And the video as promised! 17 seconds of, “I am NOT going in there!”
And of course someone was rescued from the river on the same day I took this. Come on, people…
And the video as promised! 17 seconds of, “I am NOT going in there!”
And of course someone was rescued from the river on the same day I took this. Come on, people…
Some quick phone shots of the James in pretty big flood stage. This is at Pipeline and there should be some beach there! For reference, flood stage is 12 feet and we are currently cresting at 15. Video to follow.
Hey, there everyone! Sorry for the long pause in writing! I am looking forward to getting back on track as the weather becomes increasingly warmer and the days last increasingly longer. Huzzah to spring! With that said, I’d like to share with you my latest exploration. In this chapter I visit the burial grounds for the Churches of Peace and Love.
By Peace and Love, I mean Shalome and Ahabah. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I visited the Hebrew Cemetery which is a dedicated Jewish burial ground for the congregations of Beth Shalome and Beth Ahabah, House of Peace and House of Love in English.
First, a little personal background… I look back on my Jewish childhood with some fondness. I can still remember making dreidel cookies, decorating presents in blue and silver, and spouting out Yiddish epithets as I schmeared my bagel and complained about my mother. The confusing thing (for everyone else, at least) was the fact that I was not Jewish. In fact, the majority of the Hebrew that I knew was probably picked up from Mike Myers as Linda Richman. You know, no big whoop. So suffice it to say the customs and traditions of the Jewish people have a special place in my heart, though I could not tell you why. (One day I’ll tell you about my year as an Amish Exchange Student.)
Hebrew Cemetery was founded in 1816 by the Common Council of the City of Richmond on top of Shockoe Hill. The cemetery was specifically marked for Jewish burials and “subject to their rites and laws”. The first burial was in 1817 and was one of the founding fathers of Kaal Kadosh Beth Shalome. In 1843 Beth Ahabah was given equal rights to burial in the cemetery. The 1-acre cemetery has since expanded to 8.4 acres of burial grounds and is a green space in the middle of a bad neighborhood across the street from Shockoe Hill Cemetery.
Perhaps my favorite part of visiting Hebrew Cemetery was seeing the rocks and stones placed on headstones. I knew this was a Jewish custom, but had to remind myself as I wandered the granite garden. The origins of this tradition are obscured by history, but my favorite explanation was that the stones are placed on the tombstones helps to hold the departed spirit down to Earth and protect it from demons and golems. I even saw some headstones with bricks balanced on them.
Of special interest is the Soldier’s Section which marks the graves of 30 Jewish Confederate Soldiers who died in or around Richmond during the War of Northern Aggression. In 1866 the Hebrew Ladies’ Memorial Association commissioned the ornate wrought iron fence that is there today. The fence is designed to look like Civil War muskets and sabers and was designed by Major William Barksdale Myers who is buried in Hollywood Cemetery. (See, it ALL comes back to Hollywood Cemetery!)
In 1816 funds were raised to build a matahar house, used for burial preparation which has since been replaced by a Mortuary Chapel.
The cemetery is the oldest, continuously used Jewish cemetery in the South and is an important reminder of the influence the Jewish people have had on Richmond’s history. The tombstones and monuments have inscriptions in Hebrew and many of them include Jewish icons such as the hands presented in the traditional blessing of the Kohanim, Jewish priests.
Interested in exploring the area? It can be found at the intersection of Hospital and 4th Streets. A couple “fun facts” about cemeteries in Richmond (from City Code): It is illegal to enter a cemetery from anywhere but an open gate. It is is illegal to visit a cemetery after sunset. It is illegal to bring your dog to a cemetery. And it is illegal to bring food or drink into a cemetery!
So, Richmond? Where would you like to see next? I’m always open to your suggestions! Hit me up at email@example.com or leave me a comment!
