PC @ L Part One: RVA

To celebrate my birthday, Kelly took me to Richmond for the weekend. I then spent a a couple of days in visiting family and friends in NC. For once, I remembered to bring my camera.

DSC00569.JPGOur first stop (after we picked up Ian and Dixon for a big, delicious lunch at the Boathouse) was Hollywood Cemetery--and yes, I did point out to Kelly that most fifty-year-olds would probably read something into the choice of a cemetery as a birthday sightseeing destination. Still, Ian (r.) has spent much of the last year doing intensive study of Richmond's cemeteries as part of his degree program (history, with a minor in anthropology), so he served as our tour guide.

DSC00583.JPGAs you can see from this shot (taken inside the columbarium), Hollywood sits on a hill that overlooks the James River. It's an old-fashioned park-like setting, intended by the builders as a spot not just for storing dead bodies, but for encouraging visitors to stay, explore, and even picnic among the monuments to the Old South's best-connected families.

DSC00564.JPGHere, for example, one can see the ornate iron cage surrounding the coffin of former president James Monroe. To its left, topped by a greenish bit of statuary, is the column marking the grave of another former president, John Tyler, most famous for being the first veep to take office after his running mate died.

DSC00570.JPGAs Ian has learned during his studies, gravestones go through fashions just as clothes, furniture, and houses do. This "tabletop" style was apparently big for a while.

DSC00579.JPGAnother popular style was the carving of stone to look like wood, though typically not to the extent above. The log, however, was apparently one of a number of Masonic symbols, and a great many of the graves in Hollywood house Masons.

DSC00588.JPGSome of the sculpture is very impressive. The lettering of "ATKINSON" alone would make this stone eye-catching, but the gigantic cross with PAX is hard to ignore. It seems a bit over-the-top now, but in context, it works pretty well--possibly because the cemetery is so full of Civil War dead.

DSC00587.JPGI like this angel a little more. It stands over the grave of Varina Anne Davis, daughter of Jefferson Davis, who is buried beside her. And speaking of Jeff's grave:

DSC00586.JPGI'll grant that a stone erected by a wife and daughter is hardly the place to look for unbiased historical accuracy, but this struck me as more than a little self-righteous. Interestingly, the front of the grave features a list of all the offices held by Davis before 1861--when he worked for the USA.

DSC00590.JPGI have nothing intelligent to say about this. I simply couldn't look at the stone without feeling sorry for a kid who had to go through junior high with the name "William Gay Strange." I promise, Victorian seventh-graders were no kinder than the ones today.

DSC00568.JPGJust down the side of the hill from Monroe's grave, looking over the RR tracks and the river, I found this strange little arrangement of twigs, tufts, and magnolia cones. I don't know what it means or who put it there, but I found it oddly affecting. Someone wanted to memorialize something and did so with bits of living things, not stone or cement; in a place where the overall purpose seems to be defying mortality through the use of materials more durable than human flesh, this struck me as a bittersweet acknowledgement that even stone doesn't last forever.

DSC00549.JPGAnd here, too, the limitations of stone are apparent. A new plot has been leveled and cleared near a headstone reading "O'Kelly," and the plot is now re-seeded. The Song Sparrow above has no understanding of what's going on; all he knows is that there's food to be had there, and that eating it will help him stay alive through the last of the winter. Neither the seed, the bird, the body, nor the marker stone will last forever, but as it all falls apart, new life will spring from it, and that life will have its own beauty. All stone, like all flesh, is grass. But once it has been eaten, grass sings.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 14, 2013 10:51 AM.

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