Sunday, July 23, 2017

... an evening tour of Evergreen Cemetery...

a bunch of books on cemeteries
Since June, I have been taking a course, Marketing the Past, in the Public History graduate program.  In the course, our final projects included students writing business proposals for events, pursuing the steps in having a historical highway marker approved, and developing a connection between our historic cemeteries. Well, that last project was mine. 

I developed a plan for a “remembrance trail” because we have some amazing cemeteries that visitors, and even our residents, are not visiting because they do not know about them. And, since we have wine trails, beer trails, and other historic trails, we should have a cemetery trail. 

cemetery brochures
It’s been a fun and exhausting five weeks with a great deal of reading, writing, and researching.

All of my Public History courses have encouraged me to go out to see historic sites. Over the last week that’s been hard to do because of the heat and humidity. Yet, last week, the National Park Service hosted a tour of Evergreen Cemetery, one of the oldest privately-owned Black cemeteries in the East End of Richmond, VA. As soon as I read about the tour, I scheduled a MeetUp event for the Richmond City Cemetarians.

Around here, Evergreen is known both for the influential Richmonders who are buried there including Maggie Walker, and for the poor conditions of the cemetery. As far as I can tell, somewhere in the mid-twentieth century, people stopped tending to the cemetery as a whole. The cemetery became overgrown and it became difficult for families to tend to and visit their loved ones buried there. Hopefully the recent efforts to restore Evergreen to its original grandeur will take and we will one day see the place in the way that the designers intended it to look. 

I have toured the place with the local volunteer coordinator after helping to clean up a cemetery next to this one but that was mostly pointing out the dilapidated conditions.  I wanted to learn more about its history while being in the cemetery. Clearly from the picture, I love a good book about cemeteries; however, there is just something about standing in the location while learning about it that touches me.
Although the NPS tour was scheduled for 7pm, it was going to be in the mid-90s… in a place where one would have to wear jeans and boots. I did and it was hot… but it did not feel as awful as I thought it would. The historic area of the cemetery provided a good amount of shade; and, well, I was really engaged with what our guides had to say. Still, because of the conditions, both the overgrowth and the heat, the tour was just an hour and only covered three locations including the plots of Price, Jones, and Walker. 

Just a brief overview of the tour since I am hoping this becomes a tour that is often more frequently. 

Mr. Alfred Douglas Price Srwas a renowned undertaker in the Black community. He started in the business in 1886, which was just before Evergreen opened in 1891. Because of the conditions of Evergreen, Mr. Price’s family had him moved to Riverview Cemetery in 1982.

Dr. Sarah Jones
The second stop was that of the Jones family plot. Drs. Sarah Jones and Miles Jones grew up during Reconstruction. The guides explained that these two were a power couple but with Sarah taking the lead. They married in 1888 and she attended Howard University where she would become the first black female in the state to practice medicine. She then put her husband through medical school. 

NPS guides in the Walker plot
The third and last stop on the tour was that of Maggie Walker and the Walker family and friends. Mrs. Walker was the first female bank president of any race to charter a bank in the United States.

While Dr. Sarah Jones lies with a humble marker, Mrs. Walker has one of the grandest in the cemetery.

Although volunteers have been slowly restoring the cemetery, so few of the 50 acres are easily accessible to visitors. At the end of the tour, there was time to meander through the cemetery and reflect on the place. 

I hope the NPS continues to give tours here. It is such a beautiful place even on a hot summer evening and even in its present condition. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

...recitations of ambiance in Savannah...

Nearly a month ago, I started writing about my Savannah vacation but I have not had much time to sit down and reflect because almost immediately I headed off to Chicago for a work conference (where I took an excursion to Graceland Cemetery), and then to our Colonial Williamsburg family (my fella and me!) vacation. While I’m working on research for a marketing course in Public History, I thought I would take a moment to reflect upon my Savannah trip.

As I wrote in the previous post, I needed a good gothy vacation. This is my first real summer break in years, and while I’m continuing to work on academic publications and projects, it has been so nice to get away from the day- to-day grind.

Our tour guide explained the symbolism of the cemetery gate including the "bats" design to represent hell!
I began my trip like any good English professor/ tourist traveling to Savannah. I watched and re-read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. As soon as I arrived, I attended The Beyond Good and Evil Tour at 10pm, which I discussed previously. Even after driving seven hours south from Richmond, I knew that I would be wired.

The next morning, I skipped breakfast at the Amethyst Garden Inn because they only served breakfast from 9-10am and who has time to sit around waiting for breakfast!?! It was a lovely B&B but I would not return, especially since mid-trip I had to change inns, which worked out better for me in the end. That will probably be noted in the next post.

My first morning excursion was to Bonaventure Cemetery for a tour. The place is breathtaking. There are multi-meanings to that. It was both gorgeous and OHMYWORD the humidity had me huffing and puffing. Mind you, it was fifteen degrees hotter in Virginia but even in 80°F I was dripping in sweat (I know, gross!) within minutes of stepping outdoors. The gnats are also brutal! If you can tolerate all of that, you’ll find a gorgeous cemetery with some pretty strict rules about stepping in family plots (as in, it’s a No-No and I actually saw a few visitors get fussed out!) My pictures ended up being longshots because I had to stand somewhat far away but it isn’t the individual markers that give Bonaventure its beauty; it’s the overwhelming ambiance of the Spanish moss hanging from the trees that makes you feel like you’re getting a big ol’ fat sweaty hug from your Southern great aunt while simultaneously feeling a bit uncanny like, “is this really my big ol’ fat sweaty great aunt?”

Just a quick aside, Spanish moss is basically an air plant, which absorbs water and nutrients through its leaves from the air. It rarely kills the tree that it grows upon but because it can become so dense it sometimes offers too much shade to the tree's leaves, which can lower the tree’s growth rate.
At Bonaventure, I also found a buddy! During the Bonaventure tour, a woman named Janet and I realized that we had also been on the The Beyond Good and Evil Tour together. We discovered that we both have a thing for vampires; we’re both language-educators; we’re both taphophiles; and, we were both women traveling solo, which I think is awesome. I am often asked if I get lonely—nope; if I get scared—not really; and, if I feel uncomfortable dining alone—not one bit.

After the tour, I stuck around Bonaventure a bit longer to look around. I was so grateful to my former-self for bringing some crackers and a large Honey Crisp apple to hold me over. Even though Savannah is known for being a city with amazing food, and in my experience that is true, I had a hard time pulling myself away from activities.

That afternoon, I headed to the Jepson Center for the Arts to see the infamous Bird Girl statue that was featured on the front cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Unfortunately, because of the book’s popularity, the statue had to be removed from Bonaventure Cemetery to help with crowd control.

Awkwardly placed in a narrow hallway surrounded by windows

The statue was designed by the Chicago sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson in 1936. Based on her design, the statue was intended to hold food and water for birds, not to symbolize the balance between good and evil.

Picture taken in bathroom. My dress has a thistle print!
That evening, I had reservations at the Historic Olde Pink House. As a solo traveler, I think some of the staff pitied me until they realized I was there by choice. Then they became envious. They were great conversationalists. The restaurant is gorgeous and all of the staff seem willing to chat about the legends of the location being haunted. I did not see any ghosts but I'm pretty sure the tablecloth was haunted. 

There was a hostess who walked throughout the restaurant and every now and then would belt out a song. It was a great evening and the food was amazing. The waiter even brought me my own candlestick to add to the ambiance.