I live near Richmond, Virginia and when folks come to visit I always suggest they visit Hollywood Cemetery. I often get the following reaction, “Ugh! Why would I want to spend time visiting a depressing cemetery?!”
Well here’s why…you dolt!
I have been to many “famous” cemeteries and none of them hold a candle to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. First of all it has a breathtaking location right on the James River filled with gorgeous trees, landscaping, and architecture. Many of the monuments and headstones are works of art, including a cast iron Newfoundland Dog that guards the grave of his little girl who died 150 years ago. There are numerous tours, ghost walks, and other guided activities. If nothing else, it’s a lovely walk and good exercise.
Then, there’s the history. Stay with me here.
Hollywood Cemetery is the final resting place of two presidents. Three, if you count Jefferson Davis. It’s also called the “Arlington of the South” because many of the confederate dead are buried here. A huge stone pyramid was erected in their honor. According to Time and Date, Hollywood Cemetery was a big part of the impetus for what we now celebrate as Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day started as an event to honor Union soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honored their dead. After World War I, it was extended to include all men and women who died in any war or military action.” https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/memorial-day
With controversy raging in the southern states about statues of confederate leaders, it’s the ideal time to understand how Hollywood Cemetery provides a profound lesson in war and its aftermath. That lesson is written on the tombstones of the men who gave their lives to the losing side. The epitaphs struggle to justify and make sense of such sacrifice and it hits you right in the gut when you read them. I get the same feeling when I visit the Vietnam War Memorial in DC.
I don’t think we should glorify the Confederacy, or any government that promoted or condoned the marginalization of human beings, but to bury the Confederacy along with its dead is a mistake. Hollywood Cemetery shows, in a visceral and poignant way, the pain left behind when anyone dies fighting a war, regardless of their uniform. Hollywood Cemetery is the epicenter of that concept and, in the broad scheme of things, every bit as important as Arlington in our Nation’s story. Just an aside…Arlington was built on the site of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s former home.
So this Memorial Day as you grill hot dogs and hamburgers, I hope you’ll take just a moment to remember that it all started with tributes to the losers of the American Civil War. While you’re at it, explain that irony to your guests, kids, and the grandkids. Maybe even take them to a cemetery where war dead are buried.
Thank you for visiting.
Photo attribution https://www.hollywoodcemetery.org/visit/things-to-see