Richmond is known for its hills with sweeping vistas of the James River. One of the most picturesque sights in the city is Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place for two presidents.
Hollywood Cemetery was established in 1847 and is known as a garden cemetery along the rolling hills and rapids on the James River. It became a fashionable place to be buried after President James Monroe was reinterred there in 1858, twenty-seven years after his death in New York City. He is buried along with his wife in what’s now known as Presidents Circle.
The cemetery really grew during the Civil War years as Richmond turned into one big hospital with thousands of soldiers dying every day. When President John Tyler, a former president turned Confederate representative, died during the war, he was buried near Monroe.
The cemetery is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the biggest attractions in Richmond. Its peaceful landscape and winding paths make it a quiet and contemplative place for any history enthusiast.
Hollywood Cemetery began on the outskirts of Richmond, but it’s now in the middle of the bustling city near the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s still an active cemetery so be sure to be respectful and quiet during any visit.
I highly recommend downloading the cemetery’s tour map before your trip. With kids, be sure to download the Virginia Mysteries Guide tour booklet which corresponds with one of my favorite middle grade series. Your kids will love to walk in the footsteps of Derek, Sam, and Caitlin! There’s also a Girls Scout tour guide for the cemetery. I also recommend taking one of the recommended guided tours of the cemetery. I love The Valentine Museum’s tours and the others look interesting, especially the tuk-tuk!
You can use your own vehicle to navigate the cemetery’s many streets. It’s quite a large place (130+ acres!), so a car is recommended. There is parking available at the more visited sights.
Of course, with my focus on presidential and first lady history, I am always drawn first and foremost to the Presidents Circle located on a high hill overlooking the James River.
This is where James Monroe, fifth president of the United States (and so much more including Continental soldier, senator, ambassador to France and Britain, and Secretary of State and War – at the same time) is buried in an elaborate birdcage-style tomb.
His beautiful wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, is buried nearby. I have become fascinated with this amazing yet little-known first lady during this month as I have read all that I can about her (which isn’t much!). Be sure to check out my Booking It Through History: First Ladies post coming at the end of the month.
Adjacent to the Monroes’ grave is the final resting place of President John Tyler, the fifth president of the United States. Tyler is the only president to be buried under a different flag (he died during the Civil War and was a Confederate representative).
His second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler, is buried beside him. She married Tyler after her father, a senator from New York, was killed in an explosion on a ship in the Potomac River while she and the president were also on board. With the huge gap in ages (thirty years!), it’s a fascinating marriage, and I can’t wait to read more about her in a few months.
If you are a Civil War historian, the cemetery has graves of many of the people who were involved in the war, including Seddon, Pickett, and Stuart. As Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, many Confederate generals and thousands of soldiers are buried here. A tour of the cemetery pairs well with a visit to the nearby American Civil War Museum to delve deeper into the Civil War and slavery.
The largest of these graves is Jefferson Davis who served as the president of the Confederate states. As someone who is more interested in what women went through during the war, I like to focus on his wife, Varina Davis’ grave. I studied her extensively while writing my Civil War historical fiction book, and her life and opinions were interesting, especially for a woman in her position. I can’t help but think she’s not too happy to be buried in a city that she disliked. She would be more at home in New York City which is where she lived in her final years – and where she was friends with Julia Grant, wife of Union General Ulysses S. Grant.
The Davis children, including young Joseph, are also buried here. Joseph died at the age of five after falling from the White House of the Confederacy’s porch railing (you can learn more about this as part of the American Civil War Museum tour).
If you’re around Richmond, you know the name of tobacco millionaire Lewis Ginter because of the beautiful Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. Ginter is buried here in one the most ornate mausoleums.
One of the more whimsical grave statues is the iron dog statue at the grave of a little girl who died in 1862. Legend has it that the statue was moved to her grave to prevent it from being melted down for bullets during the Civil War.
Other notable Virginians buried here include John Randolph (Jefferson’s nemesis), Ellen Glasgow (famed author), and two Supreme Court justices.
A few years ago, I made a Travel with Books video featuring the Virginia Mysteries books and a virtual walking tour of Hollywood Cemetery. Be sure to check it out!
If you’re visiting Richmond, take the time to walk the paths of Hollywood Cemetery. The quiet broken only by the rushing of the rapids is as close as you can get to how Richmond was hundreds of years ago.
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 1 hour
- No gift shop
- Transportation: A car is preferred to tour the cemetery. It is within walking distance of downtown and several recommended hotels (including Ginter’s Jefferson Hotel).
- Dining options: You’re just a few blocks from West Main Street where there are several restaurants, including our family’s favorite pizzeria, Pupatella. Also along West Main is another of our favorites, Home Team Grill.
- Nearby hotels: See my Richmond guide for details. My top recommendation, the Jefferson Hotel, is within walking distance.
- Nearby attractions include: American Civil War Museum, Virginia War Memorial, Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, and Maymont
Books to Read:
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