Sarah Whiting’s new graveyard story

Sarah Whiting, executive director of the St. John’s Church Foundation, has announced that she is taking a new job at the Valentine Museum. That is great news for the Valentine but may mean a period of transition for the active programs Sarah has developed for St. John’s churchyard, site of the city of Richmond’s first official burial ground. Sarah took on her position at the the St. John’s Church Foundation in 2012, following the departure of the Foundation’s first executive director Kay Peninger.

Let’s review some of the major churchyard accomplishments under Sarah’s leadership, many of which also drew upon support by members of the St. John’s congregation:

  • conservation of the Robert Rose chest tomb, dated 1751 and the earliest marker surviving in the yard;
  • conservation of more than a dozen other fragile grave markers, aided by an innovative “Adopt-a-Grave” program;
  • the launch of the annual “Fancy Me Mad” Edgar Allan Poe-themed historical tour by candlelight each October, featuring reenactors portraying historical figures and Poe himself, who could linger around his mother’s grave with the visiting crowds;
  • the archaeological recovery of several burials found during restoration work to stabilize the church’s foundations;
  • commissioning several ground-penetrating radar studies of the churchyard by geologist Brian Whiting, revealing new clues about the layout and contents of the grounds;
  • creating a series of themed graveyard tours broadcast to the public during the pandemic shutdown in 2020;
  • creating “graveyard nerd” t-shirts to raise funds and awareness for these preservation and engagement activities.

And much more, beyond all the work Sarah led for the historic church structure itself and its furnishings. Needless to say, Sarah and her excellent staff showed tremendous creativity engaging with the churchyard – connecting its story to the Patrick Henry-themed programs already in place at the site. She promises not to be a stranger, and at the Valentine she will be in a position to spread her talents and energy to many additional themes and sites. Thank you, Sarah, for all that you have done!