Thursday, April 24, 2014

Richmond's Historic Cemeteries

Image of Shockoe Cemetery - one of the oldest in the Richmond area.

This site is the online home of the "Richmond Historic Cemeteries project, coordinated by Dr. Ryan K. Smith in the History Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. This project highlights central Virginia’s notable burying grounds and offers a portal for research and self-guided tours. The region’s dramatic history, from colonial settlements and slavery, to Revolution and Civil War, to postwar emancipation and industrialization, can be seen here. Undergraduate students in several ongoing courses have contributed much of the project content, including research essays and audio podcast guides for individual graves. You may wish to use the latter on your smartphone or .mp3 player while visiting the cemeteries themselves, to create your own tour."
                   - from the intro. to the site.

It's a very interesting site. Dr. Ryan K. Smith is an excellent professor who really engages his students. Visit the site today.

- Ray

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rocket Werks - Great Web Site.

This is a really nice looking and interesting web site - actually is a Tumblr site. It is called Rocket Werks. Lots of images of Richmond buildings but also a lot of other great stuff.they describe their site as:
At rocket werks, we combine protean forces from the forbidden Zero Serum with the unbridled power of atomic fusion, to better probe the Wisdom of the Ancients and their Forgotten Culture.
Run, don't walk, to the site NOW.  Here's the LINK.

- Ray.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Some recent Ebay finds.

Found these images on Ebay and borrowed them. - Ray 


ca. 1865 or maybe 1870s.

1890s - Allen and Ginter firm.

Ca. 1920 postcard.

The City on the James: Chamber of Commerce Book, 1893.

The Internet Archive has added one of the best primary resources for late 19th century Richmond history. It is The City on the James: Chamber of Commerce Book, 1893. It runs over 300 pages and has hundreds of photos of buildings, street scenes, civic and business leaders, etc. It is a wonderful snapshot of Richmond of the early 1890s. It is especially good for Richmond architectural history and for a broad survey of its economic conditions, including many profiles of the city's business leaders (unfortunately it almost totally ignores African American life in the city). It was complied by Andrew Morrison who had worked on an earlier version called Richmond, Virginia and the New South (1889). I have seen a copy of that 1889 version at the Library of Virginia. Morrison did similar types of books during this time period for the cities of San Antonia, Denver, Minneapolis, Memphis, and New Orleans. 

Here is a screenshot of a short article about its publication from the Richmond Dispatch, April 2, 1893:

 The City on the James is also available at the Online Book Page along with many other online versions of 19th century publications on Richmond. For information and images of Richmond for this time period this site is a must. 

Here are a few images of pages from The City on the James:

-- Ray.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Death of a Richmond Landmark - the Murphy's Hotel Annex.

With the 2006 completion of the building that goes by the unwieldy title of the “Spotswood W. Robinson, III and Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Federal Courthouse” that occupies the 700 block of East Broad Street, it is difficult to recall the buildings that once stood there.  Anchoring the eastern end of the block of three and four-story Italianate store buildings that dated for the most part from the 1890s was the Murphy’s Hotel Annex. Built in 1902, the Annex was originally connected to the main hotel by a graceful steel pedestrian bridge above Eighth Street.

Visitors to Richmond once paused and admired the view down
Eighth Street from the arched windows of the Murphy’s Hotel pedestrian bridge.
(click on images for a larger view)

That original hotel on the eastern side of Eighth Street, grandly titled “Murphy’s European Hotel” but smaller than the Annex that complemented it, was torn down and replaced in 1911 by a Classical eleven-story building designed by John Kevan Peebles.  In 1939 the Annex was sold and the bridge removed.  The larger hotel later changed its name to the Hotel King Carter, then became the Ninth Street Office Building for the Commonwealth of Virginia before its eventual demolition.  It has now been replaced by a vacant lot - another hugely inappropriate urban prairie filled with surface parking, signaling to all our lack of regard for the past and denigrating Richmond’s grand boulevard.

Postcard image ca. 1905.

By the late 1990s the Annex was in poor condition, with its deteriorating cornice removed and most of the building vacant except for a CVS drug store on the first floor.  Its sooty and stained facade were emblematic of the decline of Broad Street, once Richmonds premier shopping district, but now the victim of suburban sprawl and declining property values.

The slow death of the Murphys Annex took many months.