It’s got to be tough to be Shockoe Hill Cemetery, always in the shadow of it’s more famous big brother Hollywood Cemetery. Let’s see if we can shed some light on the situation with a little compare and contrast…
1. Hollywood Cemetery is known for it’s beautiful stone work and carvings.
2. Hollywood Cemetery is known for being the final resting place of many Union and Confederate Soliders.
And here’s a fascinating bit of history regarding Private Crittenden: He had been captured by the Union and sentenced to execution by firing squad with Private James J. Hartigan. According to a family newsletter: “”At noon Crittenden and Hartigan were set before a firing party of twenty-five and told to run for their lives. Hartigan ran and fell, pierced by many bullets. Crittenden stood with folded arms, facing his executioners. Again the order to fire was given, but not a trigger was pulled. The Union officer in command then addressed his men saying he would repeat the order once more; they were soldiers and must obey, and should any man fail to respect the command, he should suffer the penalty of death himself for disobedience.” During the harangue, Crittenden seated himself on a rock, calmly looking at the squad and awaiting his end. Then he rose. ‘Ready! Aim! Fire!’ rang out the third command. A line of leveled rifles greeted him as he rose and faced them. Down dropped twenty-four silent rifles, their owners unwilling to harm the quiet man before them. One alone of the twenty-five pressed a trigger. A single flash, a little smoke, a sharp report, and Churchill Crittenden’s life blood flowed for the cause he loved.”
Wow. In addition, Shockoe Hill Cemetery is the final resting spot of some 220 Confederate Soldiers and some 577 Union soldiers as well as many more that were not recorded. A figure only slightly less than the 18,000 or so buried in Hollywood. (Ok, maybe more than slightly, but still significant.)
5. (3, sir!) Hollywood Cemetery is known for its famous residents.
John “Silverheels” Marshall was also the longest service Chief Justice in US Supreme Court history and served as a Captain in the Continental Army. He was friends with George Washington and survived the long winter in Valley Forge with him.
And perhaps one of the most interesting people buried in Shockoe Hill Cemetery:
Ms. Van Lew ran a ring of spies during the Civil War. She gained the trust of the CSA and was allowed to bring food, clothing, and other provisions to the Union POWs being held at nearby Libby Prison to arrange for escape. Mary Bowser, a former slave that was freed by Van Lew, was one of her operatives and routinely gave reports from inside the White House of the Confederacy where she worked for CSA First Lady Varina Davis. Van Lew was supposedly so good at her job that she was able to send freshly cut flowers, a copy of the Richmond paper, and ciphered messages hidden inside hollowed out eggs directly to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant!
4. Hollywood Cemetery is known for stunning views of the James.
Shockoe Hill Cemetery, located at the intersection of Hospital and N 2nd Street, has stunning views of the Shockoe Hill Low Income Housing Project. Perhaps not as good of an area… but, the cemetery itself is an open and peaceful oasis… and there’s a Police Station right across the street!
All in all, Shockoe Hill Cemetery has a lot to offer and should not be overlooked by it’s bigger brother. The surrounding area might not be as nice, but if you enjoy strolling with the dead it is a nice alternative and houses a lot of RVA history.
Next up, we will go across the street to Hebrew Cemetery!
Numbers have fluctuated from 14-24. Herons seem to be keeping to the trees, at least during the afternoon hour. They have expanded from the right side of the island to the left side as well. There has been some evidence of courtship, which you will see below. Clicking of bills, rubbing of necks… typical mating behaviors… just ask my wife.
Also present within the last week were a few osprey! A sign of spring, even when it snows one day! Osprey typically only eat fish, however I caught this guy bugging the herons (they didn’t seem to care) and also going after a group of seagulls! Interesting behavior, and made for some Discovery Channel moments.
I also happened upon a couple mallards sleeping adorably. Did you know that ducks can sleep with one eye open, resting only half of their brain at a time? Seriously, check out this RadioLab episode if you haven’t already.
More to follow in the coming weeks as the heronry prepares for spring! Don’t forget to set your watch ahead an hour this weekend! Unless you’re a heron… they don’t have watches… or wrists for that matter.
Located a mere 2 1/2 hours from our fair city lies our mortal enemy: Baltimore.
A few points:
1. We’ve already covered how Baltimore stole Richmond native Poe just because he died there. (And I still have my suspicions, Baltimore!)
