Grave vandalism has a long history. Richmond’s prized Hollywood Cemetery was even targeted during the Civil War, where in June 1863, “two china vases, containing bouquets, were deposited upon a grave, and stolen almost as soon as left,” and reporters heard “of plants being torn up by the roots, and every species of sacrilege perpetrated in this respect,” according to the Richmond Sentinel. One year later, the Richmond Daily Dispatch described “the practice of pulling flowers and shrubbery from the graves” in Hollywood, and “a few days since a magnificent parian [sic] vase, at the foot of an infant’s grave in Hollywood, was carried off.”
But a few nights ago, on March 13, 2021, Hollywood Cemetery suffered perhaps the worst attack in its history. The vandals were deliberate, apparently having brought a sledgehammer for the purpose, and they targeted Presidents Circle. There, they shattered or knocked over around sixteen grave markers, causing at least $200,000 worth of damage and spray painting some with black graffiti. Visitors the following day found cross upon broken cross lying around the circle. Those markers targeted apparently did not feature connections to the Confederacy. Even in this era of heightened tensions surrounding monuments, the destruction was a shock to Richmonders. Mayor Levar Stoney stated that “This weekend’s desecration at Hollywood Cemetery is morally wrong. Disturbing final resting places is contemptible, criminal and will not be tolerated.” A police investigation is underway.
Graveyard scholar Sharon Pajka‘s research reveals additional heartbreak. One of the grave markers destroyed was that for George B. Wickham, who died in 1928. Wickham’s tall cross had stood above the grave of a man who died at 39 years old of a gunshot to his head, ruled a suicide by the coroner. Another grave marker destroyed was that of Elise Davenport Williams Atkinson, who died in 1903 at 34 years old. Her marker’s inscription lauds the virtues of charity, spirit, faith, and purity.
The entire episode is absolutely shameful, and I hope the authorities catch the perpetrators. If this event is connected to the current monument wars, it is one of its lowest episodes.