Named for the holly trees that grow on the land, Hollywood Cemetery is located at 413 S Cherry Street in Richmond, Virginia. While being established in 1847, the cemetery is still operational to this day. It was designed as a garden cemetery by architect John Notman and is extremely beautiful, creating this popular landscape style type of cemetery in the 19th century. Throughout the years, many notable and famous figures have been buried here such as United States Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Virginia governors, supreme court justices, authors, and more. There are currently 49 notables in the cemetery who have influenced the course of history through their actions.
While having an extensive walking path, there is also a driving path to explore the entire cemetery as well. These paths lead to a view of the James River, which can be seen from many spots in the cemetery and has a great history in Richmond. Through its history and beautiful layout, this cemetery is one of the most historic and visited in America, being a popular tourist attraction.
After 147 years of operation, there have been several paranormal accounts documented within this cemetery. While some of the paranormal stories are more popular than others, most locals and paranormal enthusiasts are familiar with these tales.
The most famous paranormal legend at the cemetery is the Richmond Vampire; whose remains are said to be in the mausoleum of William Wortham Pool or more commonly known as W. W. Pool, who was a bookkeeper and accountant. The legend goes that on October 2, 1925 a work locomotive was making its way into a construction site inside the Church Hill Tunnel, via the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, when the tunnel collapsed. This collapse resulted in trapping several men, burning them alive and according to Wikipedia, a “…blood covered creature with jagged teeth and skin hanging from its muscular body” emerged from the wreckage. Shocked locals saw this creature and a mob chased it into the mausoleum of W. W Pool, where it vanished inside. After this event, the Richmond Vampire was born and is a popular story told to this day.
Another paranormal experience people have reported, is at the popular grave with the Iron Dog. The Iron Dog stands guard over the grave of a young girl who died from Scarlet Fever. There have been many different guesses as to what her first name was, but it is speculated her first name was Florence; all her grave states is the name of Rees. Some say her family had this dog built and placed at her grave to watch over her in the afterlife, but others say her family had it placed there to prevent it being melted down for ammunition during a battle and to protect their assets. There is even a tale of a shopkeeper who would see the girl playing with a stray dog that was outside of his store and thus gifted the statue to the family after her passing. Regardless of the reasoning, there have been claims that a little girl can be seen playing with a dog near the grave, barking or growling can be heard by the grave site, and that the Iron Dog will move directions it’s pointing. Dogs are man’s best friend and it seems so even in the afterlife.
Up the path, passed the Iron Dog, is the confederate section of the cemetery along with a very noticeable structure, the Pyramid. Within the cemetery, there are about 18,000 Confederate soldiers laid to rest there and about 11,000 of them are unidentified. This monument is a 90-foot-tall granite block structure that was built in 1869 to honor the Confederate soldiers who are buried in the cemetery. The Pyramid is said to be an architectural marvel, as there is no bonding between the stones; it is only made with granite blocks from the James River. According to Pamela K. Kinney in her book, Haunted Virginia Legends, Myths, & True Tales, within the cornerstone of the structure are “Confederate artifacts that include a flag, a button from Stonewall Jackson’s coat, and a lock of Jefferson Davis’ hair.” There are claims that the spirits are restless and disembodied moans at both dawn and dusk have been heard. Along with this, the claims have been made during a full moon as well. Not only have been there audible claims made, but sights of orbs and cold spots have been reported as well – these are all said to be the lost soldiers who cannot rest.
While these three ghost stories are the main ones of the cemetery, there have been other tales from here as well. These include the tomb of famous author Ellen Glasgow whose dogs were buried with her and the claims of whistle-like sounds and dogs barking heard around her grave. As well as, the daughter of Jefferson Davis, Winnie Davis. She fell in love with a Yankee and her father did not approve of the marriage, causing Winnie to die from heartbreak. It is said that the angel statue of her grave can be seen shedding tears, still upset over the heartbreak Winne endured.
My Findings and Final Thoughts
On a sunny and humid day in August, I took a trip down to Hollywood Cemetery to pay respects and walk through this beautiful cemetery. Arriving, I was taken aback of how huge this cemetery was and how popular it was as well; many people were taking walks or driving down the road path. I luckily printed out a map to follow and marked the various areas that I wanted to check out, but instead, just followed the path to view everything around me.