2. C. F. Sauer has been a Richmond based spice company since 1887. McCormick and Company was founded in 1889 and also sells spices. Our sign is cooler.
3. The “Washington” Redskins (when are they ever in Washington?) will soon be training in RVA. All the more reason to hate the Browns… I mean Ravens. (Naming them after a Poe poem is salt in the wound, man.)
However, if you feel like doing some recon work, Baltimore is a pretty nifty place to visit. The Inner Harbor is what our Canal Walk should be (only ours should be better, of course). And Federal Hill , with its insanely narrow streets and complete lack of parking, is a really interesting place to explore.
I forgot my camera, but I was able to get some good shots with my phone. As you will see, the National Aquarium was clearly my favorite spot. But first, I travelled 150 miles… I’m going to Poe’s grave.
And of course, it’s locked. You know what? Screw you, Baltimore! Who locks down a church graveyard, let alone in a Sunday! Sigh… I was able to perch atop the spiked fence and see it. We then went to Baltimore’s version of The Poe Musuem…
And kept driving. That is a rough looking neighborhood.
Fort McHenry is infinitely more interesting than Fort Lee. I highly recommend the video at the beginning. It was actually very well done.
And then there’s The National Aquarium. It’s not cheap, but I think it was definitely worth it.
All in all Baltimordor is an interesting place. You definitely get the feel that it is a more northern city than Richmond, which is surprising because it is so close. The people (they call themselves Baltimorians, not Baltimorons) definitely do not have the same southern hospitality that really starts in Richmond and gets stronger the further south you go. NIce place to visit, but I think I’ll stay in RVA!
Well, the Oscars are over. Boy, wasn’t that a hoot? Remember when that one lady did that one thing? And can you believe that THAT guy won instead of that other guy for best person who did acting? Man, that was an emotional roller coaster! And did you see what she was wearing? And I totally cannot believe that speech was so long! They should have started playing the music MUCH earlier.
Ok… I might have spent yesterday watching The Walking Dead and not the Academy Awards… but I did SEE some of the movies! And, personally, I think a better way to celebrate cinema is by going back to a time when people built theatres instead of theaters. A time when people dressed in suits to go see a moving picture show, and thought that talkies were a fad. Fortunately for RVA residents there is a place where we can do just that…
For just $1.99 you can experience all the wonders that Hollywood has to offer AND be treated to the amazingly ornate Byrd Theater. (For some reference, tickets at one time were only 44 cents. This was back in the 40′s, so if you adjust for inflation that is almost $8 a ticket!)
Built in 1928 for the staggering price of $900,000 (that’s over $11,000,000 in today’s dollars!) the Byrd is just another example of a time when we really paid attention to details. I still remember the first time I went to the Byrd, which is not something I can really say about any other movie theater. It is so ornate that they had to remove things to make way for the modern movie-going experience, like the water feature and aquarium that used to occupy the space where the concession stand is now. (I am ok with this. They have the best popcorn in the city!)
The Byrd was the first movie theater in Virginia to have sound. Back then people thought that being able to hear your movies was just a fad, kind of like 3D movies today. The first movie played at the Byrd was Waterfront, a silent movie with sound (music and sound effects) added through the Vitaphone system that would eventually be replaced by a Dolby Sound System donated by Ray Dolby himself. For those movies that did not have sound, the Byrd had The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. Every Saturday and Sunday night The Mighty Wurlitzer rises from the orchestra pit. From it’s controls the organist can play not only the organ but the piano located in the stage right alcove, a 6 foot xylophone, a marimba hidden under the stage left alcove, drums, horns, bells and other effects. The harp though is ornamental.
Another fairly amazing feature is the cantilevered balcony. When sitting underneath the balcony your view will not be obstructed by supports because… there are none! The balcony is supported through the back wall of the theater and the front.
The most impressive feature (to me) is probably the 18 foot, two-and-half-ton mass of Czechoslovakian crystal that makes up the main chandelier. Over 5,000 crystals and 500 red, blue, green, and amber lights were used to make the beautifully ornate piece. This is something that I would expect in a grand opera house, not somewhere where Ben Affleck is on the screen. (Congrats to Argo, winner of Best Movie in Spite of Having Ben Affleck involved.)
