Hollywood Cemetery – Presidents

This is a continuation of my series on famous burials in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Other posts in the series can be viewed here. The information was researched and produced in the summer of 2011 for The Gettysburg Daily.

The thing that initially attracted me to Hollywood Cemetery was the fact that two U.S. Presidents are buried there. Once I actually got on the grounds to look for their graves, I noticed a bunch of names that are familiar to a Civil War nerd and the idea for this series was born.

The first really notable burial in the cemetery was President James Monroe.

James Monroe - <i>Portrait by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Morse" target="_blank">Samuel Morse</a></i>
James Monroe – Portrait by Samuel Morse

Originally buried in New York City (since he died there while living with his daughter) Monroe’s body was moved back to Virginia in 1858. Apparently the Virginia legislature could not tolerate the idea of one of their Presidents resting in a northern city.


James Monroe's gravesite in Hollywood Cemetery marked by a red square. - <i>Map by the author</i>
James Monroe’s gravesite in Hollywood Cemetery marked by a red square. – Map by the author

His tomb is incredibly ornate, and easily stands out within the cemetery.

James Monroe's Tomb - <i>Photo by John Dolan</i>
James Monroe’s Tomb – Photo by John Dolan

I talk a little bit about President Monroe’s life in this brief video:

The second U.S. President buried at Hollywood is a man who is not necessarily a household name, but a very interesting figure nonetheless: John Tyler.

President John Tyler - <i>Portrait by George P.A. Healy</i>
President John Tyler – Portrait by George P.A. Healy

Tyler’s grave is found just a few yards from Monroe’s in the aptly-named “Presidents Circle” section of Hollywood Cemetery.

President John Tyler's gravesite marked by a red square. - <i>Map by the author</i>
President John Tyler’s gravesite marked by a red square. – Map by the author

His monument is quite large, and features a bust on one side.

President John Tyler's Monument - <i>Photo by John Dolan</i>
President John Tyler’s Monument – Photo by John Dolan
A closer view of the bust on Tyler's monument. President Monroe's tomb is visible in the background. - <i>Photo by John Dolan</i>
A closer view of the bust on Tyler’s monument. President Monroe’s tomb is visible in the background. – Photo by John Dolan

In this video I give a bit of information on Tyler, who was an exceptionally interesting 19th century political figure. When the Civil War broke out, he sided with the Confederacy – even going so far as to be elected to the Confederate Congress – but he died before he could assume that office. As a result of his rebel status, he remains the only U.S. President to not be officially mourned following his death.

Speaking of Confederates, there is one more President buried in Hollywood Cemetery: Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.

He is buried in the far southwestern corner of the cemetery, near several other notable Confederate political figures.

Jefferson Davis' gravesite marked by a red square - <i>Map by the author</i>
Jefferson Davis’ gravesite marked by a red square – Map by the author

The monument that rests at his burial site includes a statue of Davis, as well as a few plaques with biographical information.

Jefferson Davis' Monument - <i>Photo by John Dolan</i>
Jefferson Davis’ Monument – Photo by John Dolan
Detail of the plaque on the front of the Davis monument. - <i>Photo by John Dolan</i>
Detail of the plaque on the front of the Davis monument. – Photo by John Dolan
More information from Davis' monument. - <i>Photo by John Dolan</i>
More information from Davis’ monument. – Photo by John Dolan

I provide some more information about Davis in this brief video.

All videos in this post were shot by George Skillman.

Rodgers Tavern

I decided to make a stop this evening at a local historic site that I’ve read a bit about lately. It’s a place that has been at the center of the history of Perryville, MD for the last several centuries. Visiting somewhere like this and walking the grounds always has the effect of making it more real for me.

The Rodgers Tavern, as seen from Broad Street. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The Rodgers Tavern, as seen from Broad Street. – Photo by the author

Rodgers Tavern gets its name from Col. John Rodgers who purchased it and another on the far bank of the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace, in the 1780s. He also operated a ferry across the river between the two establishments. Located along the Old Post Road (also called the King’s Highway – the major north-south artery in 18th century America) it quickly became a popular stop for travelers.

Col. Rodgers gained fame as a commander in the Maryland militia early in the American Revolution, giving him ties to many notable figures of the day. George Washington was known to have slept here dozens of times – even once as he was travelling with the army to the final victory at Yorktown. Other revolutionary figures like Rochambeau and Lafayette also visited. Jefferson and Madison came through whenever they were travelling between Philadelphia or New York and their homes in Virginia.

It wasn’t just the visitors who were notable. Rodgers’ son (also named John Rodgers) who went on to become a Commodore in the United States Navy – perhaps the most important figure in the early history of that branch of our military, and a hero of the War of 1812 – was born in this building.

When the first railroad was constructed in the area, it paralleled the path of the Old Post Road. The Susquehanna River was seen as being too difficult to bridge, so a ferry remained in-place to carry the rail traffic. Passengers would exit the train in either Perryville or Havre de Grace and walk down a pier to a waiting ferry boat that would carry them and their baggage to the far shore where another train would complete the trip to their destination. The tavern thus remained a popular stop along the route of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad well into the 19th century.

A young Abraham Lincoln was known to have been a passenger on this route during his days in Congress. Robert E. Lee also passed through on several occasions as he traveled between Baltimore (where he was assigned to supervise the construction of Fort Carroll) and West Point (where his son was studying). Eventually, Lee would make the same trip to West Point to take over as its Superintendent. Another future Confederate General, Isaac Trimble, was the Chief Engineer of the PW&B for many years, and must have come past this building constantly.

The first Union troops to arrive in Washington from the north in preparation for the Civil War passed through here on the PW&B. It was these soldiers who were involved in the Baltimore Riots, causing the next wave under the command of Gen. Benjamin Butler, to get off the trains here and continue south to Annapolis by boat.

The tavern and ferry were bypassed once a railroad bridge was constructed here in 1866. Within two decades, it was effectively abandoned.

But before the bridge changed history, my favorite passenger came through – a man who was much more anonymous at the time he was traveling. In fact, he was trying very hard to blend into the crowd, carrying forged papers, and attempting to avoid the constables who were always on the prowl for run-aways. Luckily, a young Frederick Douglass got off the ferry at Perryville and walked right in front of this tavern on his way to freedom on September 3, 1838. Can you imagine the mix of emotions that he must have felt at that moment in this place?

That is the value of historic preservation. Being in this place – having a tangible connection to these events and the people who lived them – makes history (and thus the human experience) so vivid. Go out and find amazing experiences like this for yourself!

This post was inspired by some books on local history that I’ve been reading recently, most notably: