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Where We Keep Our Dead: Evergreen Cemetery

Published on August 3, 2012 by

The ivy growing up the sign was a… well… a sign for what was to come.

I received the following from a loyal reader with Church Hill People’s News (follow them on Twitter!), “Have you ever been to Evergreen Cemetery? I think it would blow your mind.”  Whoa, spoiler alert!  Now I’m going into this thing with my mind pre-blown!

Here’s the research side of things:  Evergreen Cemetery was established in 1891, and serviced the African-American community of the time, especially the Jackson Ward section of Richmond.  Jackson Ward was known as the Harlem of the South and the Black Wall Street of America, and was the home to several prominent business owners and civil rights activists who were interned in Evergreen Cemetery.   Some of the more notable interments include Maggie L. Walker (the first African-American bank president in the United States) and John Mitchell, Jr.  (Famous editor of the Richmond Planet and civil rights activist.)

File:Maggie L. Walker of Richmond, Virginia in 1913.jpg

I didn’t take this picture of Maggie L. Walker. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

I understood (or thought I understood) that the cemetery was overgrown, and that there has been some controversy as to it’s upkeep.  With that in mind  I loaded up my beagle and my wife and we headed out.

No amount of research could really prepare me for what we found.

There are graves somewhere in there.  Like, people’s graves.

Walking into the cemetery you feel like you’re in the middle of a forest, because… well, you’re kind of in the middle of a forest.  At some point I thought, “When is the cemetery going to start?”  Then I realized… the cemetery was all around me.

One of the more accessible tombstones.

Buried in the brush, covered in kudzu, sometimes next to large holes, lie the markers for peoples’ loved ones.  Some of them are broken in two, while others have trees growing on the grave or (even better) growing into the headstone itself.  Not to mention the mausoleum that has been broken into and has had the coffin and remains exposed.  I did not see this, I did not want to see this.  I am glad I did not see this.

This isn’t how they do it in the other cemeteries I’ve been to…

Don’t get me wrong, there are groups that are working to repair and preserve the cemetery, and I think that is fantastic.  The Maggie L. Walker site is looking especially good.  It is just clear that the amount of work that is being put into the repairs is not sufficient to combat the level of neglect that has clearly been the norm.

Looking good, Mrs. Walker!

John Shuck (follow him on Twitter!) runs The Evergreen Cemetery blog, which is a must see if you are interested in learning more about the cemetery and efforts to restore it.  Hey, maybe you can even volunteer!

It’s difficult to capture the overgrown nature of this site.

One of the visible ones.

This monument is just as beautiful as some of the monuments in Hollywood Cemetery. Why does it not deserve the same respect?

So, who is responsible for the current conditions of the Evergreen Cemetery?  I turned on some classic rock, put on my sunglasses, and did some serious CSI work.

The original charter did not include any money for perpetual care.  The original owners sold the property off to a company that quickly went bankrupt.  The property is currently owned by one U K Corp (according to the Richmond Parcel Mapper), which lists one Isaiah Entzminger, Jr. as the registered agent.  (According to the State Corporation Commission.)   U K Corp purchased the 59.2 acre property in 1973 for $32,500 (about $173,000 in today’s money.  Or the price of a small house), which Mr. Entzminger has said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch was a “bad investment”.   For additional amusement, here is Mr. Entzminger’s Facebook page.

I don’t mean to put the entirety of the blame on Mr. Entzminger or the U K Corp, but honestly why would anyone buy an overgrown cemetery if not to restore it?  How exactly was this going to be a “good” investment?  I also put some of the blame on the City of Richmond and regulations that exempt cemeteries established before 1919 from requiring perpetual care funds.  (I honestly think that the sale of the property should have affected that.)  Some blame also has to go to the families of the deceased and the community as a whole.  I know that I personally would never want my remains, or my final resting ground to be treated like this.  I’m going to climb down off of my soapbox now, pardon me if I offended anyone!

My mind was officially blown.


Is there anything in RVA YOU want to see and learn more about?  Maybe somewhere happier and less macabre?  Leave a comment or email me at my new address: nick@photorva.com!  I’m always up for exploring our area, even when it’s slightly depressing and disturbing!