I could easily spend 3 1/2 hours just gawking at all of the small details that make the Byrd what it is… I probably would have done that if I had been forced to watch Titanic there.
If you’re looking for a great date night, or just someplace to go and catch a flick (hell, if you just want an excuse to have popcorn for dinner!) I encourage you to put on a suit, a fedora (no skinny jeans), and head out to The Byrd! The show must go on.
Special thanks go out to Todd A. Schall-Vess and The Byrd Theatre Foundation. Check them out online for show times and some pretty great historic pictures and more information at http://byrdtheatre.com/. While there, consider donating! I would certainly not complain to see them replace the seating!
Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, brunch and mimosas, just about anything and wine… It’s always a pleasure to combine things that I love. That’s what makes Pipeline Rapids such a special place for me. It combines the James River with birds. Birds, you say?
For those of you who have not been, Pipeline Rapids is a series of Class IV rapids that stretch for an eighth of a mile on the fall-line of the James. The Pipeline walkway is probably the easiest way to get to these rapids, but you will probably see paddlers in just about all types of weather looking to test themselves on the challenging rapids. The real treat (for me at least) is the active heronry located on nearby Bailey’s Island.
Fun Fact #1: A heronry is a rookery for herons. A rookery is a colony of breeding birds, but the term can actually be used more specifically for a colony of breeding rooks. (Think a crow, only in Europe and parts of Asia.) Heronry is the specific term for a colony of breeding herons.
Fun Fact #2: A group of herons is known as a siege.
Fun Fact #3: Myself, and many others, have described the heronry as being on Vauxhall Island. Heck, even Ralph White described the island as such on his Heronry Tours. However, according to the Richmond Parcel Mapper Vauxhall Island is one island east of Bailey’s Island, which is listed as being owned by the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation. Vauxhall is located underneath the railroad spur that crosses the river, and is currently home to a small tent-city. Vauxhall has it’s own history that I’ll talk about at another time.
Things are just getting started at the heronry. I was there on January 22nd (happy birthday to me!) and there was nothing to report. I saw one heron, but he wasn’t nesting… he was generally just being scared. I came back the following week and suddenly there are at least 27 birds in the trees! I heard reports on Saturday January 26 of at least 21 birds, so within less than a week the gathering started!
Every year since at least 2011 the herons have been camping out here. It is rare to have such a large congregation of these birds within sight of a major city, as they usually prefer to be alone. The abundance of fish in the area, especially when the shad are running, is one of the reasons they seem to tolerate us. By the end of the season there will most likely be anywhere from 80 – 100 birds on the island, and perhaps some Egrets as well.
Check out Pipeline Rapids and the Walkway by going to the end of 12th Street where the Canal Walk begins. You will see a large cross statue. (I’ll talk about all these things, too!) Head to the left (east) and the entrance will be on the right with a brand new sign courtesy of Phil Riggan! (The word heronry is not on that sign!)
I will be posting weekly updates (in addition to exploring the rest of RVA, I promise) which will include numbers, pairings, nesting behaviors, and anything else that strike my fancy! I’ll also (of course) have pictures. This week we had 27 birds, mainly in the trees. No sign of nest repairs/making. There were at least 3 pairs, one of which was engaging in courtship rituals (we’ll talk about that next week), and one pair was engaging in… more amorous activities. (We will not be talking about that one.)
View Great Blue Heronry in a larger map
Sure, it doesn’t have a retinue of colorful servants who serve a rich upper-class trying to adjust to the changing times and society as the world shifts around them. However, in a city named after the English homeland, in a state named after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, on the banks of King James’ River one should not be surprised to find our own Downton Abbey located in Downtown. Richmond has its own turn-of-the-century Victorian Gothic castle.
I talked last week about the monstrosity that is the current iteration of City Hall. Let’s rewind a bit and take a look at what came before. As with a lot of stories coming out of Richmond right now during this General Assembly session, our tale begins at the Capitol Building.