The first haunted location I came across was the Iron Dog on Cedar Ave. At first sight, I noticed that many people were leaving coins, candies, and toys at the grave of the little girl and it made me wish I brought something for her too; next time I will. The dog was facing the Cedar Ave road sign. I made note of this, as I would have to pass it again to return to my car and wanted to see if the dog would change directions like the stories said. I did not experience anything out of the ordinary or paranormal, but I did come in the morning and most paranormal activity was reported at night… After paying my respects to the girl and her dog, I walked down the path towards the Confederate area of the graveyard.
Seeing the Pyramid up close was amazing; you do not realize how large 90 feet is until you are there in person. To the side of the Pyramid, was a dedication plaque from the Hollywood Ladies Memorial Association who were a big part of establishing this monument. While not experiencing any of the paranormal activity claimed in this area, I did feel slightly uneasy and felt like I was being watched while I was there. Interestingly enough, after leaving this area, I almost immediately felt better.
When researching the Hollywood Cemetery, the most notable paranormal story was about the Richmond Vampire. After looking into it, I found that it has since been debunked and dubbed an urban legend. As the legend goes, people saw a disfigured creature run into Pool’s tomb after being seen “feeding” on the victims of the collapse. However, it was not a vampire but a man that was a part of a tragic accident. This man’s name was Benjamin F. Mosby and he was one of the workers in the Church Hill tunnel at the time of its collapse in 1925. While shoveling coal into the firebox of a work train passing through, the tunnel collapsed, resulting in the boiler to explode and severely burn and trap Mosby and others. He escaped and emerged from the rubble with the grievous injuries of a disfigured body and broken teeth, similar to that of fangs, only to be mistaken for a creature of the night. After fleeing in a state of shock towards the river and collapsing near W.W. Pool’s Mausoleum, Mosby was taken to a hospital where he died a day later from his injuries. Even though this event has been debunked, people still travel to see Pool’s Mausoleum, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Richmond vampire.
Finding W.W. Pool’s mausoleum took me a while; I unknowingly kept passing it! I kept admiring a sheep statue that was built upon a structure I could see from a pathway higher up the hill. I looked up a photo of the mausoleum to help better identify it, when I realized that the structure with the sheep statue had been Pool’s Mausoleum the whole time. Once found, I paid my respects to both Pool and Mosby and admired the structure.
In Kinney’s book, she states that “for years after the vampire incident, people would break into Pool’s tomb, to vandalize or sometimes just to stake him.” Due to this, the cemetery had to move Pool and his wife’s remains to an undisclosed location and the tomb door was welded shut.
An interesting note to add – While searching for W.W. Pool’s mausoleum, I read the map incorrectly and thought it was in a section found near the Confederate gravesite. I found an overgrown stone pathway between the tombstones and I immediately started to feel uneasy, as I mentioned earlier, like I was not wanted there. The further down the path I went, the stronger the feeling became, and my intuition told me to return to the main road.
Although this was a designated pathway marked on the map, the feeling was too overpowering and made me extremely uncomfortable. Again, as I left the area, this feeling went away.
While looking around the cemetery, I was immediately drawn to a tombstone that read, “Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new”. This was Ellen Glasgow’s grave. While nothing paranormal happened, I really enjoyed this quote.
Overall, this cemetery is extremely beautiful, and I would love to go back. Unfortunately, I did not experience any of the reported paranormal activity. Though the topic of ghosts can be skeptical, there is no question that it is important to respect any burial site. It is not surprising this land is considered haunted due to all the tragic events that have occurred and those who are buried here remind us of the events that have occurred in History. It is said that running water creates energy to help spirits move freely and become more active. With the James river running along the majority of the cemetery, it is fun to think about how this may aid paranormal events to occur.
My Tips for Visiting
-Be respectful – This is a burial ground and there are rules on visiting. Obviously do not touch the tombs/gravestones, do not rub the graves for drawing, etc. You can view these etiquette rules on their website https://www.hollywoodcemetery.org/ for more information.
-Public visiting hours are 7 days a week, 8am-5pm daily or 8am-6pm during daylight savings. You cannot go to the cemetery after hours. The office hours are Monday – Friday 8:30am-4:30pm but the office is closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have Covid-19 updates on their website as well. Their phone number is (804) 648-8501.
-Parking: If you plan on visiting, arrive early as there is limited parking! There is parking when you first pull into the cemetery and if you drive down the path.
-This cemetery is HUGE. Bring comfy walking shoes and water – you will need it!
Haunted Virginia, Legends, Myths, & True Tales by Pamela K. Kinney (Book)
To Note: Some of this information has also been gathered through years of studying this location, talking to local investigators/locals, watching/reading every source, and hearing these rumors firsthand.