Condemnation and demolition began around 2000.  Because of the timber beam construction as opposed to a steel framework, the Annex had to be demolished piecemeal, almost by hand, for safety reasons.  It descended to ground level over a number of months, probably much at the pace that had seen it first proudly rise a hundred years before.  Behind it on the Grace Street side of the block, another John Kevan Peebles design, the seven-story Capitol Hotel (built 1916), had already been demolished as well an ornate 1916 garage building by architect Carl Ruhrmund.

 Demolition of the building.

Today, Murphy’s Hotel is also gone and the entire complex of Mr. Murphy’s hotels and stores has vanished as though they never existed, replaced by the Federal Courthouse.  One of the few remnants of the Annex still exists: a small section of the Greek key decorative belt that once ran around the ground floor.  What appears to be carved stone is actually a hollow cast concrete block, a fitting metaphor for the permanence of much of the once imposing but now vanished nineteenth-century architecture of Broad Street.

- Selden.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Book talk with author Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - VCU.


Ed Peeples' autobiography, Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism is available for sale in your local book shop and online include HERE.

Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism
Event Date:  March 18 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts
922 Park Ave, Richmond, VA 23284
VCU's Monroe Park Campus

VCU Libraries celebrates the release of the autobiography of noted civil-rights activist Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr., with an evening panel discussion featuring Dr. Peeples in a conversation on his life's mission with his book contributors, Dr. Nancy MacLean and Dr. James H. Hershman, Jr., moderated by Dr. John Kneebone. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. A book signing and reception will follow.
This event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested, to assist us with the planning of the event and to facilitate seating. Parking is available for a fee in the West Broad Street, West Main Street, and West Cary Street parking decks. If special accommodations are needed, or to register offline, please call (804) 828-0593 prior to March 14, 2014.

About the Book

Scalawag: A White Southerner's Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism is the autobiography of Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr. It tells the story of a white working-class youth who became an unlikely civil-rights activist. Born in 1935 in Richmond, where he was taken to segregated churches and sent to segregated schools, Peeples was taught the ethos and lore of white supremacy by the white adults around him. But by age nineteen, he had become what the these people called a "traitor to the race."

At Richmond Professional Institute (the forerunner to VCU on the Monroe Park Campus), Peeples was encouraged by a lone teacher to think critically. Peeples found his way to the black freedom struggle and began a long career of activism. He challenged racism in his U.S. Navy unit and engaged in sit-ins and community organizing. Later, as a VCU professor, he agitated for good jobs, health care and decent housing for all; pushed for the creation of courses in African American studies at VCU in the early 1970s; and worked toward equal treatment for women, prison reform and more.
Covering fifty years' participation in the civil-rights movement, Peeples’s gripping story brings to life an unsung activist culture to which countless forgotten individuals contributed, over time expanding their commitment from civil rights to other causes.

About the Speakers

Author: Dr. Edward H. Peeples, Jr. is associate professor emeritus of preventive medicine and community health at VCU.
Book contributor: Dr. Nancy MacLean is the William H. Chafe professor of history and public policy at Duke University and author of The American Women's Movement, 1945–2000 (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009) and Freedom Is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace (Harvard University Press, 2006), among other publications.
Book contributor: Dr. James H. Hershman, Jr. is a lecturer in the Georgetown University Graduate Liberal Studies program. Formerly, he was senior fellow in the Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute.
Moderator: Dr. John Kneebone is chair of the VCU Department of History and associate professor of history. He also coordinates the public-history component of the history graduate program. He has taught at Princeton and Harvard Universities and at the University of Alabama. For 16 years, he was an editor and then director of Publications and Education Services at the Library of Virginia. He is the author of Southern Liberal Journalists and the Issue of Race, 19201944.

More info. HERE:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Richmond's Lewis Powell and the "Powell Memo."

Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.  (1907-1998) was an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a long time Richmond resident and very active in the city's affairs. (see more about him HERE). I thought it was time to make folks aware of what has been called the Powell Memo which has had considerable influence on the state of politics and policy in our nation.
 "In 1971, Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer and member of the boards of 11 corporations, wrote a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr., the Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The memorandum was dated August 23, 1971, two months prior to Powell’s nomination by President Nixon to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Powell Memo did not become available to the public until long after his confirmation to the Court. It was leaked to Jack Anderson, a liberal syndicated columnist, who stirred interest in the document when he cited it as reason to doubt Powell’s legal objectivity. Anderson cautioned that Powell “might use his position on the Supreme Court to put his ideas into practice…in behalf of business interests.”

Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.

 -- from the website Reclaim Democracy.
 Read more about the memo HERE.

- Ray

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Film of downtown Richmond from 1917 - Do you like this? Please comment and let us know.

This film can be found at this site.  It is just a few seconds and is part of a longer film - maybe a total of 5 minutes or less - created by the Ford Motor Co. in 1917.  So, this is a snapshot of downtown Richmond in 1917 - the year that the Richmond School of Social Work was founded. That school, headed by Dr. Henry H. Hibbs, Jr., grew into Richmond Professional Institute (in 1939) which merged (in 1968) with the Medical College of Virginia to become Virginia Commonwealth University.

We blogged about this online film site a year or so ago. I just came across this file on my laptop and thought I would post it. I am hoping to acquire the complete film - one without the "CriticalPast" watermark on the film. When I do, I will make sure its posted online.

So, do you like this film? Please let us know in the comment section below. And yes, I'm fishing for comments just to see if anyone is out there :-)


- Ray

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Migratory Elk Observed on the Banks of the James

In 1897, Joseph Laube was an undertaker who lived at 17 East Clay Street.  Because of his profession, his fraternal brothers probably thought he was a natural choice to represent the local Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks purchase of a burial plot for their membership.  For $300, Laube bought a small plot in a prime location in Hollywood Cemetery, thinking it would serve the needs of the membership forever.  The purchase agreement with the Hollywood Cemetery Company listed the terms of the sale, but also specified “that the ‘Elk’ monument in bronze as mentioned by your committee be erected in reasonable time.”  

The monument erected by the Richmond Elks Lodge on the
prominent site overlooking the James River is shown in this 1908 postcard.

The Elks were founded in 1868. They provided not only the friendly association of a fraternal organization but they also contributed to scholarships and local community building goals while promoting patriotism. Richmond’s own Lodge 45 was established in 1886.  Like most fraternal organizations, the Elk have their ceremonies and insignia, customs and traditions.  An interesting element of Elk ritual is the toast they term filled with “tender significance,” that is traditionally given among assembled Elk at 11 o’clock.  At that hour, all rise and toast members of the past:

“…Living or dead, an Elk is never forgotten, never forsaken. 
Morning and noon may pass him by, 
the light of day sink heedlessly in the West, 
but ere the shadows of midnight shall fall, 
the chimes of memory will be pealing forth 
the friendly message -- 

The same maudlin sentimentality heard in “The 11 O’clock Toast” is reflected in another Elk custom: the creation of burial plots for members.  Many early mutual assistance clubs often were organized around burial insurance, but few other American fraternal organizations have as many cemeteries of their own as the Elks.  This custom became popular all over the country, with many Lodges establishing their own cemetery section, and each one is usually identified by the name, “Elks Rest.”  These cemeteries, in keeping with their motto, “Once an Elk, eternally an Elk,” are almost always decorated with a statue of an elk on a high pedestal, signaling the resting place of their dead and the name of the organization. 

 A view of similar statues across the United States - click HERE to see more.

The management of the Hollywood Cemetery Company knew what they were getting in Richmond’s “Elks Rest” as they had no doubt seen these cemetery sections in many towns, each with the statue of the guardian elk. Amid the ornate memorials of Hollywood, and given the social stature  of their organization, the monument with the elk seemed perfectly appropriate and desirable.  

 This view shows the memorial that marks the grave of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the foreground.  Although the detail of the statue itself has been lost in this postcard image, the base of the Elks monument is visible against the sky at the right.

The spot purchased by the Elks was a choice location in Hollywood.  It was on top of a rise, which overlooked the graves of Jefferson Davis and his family.  Davis’ body had been moved and reburied in Richmond in 1893, and his tomb was one of the city’s many tourist attractions. The area below “Elks Rest” included some of Richmond’s most famous and wealthy, who vied for their eternal spot near Davises and Lees.  The burial of Fitzhugh Lee, former Confederate general and Governor of Virginia near the Davis family plot only added to the allure of this section of Hollywood for Confederate veteran and modern tourist alike.

In its first location, the “Elks Rest” section was on a commanding
hill, overlooking the river valley and the Davis section of the cemetery.

