Hollywood Cemetery is a very special place. This is the second year that I’ve brought students to this cemetery and I do so because it is rich in history and memory. Every time I walk up Confederate Avenue I still get a little lump in my stomach as the Confederate obelisk comes into view as well as the countless Confederate graves – many of them unidentified. Today I talked quite a bit about the steps that the Hollywood LMA took to bring the Gettysburg dead to Richmond in the early 1870s. My students were visibly moved as they acknowledged the young ages indicated on many of the markers and the dates of death which connected them to the battle of Gettysburg.
As we walked around the loop to where George Pickett is buried one of my student pointed to a bench located next to the grave. At first I couldn’t identify it, but within a few seconds I burst out laughing after reading the inscription. The bench is a memorial to Michael Shaara and was dedicated this past July by the Pickett Society of Richmond. Before proceeding, can someone tell me why the hell we need a Pickett Society? Exactly what did this man do that was so special other than take part in a battle that for any number of reasons became immortalized as the great turning point of the war? As I was saying, the bench is dedicated to Michael Shaara and was funded with the help of actor Stephen Lang, who played Pickett in the movie “Gettysburg” and who serves on the society’s board of directors with Ron Maxwell. The inscription on the bench reads as follows:
Dedicated to Michael Shaara, Author, who so poignantly reminded us of the mortal sacrifice made by the soldiers who valiantly fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1st – 3rd, 1863 Presented to The Pickett Society by Stephen Lang, Board Member, Thespian & Playwright
I honestly don’t know where to begin with this ridiculous piece of commemoration. The inscription has nothing whatsoever to do with Pickett other than to acknowledge one of the most popular works of historical fiction and its author. More disturbing is that this organization is essentially acknowledging that their own identification with the general has little to do with serious history and has everything to do with a work of fiction and accompanying movie. In short, history and pop culture have become blurred. The organization itself seems to have only started in 2000 which connects it directly to both the popularity of the movie and, in turn, Shaara’s book.
This bench has no business being on the grounds of Hollywood Cemetery and it certainly has no place in the Confederate section within feet of the remains of thousands of men who fought and died. I honestly cannot fathom what the Pickett Society was thinking nor do I understand how the good people who manage HC could have allowed this to happen. This bench is a piece of trash and ought to be removed immediately out of respect to the people who are buried there.
These people need to rename their organization to the Michael Shaara Society.
Today was the kind of day that I live for as a teacher. My students and I had a wonderful time on our trip to Richmond. It was a bit cold, but we managed. The highlight of the trip was the Lee statue along Monument Avenue. We spent quite a bit of time looking at it from various angles and discussing both the pose of Lee as well as a Traveler. It is indeed a beautiful monument. I was also surprised by the interest expressed in the Jefferson Davis Monument. It’s the perfect contrast with the reconciliationist message of the Lee statue. There is nothing apologetic about the Davis statue and its assertion of states rights as well as other bits of Lost Cause symbolism. From there we headed on over to the Arthur Ashe monument to discuss the fierce debate that ensued over its placement on the same avenue as Lee, Davis, Stuart, and Jackson. As I was talking a passerby yelled from his car, “Tear it down.” A few of the students were surprised and a bit disappointed, but it was the perfect reinforcement to my commentary, which emphasized the continued divisiveness over Civil War memory and who can claim rightful ownership of certain public spaces. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hit the Lincoln-Tad statue at Tredegar, but we did take quite a hike through Hollywood Cemetery, which I thoroughly enjoyed. All in all it was a great day and this particular group of students made it extra special. Here are a few pictures from the trip followed by a poem that one of my students composed from each site. All of the photographs can be found on my flickr page.
A General today still a symbol to many, ever proud and tall, he instills pride in any. The cause disputed, different to all, and perhaps there’s still shock at the Confederacy’s “fall”.
An elaborate wall built to vindicate, the man in front, leader of states. Praise to his army and written law of the land his hand opened up, he asks for respect yet remorse or apologies one should never expect.
Controversy caused by a monument to one, he fought his disease, a battle not conquered. Yet instead of looking back at segregation, he fought to show his path towards a new kind of nation.
