Filled with hauntingly beautiful funerary statues, Hollywood Cemetery attracts photographers, curious as well as those out for a Sunday stroll among the rolling hills overlooking the James River and the downtown Richmond area, Virginia.
And it is one of the city’s major tourist attractions.
Its story began in the spring of 1847 when two citizens of Richmond, Joshua J. Fry and William H. Haxall, while on a visit to Boston, visited Mount Auburn Cemetery, a beautiful cemetery near that city.
They were impressed by the solemn grandeur of the place and resolved that they would, on their return to Richmond, propose the establishment of a rural cemetery near the city. It was through their original efforts and the subsequent cooperation of local citizens that Hollywood Cemetery was created.
Its name, “Hollywood,” came from the holly trees dotting the hills of the property.
The cemetery was designed in that same year and opened in 1849, 12 years before the Civil War.
The four-year conflict motivated by the Confederacy’s desire to keep slavery legal would eventually provide the cemetery with a conspicuous supply of residents.
In fact a memorial in the shape of an over 27-meters stone pyramid built on 1869 looms over the graves of over 18,000 enlisted Confederate soldiers.
It was a project supported by the Hollywood Ladies Memorial Association, a group of Southern women dedicated to honoring and caring for the burial sites of fallen Confederate soldiers.
The capstone of the pyramid has been a source of legend for Richmonders, as no one could determine how to place the capstone atop the lofty pyramid.
Thus Thomas Stanley, a criminal working on the pyramid, proposed and executed the solution. In retellings, locals say the prisoner was freed due to his contribution to the pyramid’s construction. The only evidence of this is a note was added to his prison schedule that read “transferred,” suggesting he was moved rather than freed.
The cemetery is also the resting place of 28 Confederate generals, more than any other cemetery in the country, and these include George Pickett and J.E.B. Stuart.
In any case, the 135 acres of garden-style grounds serve as also the burial place of two U.S. Presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler, but also confederate President Jefferson Davis is also interred here.
And not only: near the entrance, visitors will also notice a flat stone large enough for a full-size depiction of a man, who is wearing fantasy armor with a savage sword laid over the body, the cenotaph of Dave Brockie, frontman and founding member of the heavy metal band GWAR.
As the character Oderus Urungus, he spent his life traveling the world and performing as a space monster until he passed away in 2014.
The stone was unveiled in 2019, showing the man at rest wearing his Oderus armor.
Actually Dave isn’t buried under the stone, as his ashes were placed inside an Oderus costume and given a Viking funeral on a lake just outside of Richmond. After his death, the Oderus character was retired, and the band continues to tour and record to this day.
There are many local legends surrounding certain tombs and grave sites in the cemetery, including one about a little girl and the black iron statue of a dog standing watch over her grave.
The little girl known as Rees, died at the age of three from Scarlett Fever. Her family placed a cast iron statue of a dog near her grave but what isn’t known is why the dog was placed next to her resting place. There are two possible reasons. The first tells that the family wanted the dog to watch over their daughter in the afterlife, while the second says that, to save their assets, Rees’ family put the statue near her grave to prevent it from being melted down into ammunition.
Whatever the reason, people claim to have seen a little girl playing with a dog late at night by the grave. Furthermore, grounds keepers, tourists, and locals sometimes hear a dog barking or growling when they approach the burial site and, If this isn’t strange enough, people claim that the dog moves on occasion: when they pass by, the dog is pointing one way and when they come back, it’s pointed in another.
Other notable legends rely on ghosts haunting the many mausoleums, but one of the most well-known of these is the legend of the Richmond Vampire.
And in fact Hollywood Cemetery has also been used by teens and college students who slip in at night, especially on Halloween, to view the mausoleum of W.W. Pool (Dated 1913), Richmond’s resident vampire.
Supposedly he was run out of England in the 1800s for being a vampire. Oral legends to this effect were circulating by the 1960s, but they may be influenced by the architecture of the tomb, which has both Masonic and ancient Egyptian elements, and double Ws looking like fangs.
Since 2001, the vampire story has been combined with the collapse of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad’s Church Hill Tunnel under Church Hill, a neighborhood of eastern Richmond, Virginia, which buried several workers alive on October 2, 1925.
According to this newer story, the tunneling awakened an ancient evil that lived under Church Hill and brought the tunnel crashing down on the workers. Rescue teams found an unearthly blood-covered creature with jagged teeth and skin hanging from its muscular body crouching over one of the victims. The creature escaped from the cave-in and raced toward the James River. Pursued by a group of men, the creature took refuge in nearby Hollywood Cemetery, where it disappeared in a mausoleum built into a hillside bearing the name W. W. Pool.
Apparently, the creature that escaped the tunnel collapse was actually the 28-year-old railroad fireman, Benjamin F. Mosby (1896-1925), who had been shoveling coal into the firebox of a steam locomotive of a work train with no shirt on when the cave-in occurred and the boiler ruptured. His upper body was horribly scalded and several of his teeth were broken before he made his way through the opening of the tunnel. Probably in shock, with layers of his skin hanging from his body, he died later at Grace Hospital and was buried at Hollywood Cemetery.
Well…but, about the “real” William Wortham Pool (April 1842 – February 1922), he was just an American bookkeeper, despite his name and burial site are associated with the Richmond Vampire.
He was born in Mississippi and, in the 1860s, he moved to Virginia. He died at age 80, and he was interred there, in Hollywood Cemetery. His family tomb is inscribed with the date 1913, the year of his wife’s burial, but their bodies have been relocated to escape vandalism brought on by the vampire rumors.
And, despite the legend has since been debunked, that doesn’t seem to stop the rumors (or the visitors)…
Images from web – Google Research