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Monumental RVA: Take 1 – Jefferson Davis

Published on July 26, 2012 by

Jefferson Davis’ grave n Hollywood Cemetery

If Abraham Lincoln was a vampire slayer, what does that make his southern enemy Jefferson Davis?  I know we just got off of a vampire kick, but the guy did attend Transylvania University.  I’m just saying.

For those of you who don’t know Jefferson Davis is more than a road that cuts through Richmond on its way to Key West.  (Like just about every road that runs through Richmond it has several names.  Here it’s the Jefferson Davis Highway.  In the keys it’s called the Dixie Highway, and up north it’s called the Boston Post Road.  Yay, confusion!)  Jefferson Davis was the one and only president of the Confederate States of America, or the War of Northern Aggression if you swing that way.  Born in Kentucky, fought and served as Senator for the state of Mississippi against Mexico; he called for the preservation of the union in Maine and Boston, and joined with the secessionists in 1861.

After the Civil War, historians largely blamed the defeat on the military ineptitude, money mismanagement, and general management style of Jefferson Davis.  He was tried for treason by the North and largely scorned by the South in favor of the more charismatic Robert E. Lee.  However; with PR skills that many modern day politicians would kill for, he eventually was lauded for his pride and ideals.  And so Richmond built him a monument.

Imagine how big it would have been if he had won!

The Jefferson Davis Monument stands at the corner of Monument Avenue (really?) and… wait for it… Davis Avenue.  It was sculpted by Edward Valentine and was unveiled in 1907.  It is the 3rd of 6 major monuments on Monument Avenue, most of which celebrate the failure of the South.  (And a tennis player beating a bunch of kids, more on that later.)

“I abandoned you and let you burn! Richmond, build me a monument!”

Monument Avenue is one of the jewels of Richmond.  The ornate and beautiful mansions, the humongous 4-laned cobblestone road with a huge median is a prime example of the Grand American Avenue city planning style.  It’s the Main Street of Richmond… well, actually Main Street is the Main Street of Richmond but I digress.  In all honesty, I really like the statues and the celebration of American (Confederate?) history.  I am also glad that we have begun to temper some of our idealization of bygone eras with some reminders of the not so noble ideals Richmond and the rest of the Confederacy were fighting for.  (Read: Slavery.)

I swear his hand was sculpted for pigeons to land on.

Together we will be exploring all of the monuments, big and small, that make up Monument Avenue and the rest of the city to boot!  We’ll also take a look at a bunch of people dressing up in weird costumes and running down our historic streets!  (Besides the regular weird costumes that you typically see in Richmond.  I blame PBR.)

I highly recommend the Richmond Monuments comic strip to learn more about what happens when I’m not taking pictures of the monuments.  I leave you with this amalgamation of pictures that I took and pieced together while skillfully dodging through oncoming traffic and ignoring blaring horns!  (I was only in traffic for the picture taking part, I prefer not to Photoshop in the middle of the street.)

You’re making me dizzy! No, seriously… make it stop!

Is there anything in RVA YOU find MONUMENTAL and want to know more about?  Leave a comment or email me at nick@photorva.com!  I’m always up for exploring our area and going for a spin!

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Where We Keep Our Dead: Hollywood Cemetery, Part 1

Published on July 20, 2012 by

Monochrome = scary, right?

Last we left off, the Church Hill Tunnel had collapsed.  I briefly mentioned the story of one Benjamin F. Mosby who escaped out of the Eastern Entrance of the doomed tunnel with horrible burns and broken teeth only to die two days later at Grace Hospital.  (Classic Schmosby!)  Time for an urban legend…

Out of one death, a legend was born. (Not Batman.) (Photo courtesy of John Shuck through FindAGrave.com)

If you believe the stories (they’ve made it all the way to the internet, they must be true!) the horribly disfigured creature that emerged from the fallen tunnel was… a vampire?  Apparently, in the 1920s vampires all had horribly burned skin that was sloughing off of their bodies and broken teeth.  It’s better than glittering, I guess.  Anyway, the creature emerged from the wreckage and took off to the James River.  (Naturally.)  He then traveled approximately 3 miles, stopping to chit chat with a mind reading waitress on the way, and jumped into the tomb of one W. W. Pool, an accountant who had died (or did he?) in 1913.

