Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond’s Historic Cemeteries

At first I was content to teach classes on central Virginia’s historic cemeteries and lead occasional tours. But with all the possibilities suggested by student research, and with the energy so many volunteers and professionals were generating to transform the city’s historic burial landscape, it struck me that there is a larger story to tell.

Accordingly, my book in progress is tentatively titled Death and Rebirth in a Southern City: Richmond’s Historic Cemeteries. The book starts with two questions. How did residents of Virginia’s capital city bury their dead? What have those burials meant to residents over time? Given the recent activity related to these sites, the book seeks:

* to provide an authoritative history of the city’s burial grounds, only a few of which have been thoroughly researched,

* to illustrate the rich information about the region’s past that these sites can convey as sources, and

* to chart the recent efforts to recognize and restore these grounds by volunteers and preservationists across the city.

The book will feature chapters on the burial grounds discussed throughout this website. The project benefits from the efforts of hundreds of students, residents, officials, and volunteers. It has the potential to speak to a national conversation about memorialization, race, and historic preservation.

My background: I am a faculty member in the History Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. My first two books, Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses (2006) and Robert Morris’s Folly (2014), were published by the University of North Carolina Press and Yale University Press, respectively. I am currently shopping this manuscript around.

Traditionally, studies of historic cemeteries in the United States have focused on the Northeast (with New Orleans as an important exception). Useful overviews include Marilyn Yalom’s The American Resting Place (2008) and David Charles Sloan’s The Last Great Necessity (1991). Notable regional studies devoted to the upper South include Margaret Ruth Little, Sticks and Stones (1998); Caroline E. Janney, Burying the Dead but Not the Past (2008); Douglas Keister, Forever Dixie (2008); and Lynn Rainville, Hidden History (2014). The best work on Richmond’s individual cemeteries is listed in the bibliography section at the bottom of each cemetery’s page on this website.

Stay tuned.