I'll bet you've read an article or two with a title like, “History’s Best Cemeteries to Visit” or “The Five Most Beautiful Cemeteries for Genealogists.” We gobble up those articles. We’re eager to see if we’ve visited any of the historic graveyards on the list. As a rule family historians love a good cemetery! We don't have to have a family member interred there, we love to peek into the past as we walk up and down the paths reading and commenting on headstones.
More than likely our own family members are laid to rest in smaller, mostly rural, churchyards. Nothing like the elaborate burial grounds of the Victorian era or the likes of iconic Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati or Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. Most of us, myself included, spend our time on a sunny summer day walking through the green, restful beauty, of a small country cemetery.
So when I had the opportunity to visit a well known, historic cemetery I jumped at the chance. Driving with my daughter and infant grandson to her home in Southeast Virginia our trip took us through Richmond.
Richmond, of course is the home of the beautifully picturesque Hollywood Cemetery. Hollywood Cemetery is large, 130 acres large, with beautifully wooded, sprawling grounds and is the final resting place of some of this country's most historic figures.
Buried at Hollywood Cemetery are two US presidents, the only Confederate President and scads of Confederate officers to name a few of the famous or infamous resting there. I couldn't wait to see it for myself.
We arrived at Hollywood Cemetery on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. I was mildly disappointed that the office wasn't open. I understood there was a book for purchase about the cemetery which I would have loved to have, maybe I'll get the chance another day. We were able to pull up a map of the grounds on my phone so we started out on our self-guided tour. Going through the cemetery I was surprised at the number of people visiting there. Families with young children, couples walking their dogs, tourists, many like myself photographing everything in sight.
The grounds are exactly as described on the website, lush and green with rolling hills and beautiful established trees. Of course among all that nature are the monuments, some grand, many ornate, paying tribute to those interred there.
Presidents Circle honors our country’s fifth and tenth presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. The area is very impressive with a brick walk and flags surrounding it. Monroe’s “birdcage” a wrought iron structure that fit over his grave was being refurbished so we didn’t get the full impact of his monument. Tyler’s is simple yet classic honoring his place in our nation’s history.
Another notable stop on our tour was the site of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina. Davis’ monument with a statue of his likeness was impressive. Varina’s had an angel laying a wreath. I’m a pushover for angel statues. It was beautiful. Very near the Davis’ memorials was Fitzhugh Lee, nephew to Robert E. Lee, a Confederate Cavalry General who saw action at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. After the war “Fitz” also served as Governor of Virginia. His monument was impressive as well, telling of his historical importance to the state.
I was truly moved at a later stop when we came upon the Monument to the Confederate War Dead. The well known stone pyramid is awesome and honors the 18,000 Confederate soldiers buried at Hollywood. It was erected by the women of the Hollywood Memorial Association. They cared for the graves of the Confederate soldiers after the war and raised the money to have the pyramid built. What a huge task to take on and complete. As I walked around the pyramid taking in its grandeur I saw the surrounding rolling hillside filled with rows of white headstones. It stopped me in my tracks to see some of those 18,000 men laid to rest there.
One of our very last stops was the grave of Confederate Major General George E. Pickett, widely known for leading Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. His monument is tucked out of the way. It’s situated against one of the outer walls of the cemetery but Pickett is buried with the men who served with him. Named Gettysburg Hill, this section of the cemetery holds the transferred remains of those Confederate soldiers that fell in that July 1863 battle. A nearby plaque remembers those who worked to bring their fallen soldiers home to rest in Virginia. It mentions that Pickett and a group of Confederate veterans and citizens would meet each wagon of soldier’s remains as they were brought to Hollywood, Pickett leading the procession to their final resting place in their home soil.
One last thing, Hollywood Cemetery has a wonderfully informative website. There you’ll be able to find a map of the cemetery, a list of the notable interred there and they also have a Genealogy section. You can search Hollywood’s burial records if you think you might have ancestors laid to rest there. Even more exciting is a separate search for the Confederate soldiers buried there. What a great database to check out.
Hollywood Cemetery, named for the holly trees in the area, lived up to all of my expectations. It’s beautifully landscaped and well maintained. The monuments are impressive and truly honor those who held significant positions in our nation’s history, but most importantly it’s a look into our past. Visiting Hollywood Cemetery opens our eyes to what has happened before us and gives us an opportunity to learn.
If you get the chance I highly recommend visiting Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. It’s a beautiful reverent place. A single Sunday afternoon wasn’t enough time for me to spend at Hollywood Cemetery. I hope to return again soon.