First, I’m excited today to be featuring photography by Chris Beasley for this post! I ran across his work in a Facebook group about cemeteries and I ended up asking to use his photos for my post on the historic Hebrew Cemetery in Richmond. His pictures really do the place justice and capture the feel of this historic cemetery. Enjoy!
I haven’t been to too many Jewish cemeteries, but out of all the ones that I’ve visited this one is my favorite. Part of what makes this place unique is the looming red brick building behind the cemetery that was once a hospital, then an almshouse for the poor, and now has rediscovered it’s usefulness as senior apartments. The irony is not lost on me- this apartment building has cemetery views from 2 sides and probably does not inspire a lot of motivation from it’s residents. It’s an extraordinary place for a senior community, but I’m glad that they did preserve the grand old building rather then tear it down. It’s an active area and we saw quite a few people out and about on the day that we went.
Well, the people who live there do have a great place to walk with multiple cemeteries in the vicinity- at least in my opinion. We headed to the Hebrew Cemetery and took a few photos, walking around quietly and marveling at the crowded beauty of the place since we were (I thought) the only people there. Many of the stones were ornate and it was a lot to take in. Then out of nowhere a man in a Hawaiian shirt walked up and introduced himself to us, and offered to help us find anyone we were looking for. He was the caretaker.
I’ve only had one other person approach me in a cemetery and it was a fairly drunk woman in Jacksonville who hugged me, gave me a homemade bath bomb, and told me to please thank the veterans laid to rest nearby. I did thank them, and I am not making this up. I’m a bit skittish when people approach me in these places but this gentleman was extremely knowledgeable and walked us around the cemetery, pointing out interesting features. This cemetery is clearly loved and meticulously cared for. There are also extensive burial records that can be accessed on their website for genealogists.
I had 2 favorites- one was the little chapel at the front of the property, now boarded up and used as offices for the caretaker and other staff. It was erected in 1898 and is just so pretty; most mortuary chapels seem to be a little on the grim side. This one is substantial and small, but I loved the design and the fact that it’s placed at the front of the cemetery, as though it was there to look after it. I’m hoping that one day I will get to go inside. When the cemetery was first started there was a small ritual house there instead where bodies could be prepared for burial, and the chapel replaced that. The cemetery began in 1816 and is now occupying 5 acres.
The second feature that I absolutely loved was a memorial to the Jewish soldiers in the Civil War. 30 Confederate soldiers were buried in this section during the war- that alone is unusual as (according to the website) it is the only Jewish military cemetery in the United States. The site used to have gravestones but they were removed and a plaque was placed there in honor of those men, and an incredibly ornate iron fence was erected around the site. The fence is made of iron guns, swords, funeral wreaths, and the tops of the fence posts are actually shaped like the caps that the soldiers wore. The caretaker mentioned that many of the guns have slight differences, and we stood there a long time looking at it. It really is the most fantastic, creative thing I’ve seen in a cemetery.
After visiting this cemetery you might want to walk over to Shockoe. It’s surrounded by a picturesque red brick wall and is FULL of gorgeous statuary, and also has Poe’s foster parents there along with the woman who inspired the poem Annabel Lee, which was the first piece of Poe’s writing that I ever read. Sarah Shelton was also his last fiancee before his death. Her grave is covered with stones from visitors. I absolutely loved it.
These cemeteries definitely deserve to be on any taphophiles list when they’re visiting Richmond. I can’t wait to go back this fall.