Sunday, March 27, 2011

Evergreen Cemetery, Richmond, Va.

i don't have any explanation as to why cemeteries appeal to me. i guess that's how these things work. richmond, where i live, has a few noteworthy ones: hollywood, shockoe, hebrew, st. john's church., but they're all white-people places. and the black community has been a strong presence in this town from the beginning...

last weekend i set off looking for evergreen cemetery, the historic black burial ground in the county of henrico (just outside richmond). instead of the place i was looking for, i ended up on magnolia road -- where there was absolutely nothing, even though google maps pointed me there. i was thinking this must be a joke -- or a conspiracy!

turns out to be neither. it was a mistake. there's no hiding the real evergreen -- it's been there for over 100 years, after all!

now, there's a guy named mike lynaugh who published some photos and text about evergreen in 2008, that made the place sound like a scene out of a horror movie: "you can see the remains of a body pushed over to the corner.....the skull clearly visible to anyone looking through the hole. There is even an ulna bone laying in the grass outside the burial chamber." then, he used a monopod to get his camera into a hole in a mausoleum wall, where he photographed the wreckage -- which otherwise couldn't be seen without considerable effort.

this inspired me to take my own trip there. i can honestly say, it's a sobering experience to visit evergreen -- which is actually, according to the sign at the entrance to the property, "the four cemeteries at evergreen". part is in use today, while other sections are overgrown or almost completely returned to forest.

when founded in 1891, its founders envisioned it as the colored counterpart to hollywood, and situated it on a scenic bluff looking west toward the richmond skyline (not much of a skyline then, however). having made no provision for its perpetual care, the original site is now the scene of a heroic struggle of volunteers against nature -- and i wouldn't bet against nature, frankly. nevertheless, the volunteers are doing a commendable thing, as they fight to preserve this important part of richmond's heritage.

it would be a much more meaningful fight -- and have better prospects of success -- if the descendants of those buried there embraced the effort in a way i'm not seeing.

now, some photos:

After being reclaimed, what lay under a tangle of vines and fallen branches...
What the volunteers are up against, as they expose small sections close to the roads.
Braxton mausoleum, site of vandalism and exposed human remains -- but you have to stick your head in that hole...
No trip to Evergreen would be complete without a visit to Maggie Walker's grave...
but instead of the grand monument to Walker, here's one of hundreds of graves lost to time.
This is the view that sold the plots to prospective buyers at Evergreen -- but now you have to fight to get there.
Another of the countless family plots one must struggle to get to now...
This stone stands at the dividing line between old and new sections of the cemetery. In the distance, an overgrown field packed with unseen burial sites.

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