its hand in the catastrophe known as teh Church Hill Tunnel Cave-in.
Stunning and memorable, Hollywood Cemetery is a Richmond must-see. Its twisting lanes and extensive stone pillars transform it into one of Richmond’s crown jewels. It’s full of history lessons, of urban legends and of ghosts and goblins and scary things. In its walls, you’ll encounter, phantom pooches, soulful soldiers, dead presidents, and maybe, if you’re lucky?, a bloodsucking fiend.
For more macabre tales check out our blog.
Feature Image Source: wikimedia