A few weeks after Fitzhugh Lee’s funeral in Hollywood Cemetery, Elks gathered to dedicate their statue of the elk on May 10, 1905.  Termed a “fitting tribute” to the deceased members of the Elks, its location meant hundreds of visitors to Hollywood’s shrine to the vanished Confederacy would have looked up and seen the silhouette of the elk against the sky.  It should be noted that, where many are genuine bronze statues, the elk in Richmond is instead an off-the-shelf item, perhaps available through the Elks organization.  It had a maker’s plate on the base, but unfortunately, that is now missing.  Nevertheless, as seen from below against the western sky, Richmond’s elk must have been a dramatic and memorable sight and remarked upon by many visitors to Hollywood.

The first burial in the Elks section was that of W. B. Jones, in 1902.  After that a steady stream of dead Elk made their way to what they assumed would be eternal rest in Hollywood Cemetery.  Every four or five years another Elk would enter “Elks Rest,” like in 1934, when C. B. Haynes, who lived on the corner of Park Avenue and North Rowland, was buried there.  Robert Green followed Haynes in 1937.  Joe Fanning, a foreman who lived at 3701 Ellwood Ave. was buried at “Elks Rest” in 1938.  Sixteen men were buried on the hill at Hollywood, their graves spread around the base of the elk statue.  Perhaps these were men without families, or travelers passing through Richmond with the restlessness of the Great Depression.  Whoever they were, from the local Elks or members of a distant Lodge, they must have been comforted by the knowledge that their final arrangements would be seen to in a dignified manner by their fraternal brothers.

 This plat of the original “Elks Rest” is from the collection of Hollywood Cemetery.

In 1939, a second agreement was drawn up with the Hollywood.  Finding that “the lot in question is not large enough for their purposes,” the Elks decided to buy a new and larger plot in Riverview Cemetery and sell their plot back to Hollywood.  Forsaking their premier location above the graves of Davis and Lee, members who had rested in peace for almost forty years were disinterred and moved to the new site.  The elk statue was taken down, and its base disassembled and re-erected on the new site.  The bodies of the sixteen dead Elk were rearranged around the new plot, with free space for new interments.  A large plaque was added, noting the date of rededication, 1940, with the inscription, “The faults of our brothers we write upon the sands, their virtues upon the tablets of Love and Memory.”

The placement of this plaque in 1940 signaled the
rededication of Elks Rest in its new site in Riverview Cemetery.

Perhaps it was the series of burials at Hollywood’s Elks Rest that came almost every year in the late 1930s that prompted the move to a larger plot, but the crush of expired Elk that the local Lodge expected never came.  There were only three more burials in Elks Rest after the new plot was established: Walter S. Burton was buried there in 1940, and Saul M. Davidson joined him in 1945.  Since the burial in 1957 of Charles Sprouse, no Elk has chosen an eternal home at Elks Rest for the last fifty-six years. 

Today “Elks Rest” is a quiet corner of Riverview Cemetery.

Today, we are in a period that has seen the decline in fraternal organizations of all kinds.  The Masons and the Eagles, the Elk and the Odd Fellows all face dwindling membership and struggle for relevance.  Once valuable benefits like the assurance of a burial plot have become obsolete.  They are today regarded as a quaint reminder of the same less sophisticated age that left America dotted with little cemetery sections marked by statues of elk.   As even the National Lodge of the Elks admits on their web site, “Some of these Lodge-owned cemetery plots, called Elks Rests, have outlived the Lodges which established them, while others have even been forgotten by their Lodges, passing almost invisibly through the years in peaceful repose while a lonely sentinel elk statue presides over its silent Lodge amid the changing seasons.”

Today the statue of the elk seems to look longingly toward its
former site, several hundred yards away in Hollywood Cemetery. 

This seems to be the case in Richmond.  Standing now in the far corner of Riverview Cemetery, the statue of the elk has lost most of its fragile antlers over the course of more than a century.  Its once impressive view from Elks Rest of the James River valley and the falls below has been lost to encroaching trees. The statue, which once was a dramatic part of the Hollywood Cemetery skyline, now seems to stare dejectedly off toward its original home, several hundred yards away, where it once shared attention with Jefferson Davis, Fitzhugh Lee, and other notables.  Nevertheless, the guardian elk, battered but unbowed, still maintains the vigil it began in 1905 and keeps watch over its “silent Lodge” in this quiet and forgotten corner of Richmond.  

 - Selden.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays (support the war on Xmas that does not exist)!

 Broad Street - Very rare view, ca. 1900.

Rare Richmond postcard, ca. 1910.

Tell your friends about our site
- send a link.  Thanks.

- Ray and Selden.