W. W. Pool: Accountant/Vampire? Death and taxes…

Since then there have been reports of people breaking in and removing Mr. Pool’s remains, arranging them nearby into occult symbols by supposed Satanists.  (Read drunk VCU students, because pretty much anything that happens can be blamed on drunk VCU students.)  Having had quite enough of that, the remains were gathered and buried somewhere else and the doors were welded shut.  So, if you’re into that kind of thing, you’re already too late.

There were about five of these things laying around. What… what… what is that?

My personal opinions on the matter are pretty much summed up on this statue:

Still, it’s a fun story to tell.  Richard Foster and Janet Giampietro with Style Weekly did an interview with the REAL Richmond vampire back in 2000 that is worth a read.  Part one can be found here and part two can be found here!  Thanks to Amy Gawthrop for the link!  Make sure you read her blog here: http://bobbinandsprocket.blogspot.com/ and follow her on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/BobbinNSprocket!

Is there anything in RVA YOU’VE been… dying (pause for laughter) to know more about?  Leave a comment or email me at nick@photorva.com!  I’m always up for exploring our area and finding local haunts!

PS: Hollywood Cemetery is WAY more than just the setting for an urban legend.  I’ll definitely be exploring it more in the future for both it’s beauty and it’s historic significance.  If you visit (which I highly recommend you do!) just remember that it is an active cemetery, and should be treated with the respect it deserves.

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What’s Under RVA? The Church Hill Tunnel, Part 2

Published on July 11, 2012 by

Church Hill Tunnel East Entrance or Dagobah? What’s in there? Only what you take with you.

Nestled  between Libby Hill and Chimborazo park, in a section of town known as Sugar Bottom, down a steep drop off, through piles of trash, and in the middle of what can best be described as an urban swamp lies the eastern entrance (exit?) of the Church Hill Tunnel.

When last we spoke of the tunnel, we left at the opening in 1873.  The tunnel had already killed ten people, and it was the bane of the C&O Railways line from western Virginia to Tidewater.  The clay did not hold back the groundwater like the bedrock of Appalachia and the tunnel was frequently flooding.  In 1901 the C&O built a new viaduct route along the James River (we’ll be looking at this later) and quickly abandoned the tunnel.

In 1925 the Viaduct route was running at capacity, and continuing demand for coal meant that coal had to get through Richmond.  C&O decided to fix up the Church Hill Tunnel.

“Yeah, grab an ax and slap a coat of paint on ‘er! Should be good!”

To address the water problems that the tunnel had previously experienced it was decided that ditches should be dug inside the tunnel.  In October of 1925 Engine #231, a 4-4-0 steam engine entered the tunnel to continue repair work.  The previously dug ditches had weakened the walls of the tunnel.  Imagine, you are deep underground with nothing but weak lighting when you hear the thud of a brick.  Next, you hear the fall of several bricks.  Before you know it, the light completely cuts out and the tunnel begins collapsing around you,  Two workers escaped by crawling under the 10 flat cars that were (and still are) buried in the collapse.  Two more bodies were recovered, but two other men were not.  Further attempts at rescue proved impossible, and the Virginia State Corporation ordered a stop to further rescue attempts.

A 4-4-0 steam engine. A similar engine is entombed beneath Church Hill. (Image courtesy Wikimedia)

An absolutely riveting account of the disaster and the tense recovery efforts can be found at Richmond Then and Now.  Here is another chilling recount by Hazel Trice Edney with Samuel Jackson (not that one, but feel free to read it in his voice) in The Afro American newspaper in 1987.  There had been talk about retrieving the train but the current state of the tunnel seems to be a continuing problem to the process and has caused several collapses in the Church Hill area.  You can listen to a story from NPR’s archive.

One of the men who escaped the tunnel was one Benjamin F. Mosby.  It was reported that he emerged with broken teeth and the horribly burned skin hanging off of his body.  He died later at Grace Hospital and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery.  Or at least that is what they want you to believe… more on that soon! (We’re talking vampires, folks!)

This black-winged damselfly was hanging out with a LOT of the current blood sucking residents of the entrance.

