Hollywood Cemetery

Hollywood Cemetery was created in 1847, after two Richmond entrepreneurs visited Boston’s Mount Auburn, a model for the rural cemetery movement. When the pair returned home, their resulting company soon commissioned Philadelphia architect John Notman to design grounds for a new cemetery on a hilly, wooded plot on the western edge of town overlooking the James River. Public controversies dogged the effort into the 1850s, but the site found its identity with the reburial of President James Monroe in 1858.

The subsequent Civil War reoriented that identity. Richmond’s location and status as Confederate capital brought an influx of dying soldiers from the opening skirmishes in 1861 until the war’s end in 1865. To accommodate these deaths, the Hollywood Cemetery company donated land for the burial of Confederate soldiers. Such interments totaled more than 11,000 by 1865, with burials in the Soldiers’ Section, the Officers’ Section, or in family plots.

The cemetery company invested its financial capital in Confederate bonds, which became worthless at the war’s end. A memorial group, the ladies’ Hollywood Memorial Association, was formed in 1866 to care for the Confederate graves, thereby boosting the fortunes of the cemetery company. The memorial association’s projects included constructing a 90-foot-tall pyramidal monument to the Confederate dead in 1869 and removing over nearly 3,000 Confederates from the fields of Gettysburg for reinterment at Hollywood in 1872.

VCU students
VCU students at Hollywood Cemetery

The cemetery continued to flourish into the twentieth century as a desirable resting place for Richmond’s elite families. It remains one of the region’s most popular destinations for visitors and nature lovers. The cemetery is still operated by a private company, and maintenance and restoration efforts are now aided by a nonprofit group, the Friends of Hollywood Cemetery, founded in 2007. The Friends have continued to beautify the grounds by funding the construction of new overlooks and completing many conservation projects.

In the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, the cemetery’s Confederate connections received renewed scrutiny. The city’s Monument Avenue commission recommended relocating elements of some Confederate statuary to Hollywood Cemetery in 2018, but this recommendation was not fulfilled. Two years later, during the protests for racial justice in the summer of 2020, Hollywood Cemetery’s board quietly instituted a ban on the public display of the Confederate flag on the cemetery grounds. With this act, and its open acceptance of the burials of people not from European ancestry, the cemetery enters a new era of its history.

Podcast for William Barret (tobacco merchant, enslaver of Henry “Box” Brown), 1786-1871, by Eugena Curtis and Katrina Khalil:

Podcast for James Branch Cabell (author), 1879-1958, by Alecia Brown, Micaela Gore, and Shivani Patel:

Podcast for Jabez Curry (educator, preacher, Confederate cavalry officer, diplomat), 1825-1903, by Sarah Gilbert and Anna Shcherbakova:

Podcast for Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis (“Daughter of the Confederacy”), 1864-1898, by Theresa Reardon and Jisun Song:

Podcast for Lewis Ginter (entrepreneur, Confederate officer, and philanthropist), 1824-1897, by Jeremy Bowles and Sahil Zubair:

Podcast for John Imboden (teacher, Confederate general), 1823-1895, by Megan Baxter and Max Kirkman:

Podcast for William Mayo (original surveyor of the city of Richmond), 1685-1744, by Jordyn Akers and Victoria Thomas:

Podcast for Hunter H. McGuire (Confederate surgeon, medical educator), 1835-1900, by Ian Branch and Deanna Leitner:

Podcast for John Peyton McGuire (educator, Confederate naval lieutenant), 1836-1906, by P. A. Eliades and Sean Pugerude:

Podcast for Elizabeth Monroe (eyewitness to the French Revolution, first lady of the United States), 1768-1830, by Sarah Are:

Podcast for Arthur E. Peticolas (physician and graverobber), 1824-1868, by Bridget Ferguson:

Podcast for Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (United States supreme court justice), 1907-1998, by Chris McGrath and Nathan Word:

Florence Bernardina Rees (scarlet fever victim and iron dog friend), 1860-1862, by Lesley Boggs and Elizabeth Donovan:

Podcast for Hermann Schmidt (German immigrant and entrepreneur), 1838-1893, by Brandon Hedrick and Jason Lilley:

Podcast for Sara Sue Waldbauer (hatmaker for Miller & Rhoads department store), 1908-1985, by Sam Christy and Kevin Ta:

For more information, see:

Hollywood Cemetery company records – digitized at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Hollywood Cemetery company records bibliography

Hollywood Cemetery company web site

Mary H. Mitchell, Hollywood Cemetery: The History of a Southern Shrine (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1999)

John O. Peters, Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery (Richmond: The Valentine Richmond History Center, 2010)

Joseph R. Herbert, Hollywood Cemetery’s Notable Residents (Richmond: CreateSpace, 2013)

Hollywood Cemetery, National Register of Historic Places nomination, 1969, Virginia Department of Historic Resources

3-D scans of selected memorial markers throughout Hollywood Cemetery at VCU’s Virtual Curation Lab

Rex Springston, “No more Confederate flags at Hollywood Cemetery,” Virginia Mercury, July 12, 2022