September 09, 2008

Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery

Tomb of the Langley sisters

Yesterday I posted about the Confederate memorial cemetery that is part of the greater Lynchburg Old City Cemetery. Today I want to talk about the rest of this beautiful cemetery.

About two years ago, when we first moved to Lynchburg, my wife and I were driving around the city just checking out what was there. We saw a neighborhood of beautiful old Victorian-era homes and turned down the street to take a look at the variety of gorgeous architectural examples. At the end of the road was a stone and iron gate—the entrance of the Lynchburg Old City Cemetery.

Re-appropriated bank column

We were out without our cameras that day (a very unusual circumstance for us), so we determined to head back to the cemetery on another day. This was before we realized how much Lynchburg has to offer. So it has taken us two years to finally make it back to the cemetery.

When the rains stopped and the clouds receded, we decided to head to the Old City Cemetery—this time fully armed with photographic utensils. The cemetery is truly amazing. It is very old, containing graves that pre-date the War Between the States. And the mix of residents who have found their final resting place there is unique as well. Three-quarters of the graves in the Old City Cemetery are occupied by African Americans—slave and free. One-half of the graves contain the bodies of children.

Greek styled statue in the park

Just touring the grave sites and reading the stones is an education in the love the survivors had for these people. There are beautiful grave stones of slaves with inscriptions such as "Faithful and loving Mammy, in the family of L.S. Moore for 40 years." There is a grave just inside the entrance of a distinguished member of the Lynchburg community from pre-Civil War times. Reverend Phillip Morris was the founder and first president of what eventually became known as Virginia Seminary and College. Just a little further along the line is a beautiful tomb that houses the remains of Agnes and Lizzie Langley—two sisters who ran a "sporting house" where both races were employed and served in Lynchburg's Red Light District at about the same time that Reverend Morris was establishing his seminary.

The road winds through the beautifully landscaped hills, strewn with grave stones, monuments, and tombs of myriad design and style with the Appalachian mountains rising on the horizons all around. It is the most beautiful cemetery I've ever been in.

Table and chairs with
the chapel in the background

But the beauty increases greatly as you approach the lower area of the cemetery, past the Confederate section. There is a house that once belonged to a doctor that houses a display of the state of medical technology during the mid-18th Century. Another set of buildings houses a museum that includes examples of mourning clothing and jewelry, instruments for embalming, and stories from the Lynchburg mortician who operated the longest running funeral business in our nation's history. Dr. Dooguid's hearses are on display. The upscale stage coach that was used for the more wealthy people is leather lined with heavy black curtains surrounding the casket area. This carriage was drawn by white horses if the deceased was a child and by black horses for deceased adults. The less wealthy families caskets were drawn in a simple utility carriage to the grave site. This carriage is also on display in the museum.

Angel-topped grave stone

As the road heads back uphill past the museums, there is an old chapel on the hillside. This is the location of the first public hanging ever to take place in Lynchburg. This hanging did not go well. The rope broke when the trap was released and the convicted man fell to the ground. After receiving a drink of water, he had to march back up the gallows to be re-hung on a new rope. Because they did not think his neck had broken this second time, they left him hanging at the end of the rope for more than an hour. This whole event so bothered the 2,000 plus Lynchburg citizens who had gathered to watch the execution that there were no more public executions for another 30 years. In other words, not until the next generation did the city of Lynchburg attempt another public execution.

Just past the chapel is a beautiful park. The path the leads through the park is marked by a gorgeous marble column that was removed from the Lynchburg bank when it was remodeled. On the other side of the path is the old horse trough that was originally used in the center of the city for travelers to water their horses when they stopped to do business.

The path through the park winds around through trees, flowering shrubs, and bushes, past a Greek styled statue, a large tree with a chain swing that must be at least 30 feet high (the chain - the tree is much higher), and tables, chairs, and benches allowing people to sit and enjoy the beautiful setting.

I really do love Lynchburg.

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