On a side note, I would like to point out that the Eastern Entrance stands in stark contrast to the Western Entrance.  The Western Entrance is well manicured, gated, and locked off while the Eastern Entrance is a swampy trash heap that nature is slowly trying to reclaim.  Despite their apparent differences they share a common trait: they are both inaccessible.  One of the greatest things about the city that we live in is its rich history, and the tragedy of the Church Hill Tunnel collapse is a part of that history.  I do not necessarily advocate for the removal of the train (which was actually proposed and explored in conjunction with The History Channel), but the current states of the existing sites does not seem wholly appropriate either.  I hope to explore the Eastern Entrance further in the future.

I have no amusing caption for this.

 Is there anything in RVA YOU’D like to know more about?  Leave a comment or email me at nick@photorva.com!  I’m always up for exploring our area.  Even when it involves walking through your trash, apparently!

NOTE:  I’d like to thank the RVA Reddit Community for the leads and support, and a special thanks to user SnakeCarnifex for his initial scouting reports and advise.
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What’s Under RVA? The Church Hill Tunnel, Part 1

Published on July 2, 2012 by

One of the biggest grave markers in RVA.

In the early 1870s the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) (not on your Monopoly board, sorry!) needed to get coal from western (and West) Virginia down to Newport News.  The C&O had a lot of experience blasting and tunneling through the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains, so when they came to Church Hill in Richmond, they must have thought, “Pft!  We’re not going to be stopped by this measly little hill!”  So they decided to build the Church Hill Tunnel.

The view from Libbie Hill Park, directly above the Church Hill Tunnel on a hot, hazy summer day.

Unfortunately, Richmond soil is not at all like the soil they had previously worked with.  Western Virginia soil was mainly hard bedrock (think The Rock and Sean Connery), whereas Richmond soil was mainly blue marl clay.  (Think Demi Moore in Ghost.)  In what should have been a foretelling of future events, the tunnel suffered from water leaking in and causing various cave-ins supposedly killing ten men before it’s completion in 1873.

Let’s have a barbecue!… With the dead!

The western entrance is shown here next to what used to be a warehouse, but (like just about every old warehouse) has been converted to loft apartments.  The opening has been sealed since 1926.  While I am sure the residents enjoy the swimming pool and barbecue area, it is a bit annoying to have one of our historic landmarks fenced in and inaccessible.  Where there is a will, there is a way, and I managed to get in (with a happy beagle in tow) to get these pictures.

This post has been beagle approved.

Is there anything in RVA YOU’D like to know more about?  Leave a comment or email me at nick@photorva.com!  I’m always up for exploring our area.  Even when it’s 106 outside with a 200% humidity!

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Location: St. John’s Church

Published on June 26, 2012 by

A nice place to spend a day, but do not visit during the Zombie Apocalypse.

The Henrico Parish Church was founded in 1611 in the Cittie of Henricus.  (1611 writing is just awesome.)  After converting, baptizing, and renaming Pocahontas the church and cittie eventually fell victim to the Indian Massacre of 1622.  In the first recorded instance of white flight in the Western Hemisphere the parish up and moved out of the cittie and to Varina.  In 1741 the congregation looked around, realized they were in Varina and decided to get out of there.  They promptly moved to Richmond, which then consisted of the area we now know as Church Hill.  (Have you figured out yet why it’s called Church Hill?)

You say you want a revolution? Well… you know…

Fast forward to 1775.  Britain has upped taxes, Boston threw some tea into the water and they are now being blockaded by the English, and Lord Dunmore has dissolved the Virginia House of Burgesses in Williamsburg.  St. John’s provided a perfect place to get away from the prying eyes of the British, having only 600 people at the time.  It was at this convention that Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech that convinced the group to vote to take arms against the Red Coats.  Patrick Henry was a bit of a radical, but the convention decided to raise the militia by a margin of only five votes.

Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington all sat here.

The church managed to survive occupation by British troops under Benedict Arnold (traitor! pew! pun intended!), and the Civil War (War or Northern Aggression for my RVA friends) unscathed.  The middle section of the church is original, with a couple additions and a bell tower making it what it is today.

The door to the left is the original entrance to the original portion of the church.

Tours of the interior of the church run Saturdays and Sundays, with re-enactments on Sundays during the summer.  The church still has an active congregation and meets on Sundays, as most churches do.  You can find out more about tours at their website: http://www.historicstjohnschurch.org/.

The pulpit today…

The pulpit in 1901. Courtesy of the Detroit Photographic Company via Wikipedia.