It’s April 1870. The Civil War has only recently ended; Richmond has only been out from under military rule for a few months. We’re just starting in on Reconstruction. Unlike modern times, there is a heated fight for the position of Mayor of the former capital of the CSA. The argument is taken to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, which was then housed on the second floor of Richmond’s Capital Building. A substantial crowd gathers to hear the argument. The weight of the crowd proves too much for the balcony and the entire thing comes crashing down onto the floor of the court, which then in turn goes crashing down to the floor of the House of Delegates located on the first floor. The injured crawled, limped, or were carried to the Capitol lawn. In total, 62 people were killed and 251 were wounded.
So, what does this have to do with City Hall? After the collapse of 1870 Richmond there was a movement to tear down the Capitol. The City couldn’t bring itself to tear down the Roman inspired building that Jefferson himself had designed to sit atop Shockoe Hill. The City Hall building, on the other hand…
The original Richmond City Hall, or First City Hall as we will call it, was built in 1816. It was based off of classical Greek architecture complete with columns and symmetrical dome. It was designed by Robert Mills, the same guy who designed the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, Mr. Mills had never been President and so his building did not have the same sense of veneration. In the hysteria regarding old building it was decided that it should be torn down.
Side note: Actually, the building had been slated for demolition in the early 1850s. City leaders had deemed it to be about to fall over due to lack of upkeep. Ironically, the actual demolition in 1874 found the building to be quite solid and difficult to tear down… but they went ahead and did it anyway. Richmond City politics and wise decision making go WAY back.
It took City Hall a few (9) years, but they eventually decided on a new design for a building. Actually, they had rejected the design first submitted by Elijah E. Myers, who won the design competition in 1884, after they couldn’t anyone to build it within the $300,000 budget. (That’s almost 7.4 million in today’s money!) Another competition was held and a Boston company won, so in August of 1886 the city began work on Elijah E. Myers’ plan… wait, what? If you’re looking for a good explanation, you are not going to find it here.
If I had to guess, I would say that it had something to do with our favorite City of Richmond Engineer, Colonel Wilfred E. Cutshaw. It should not strike you as odd that the designer of the New Pump House just a couple years earlier was heavily involved in the construction of Old City Hall (which was new at the time…), since they both share similar design elements and look like a good place for Batman to hang out. The project was completed in 1894, a mere 8 years later, with a final cost of $1,318,349.19 (that’s $33.7 million in today’s dollars!) or about 400% over budget. Some of this was due to Col. Cutshaw hiring day laborers, but another significant cost has been designated as graft: Practices, esp. bribery, used to secure illicit gains in politics or business; corruption. Again, Richmond politics run deep.
Granite was mined from near the James River in Petersburg and brought by railroad up Broad Street to the location. The design features four asymmetrical towers. My personal favorite is the clock tower (the clocks were installed in 1890 and originally featured wooden hands), which unfortunately was not struck by a bolt of lightning on November 12, 1955 at exactly 10:04 PM.
Again, an aside: The main tower stands at 195 feet above the pavement. This fact played into the curious case of one Colonel James Monroe Winstead. (Turn of the century Richmond was just teeming with Colonels.) Col. Winstead was a 70 year old bank president in Greensborough, NC. He came to Richmond, checked into a hotel, had breakfast and the next day went to Old City Hall, climbed to an observation deck 94 feet up the clock tower, discarded shoes and cane and jumped to his death. He was impaled upon the iron fence below and removed “with much difficulty”. It was also reported that every bone in his body was broken save for his skull. There has been speculation about whether this was actually suicide, something more sinister, or (as his family maintained) he was just trying to catch his hat which had been blown off. (The Shockoe Examiner had a good article on this in 2010.)
Old City Hall served as City Hall from 1894 – 1970 when it was replaced with the current ugly building. There were at least two big pushes to completely demolish Old City Hall (as it was no known), with a lot of people deriding it for being an eyesore. Keep in mind that this was coming from people who invented such things as large rectangle buildings and shag carpeting. It was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of concerned citizens and is being repurposed into private offices. The first floor is open to the public during regular business hours.
