Hollywood Cemetery’s Storied Specters

Many believe a haunting of ghosts flicker among the tombstones of Richmond’s most historic Victorian garden cemetery.

Designed by William H. Pratt and dedicated in 1849, Hollywood Cemetery at 412 S. Cherry Street in Richmond, Virginia, contains a veritable who’s who of Virginia history, including two U.S. presidents, two Supreme Court justices, six governors, and 22 Confederate generals.

Its 130 undulating acres above the James River are the final resting place for approximately 65,000 people, including up to 18,000 Confederate veterans who fought in the American Civil War.

The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

The most prominent monument in Hollywood Cemetery is a 90-foot-tall granite stone pyramid built to memorialize the thousands of Confederate soldiers buried nearby.

The pyramid was designed by engineer Charles Henry Dimmock and erected in 1869 at a cost of over $18,000.

According to legend, a prisoner named Thomas Stanley volunteered (or was voluntold, depending on who you ask) to manually climb the pyramid and place the heavy capstone, a perilous effort for which he was granted his freedom.

With so many anonymous dead buried in its shadow, many without a complete body or even the correctly matching body parts, is it a surprise that unusual encounters take place here?

Icy chills, low whispers and moans, and gray figures bearing battle scars send shivers up the spine of even the bravest visitor.

From the spectral to the macabre comes the tale of W.W. Pool, the Richmond Vampire.

In 1925 engineers attempted to repair the Church Hill railroad tunnel with disastrous results.

A cave-in resulted in the deaths of several workers, with only three managing to escape.

One of whom, Benjamin F. Mosby, suffered horrible burns before stumbling from the smoke in front of startled onlookers like a nightmare.

Icy chills, low whispers and moans, and gray figures bearing battle scars send shivers up the spine of even the bravest visitor.

So how does an elderly bookkeeper like W.W. Pool factor into this tragic tale?

Well, according to legend, the “vampire” that emerged from the Church Hill Tunnel was chased into Hollywood Cemetery and hid in Pool’s mausoleum.

Others say Pool himself was a vampire, because he outlived the year chiseled into his mausoleum by nine years.

That W.W. Pool had no connection to the Church Hill Tunnel collapse or its unfortunate victims, has done nothing to dissuade curious visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of a vampiric form lurking around his final resting place.

But Hollywood Cemetery’s most famous resident is of an altogether different variety.

A black, cast-iron dog stands in silent vigil over the grave of Florence Bernardina Rees, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Rees.

Florence was less than three years old when she died of scarlet fever in 1862.

According to folklorist L.B. Taylor, Jr., the dog used to stand outside a shop on Broad Street, and Florence would pet and dote on it as if it were real.

When she died, the owner placed it by her graveside. Another legend says the cast iron Newfoundland was placed in the cemetery to avoid being melted down and turned into bullets during the Civil War.

Whatever the reason, visitors love leaving tokens of their affection for little Florence.

Hollywood Cemetery is filled with fine funerary art, history, and sculpture. It is a must-see for any visitor to Virginia’s state capitol. Just don’t go at night.