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Event: Summer Solstice

Published on June 22, 2012 by

The Summer Solstice is that magical day when whatever hemisphere you are on is most directly aimed at that big glowing ball of burning hydrogen that we call the sun.  It is an event known by different names throughout the world:  Midsummer, Kupala Night, Roger, Susan, and Jāņi to name a few. The celebrations often take the form of lighting huge bonfires, drinking heavily, and dancing around a bunch of upright stones.

In RVA, we take things a little less seriously.

The Friends of the James River Park celebrated by inviting people to come down to the Kanawha Canal (which George Washington himself dug with a pickaxe and a hand spade!), light candles, send them floating, and make a wish.

I don’t mean to keep picking on Ohio, but this is the only time there should ever be fire on a river.

I gathered my equipment, slung it on my back, kissed my wife goodbye and headed out in 168° weather with a humidity of at least 626%. Hey, I’m always up for setting things on fire.

I’m only half-convinced that this cloud wasn’t the result of a nuclear explosion that was responsible for the weather.

About 35 people (and a couple dogs) braved the mind-melting heat (I exaggerate… a bit) to send candles drifting downstream. Reports from Fort Eustis in Newport News had the candles arriving in the area at around 3:30 AM and setting fire to the Ghost Fleet. The U.S. Maritime Administration would like to personally thank Ralph White for solving that problem for them. Obviously, I am joking. The candles were picked up at a top secret location (a bridge) by a team of genies (Friends of James River Park folks) who ensured that all wishes were duly granted. (That part’s true.)

Oh yeah, there was incense too. Off the Hookah was jealous.

Watching the candles float down the canal, I could help but think of gondolas floating through Venice, Italy. Little, paper, festive, burning gondolas… but gondolas none-the-less.

Gondola, gondola!

All-in-all it was a nice night. Judging by the current temperatures no one seems to have wished for cooler weather, but whatever… I hope everyone who participated has all of their wishes come true. The rest of you are out of luck!

Wait, I thought *I* was the only photographer invited to this thing! Where’s my agent!

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I’ll Take My City on the Rocks

Published on June 15, 2012 by
Every city has a reason for existence.  They needed a place for all the politicians so they threw them into a swamp and called it Washington D.C.  A bunch of people thought it would be a good idea to live below sea level next to a large body of water that floods on a regular basis, and so New Orleans was created. Pretty much every city in Ohio was brought into existence to make everyone else feel better about their home cities.  (I kid. Cleveland rocks.  Or at least that’s what Drew Carey taught me.)  So why does Richmond exist?
It’s a bit more complicated than that.  The Powhatan tribe had been living in what is now Richmond for some time before Christopher Newport showed up.  Chris came up all the way to Turkey Island(now Presquile Island) with John Rolfe in tow, met with the big wig’s son(mistaking him for Powhatan), sent a friend request (hoping they would help fight the tribe that was bugging them down in Jamestown), and planted a cross in the ground for the king.  (James I, not Elvis.  Though the Elvis River would have been amusing.)  We will hear more about these guys later, I promise.

Somewhere in here is a river. Can you see how you couldn’t get much further?

The James River is central to modern day Richmond.  It bisects our city (much like the highway that runs straight through the heart of the city) and is a significant draw tothe area.  There are many things unique about the river as it winds through the heart of downtown.  It is the only river in the United States with Class II – V rapids through the heart of downtown, provides rock climbing within view of downtown, and supports a surprising variety of flora and fauna including a heronry!

A heron at Pipeline Rapids, one of my favorite spots in the city.

Oh, hey Osprey!

What’s that? It’s a whistle pig! Also known as a groundhog. What’s that? It’s a whistle pig!…

A snake! Aaaaaaaaah a snake! It’s just a Northern Watersnake.


This is the path that I had to follow (with $1000 worth of camera on my back) to get that skyline shot.

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The City, MY the City

Published on June 5, 2012 by

Richmond, you sit perched on your seven hills, positively reeking of southern charm! I am going to explore your nooks and discover your crannies!

Will there be history? Yes! Will there be entertainment? Most assuredly! Will there be adventure? It seems quite likely! Most importantly… there will be pictures!

Join me, Nick Kotula, as I delve into the City of Richmond, Virginia. We will discover it’s history, the people who live here, and the river and the flora and fauna that call it home.  Along the way we might just learn a little something about ourselves.
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