Much of what was there when it was built has been preserved. The inside is a testament to the many new skills that Richmond had to learn on the fly. Working with granite, cast iron, and glass the inside is a beautiful representation of Richmond in the Guilded Age.
The history of the three City Halls is a great representation of the struggles that Richmond has with its past. We create these ornate pieces of architectural history and the moment the style falls out of favor it seems like we clamor to tear it down to put up whatever is next in style. Personally, I find Old City Hall to be much statelier and awe inspiring than the current iteration, and am doubly saddened that First City Hall is no more. I am thoroughly relieved that Old City Hall is still standing, but I am aghast that anyone in their right mind would want to tear it down. Sometimes, Richmond… you confuse me.
It was the best of times,
It was the worst of times.
It was Hardywood craft beer,
It was a 40 of PBR.
Welcome to 2013, everybody! We survived a Mayan Apocalypse, a Fiscal Cliff, and another ad filled election season. Bully on us! With the changing of the calendar year comes a changing of the political guard. While Washington is still looking generally the same, here in RVA we are welcoming three new additions to our City Council. (Read the RVANews article, here. This is as deep into current politics as we’re going to get.)
I thought now might be a good time to take a look at City Hall: The Structure, which changes only slightly less than City Hall: The People. RVA has had three City Halls in its history, and perhaps no buildings in Richmond better personify Richmond’s struggle to stay modern while being steeped in its history.
When someone refers to City Hall they are usually referring to the building which currently houses the City of Richmond Government and its employees. Since we will be moving through time, this won’t always work. For clarity’s sake I will refer to the buildings as such: “New City Hall” is the building which currently (January 4, 2013) contains some 800 government employees. It was built in 1970 and is at 900 East Broad Street. “Old City Hall” was built in 1894 and is located at 1001 East Broad Street. “First City Hall” was built in 1816 and was eventually demolished. (More on that later.) First City Hall stood about where New City Hall now sits, bringing everything back in a circle of life kind of way.
Let’s talk New City Hall First.
Built in 1970 to replace the oft hated working conditions of Old City Hall, the original design for New City Hall was described as, “a straightforward, uniform structure,” in an article for Architectural Record by Sara Hart. Translation: that building was ugly.
When originally built, New City Hall was a Georgia marble-clad box with deeply recessed windows. Not only was it ugly, but it also became quickly structurally unsound. The thin marble veneer that just made the box look so lovely was cracking and pulling away from the rest of the building. Enter SMBW. (Scribner, Messer, Brady & Wade Architects and not fans of the Oxford comma.) They recommended the removal of a majority of the granite and instead opted for aluminum. The removed the edges of the box and created the structure that we see today. (One could call this “Newest City Hall”, but things are complicated enough as it is.) While I personally would still not call the structure attractive… it is still a vast improvement over the monstrosity of design from the folks who brought you The BeeJees and Saturday Night Fever.
Perhaps I am being a bit harsh. I mean, yeah… I think it’s pretty ugly (but not as ugly as before!)… but the view. As the fifth tallest building in the City of Richmond, New City Hall stands at 19 stories, or 315 feet. (96 meters, Britain. Cheerio!) On top of that (literally!), the top floor is home to a glass encased observatory that is open to the public during regular business hours. From the top of this not-quite-as-ugly-but-still-rather-ugly rectangle you can see Richmond spreading out in front of you. The James River, I-95 running into the distance… it’s all there. It gives a whole new perspective on the city.
As you may also have noticed, there is a rather ornate building that is clearly visible from the observation deck of New City Hall. That, my friends, would be Old City Hall. It stands there, a prime example of Gothic Revival. With a number of granite towers equal to the number of times the building has been slated for demolition. (That would be 2.) One even has a clock tower, which always gets me in the mood to perform weather experiments involving a bolt of lightning. (Great Scott!) Its ornate-itude stands in sharp contrast to the big box I’m currently standing on top of.
But I’m getting ahead of myself… tune in next week for The New Adventures of Old City Hall!