A river to one side with roads to the next, nestled between thousands laid to their rest. Winding roads, past blocks of stone, bodies of many who fought for their homes. Some fought in the East, and some in the West now all are together here laid to their rest. Dates rubbed away and names never known, sacrifice, though, still not forgotten.
I’ve been browsing Hollywood Cemetery’s website in preparation for tomorrow’s class trip and I am struck by the reconciliationist tone used to describe the various sites. Consider the following brief description of the Confederate pyramid memorial, which was designed by Charles Dimmock and dedicated in 1869:
“Hollywood’s ninety foot granite pyramid, completed in 1869, is a monument to 18,000 Confederate enlisted men buried nearby. They went into battle for what then seemed a noble cause of protecting their homes from northern aggression. When the pryramid was erected, Southerns still called the war “The Lost Cause.” Now we know that the cause was not a lost one. These men’s lives, together with those of their norther counterparts, were given to forge a single and better nation. Their blood, shed in battle, gave birth to a new America, one that in another century would restore and protect freedom around the world. Because so many whose sacrifice refined America lie here in Hollywood Cemetery’s sacred ground.”
I am going to quote the above passage tomorrow as part of my interpretation of this site to get at the continued influence of the Lost Cause and the overall theme of reconciliation in our collective memory of the war.
Tomorrow I am taking 32 students and three colleagues to Richmond to tour Civil War related sites. Since the courses that I am teaching this trimester are focused on memory we are going to spend time exploring various statues that offer case studies on how different groups, and at different times, chose to remember the war. It will also offer a unique opportunity to analyze and discuss the contested nature of memory and public spaces. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in class discussing how to interpret monuments and public spaces, including the way in which they reflect the values of the individuals and organizations responsible for their placement as well as the profile of local government. It’s another thing entirely to see these sites in their actual settings.
We will begin with Monument Avenue. Since we spent 10 days discussing the evolution and ascendancy of Lee in memory we will start with the Lee statue. From there we will stop at both the Stonewall Jackson and Arthur Ashe statues. I want to use the Ashe statue to discuss the bitter public debate that took place in Richmond over its placement on Monument Avenue as well as its dedication in 1996. Some of you may remember that both Arthur Ashe as well as his wife wanted the statue placed in front of the African American Sports Hall of Fame, located in a black neighborhood, rather than the “Avenue of Confederate Heroes”. The city council, including Viola Baskerville, overruled the Ashe family insisting that the monument be placed in a more visible location where it could be seen by all Richmonders and visitors alike.
From there we head on over to the Tredegar Iron Works to view the Lincoln-Tad statue, which is another monument that caused a bit of an uproar when it was unveiled in 2003. Both the Lincoln and Ashe statues reflect not only changes in the make-up of local city government in the post-civil rights South, buta broader understanding of who and what is deemed worthy of remembrance. Anyone following the recent story of the SCV’s offer of a statue to the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar of Jefferson Davis holding hands with his biological son and a black boy who briefly stayed with the family in 1864-65 knows all too well that this is also contested ground. I plan to discuss these recent developments in some detail.
Our final stop will be Hollywood Cemetery. Our focus will be the way Hollywood was used by white Richmonders to commemorate their Civil War dead and give meaning to their Lost Cause. Stops will include the section devoted to the Gettysburg dead as well as the Confederate memorial (pyramid structure) designed by Charles Dimmock and dedicated in 1869. We will stop briefly by the Pickett gravesite where I will talk a bit about LaSalle Pickett and her postwar writings as well as the controversy surrounding the placement of her remains next to her husband not too long ago. I also want to head over to President’s and Davis circle, which will give me plenty of time to talk about the beginnings of the cemetery in 1849, its early struggles, and how it functioned as the city of Richmond continued to expand in the years leading up to the war. Along the way I will amaze my students with all of the dead people that I can point out and discuss intelligently.
It’s supposed to be sunny with a high of 48 degress. We couldn’t ask for a better day. Of course, I will post all of the pictures for your enjoyment.