Hollywood Cemetery, hidden away in Oregon Hill Richmond, Virginia, is filled with history and legend, and a great place to wander with a camera.
I find myself returning to Hollywood Cemetery for inspiration and for meditation and I recall the years I have spent here, the memories placed here, and I think how fitting a graveyard may be for such storage space, like old stones I can revisit. The shadows stretch and reach out as the afternoon passes.
A favorite memory: once, I laid here on top of a grave with a friend, pretending to be those six feet below us and living in a different time. The James River flowed by the railroad tracks and we looked out across its water, now as brother and sister instead of just college acquaintances.
I walk through the cemetery and I got lost, though not frightened; many angels guide my way. The paths, labeled like neighborhood streets, wander around the green hills and branch off to many directions. First I turn left, then I take right, and I realize no trip to Hollywood Cemetery can be identical to a prior visit, just like the hundreds of lives housed within the tombs, all individual. There will always be something new to see.
Hollywood Cemetery holds two United States presidents, James Monroe, and John Tyler. Their graves overlook the James River on President’s Circle. Monroe’s grave is an elegant gothic-style centerpiece to the area. Another notable grave and piece of art is the pyramid constructed as a memorial to honor confederate enlisted men. Nearby, there are fields of small unmarked graves, their aged surfaces melancholic.
History is not the only thing that dwells within the graves; so does legend. The Richmond Vampire is rumored to dwell within Hollywood Cemetery. The nearby Church Hill Tunnel collapsed in 1925, burying those inside alive. Witnesses said they saw a man-like creature with peeled flesh and jagged teeth crawl from the wreckage. Upon pursuit, the man fled to a mausoleum in Hollywood Cemetery.
Another unique myth is that of a little girl and a dog. A small grave stands upon a hillside, an alcove carved into the stone where passersby leave tiny treasures, marbles, coins, and flowers for a girl who never got to grow up. Behind the grave, a black iron watchdog stands, always protecting his little girl, diligently standing guard. During a visit, I snapped a Polaroid photo of the dog and left it with the items on her grave.
My independent study in school focused on super8 film and I decided to use the opportunity to respond to another class I was taking – Death: Myth and Reality. For the project, I returned once more to Hollywood Cemetery, on a rainy morning, filming the graves with Ektachrome 100 and contemplating my mortality.
Consider – a photograph, how it simultaneously reaffirms both life and death. How it immortalizes forever.