Where else but in Richmond, Virginia can you attend a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in a cemetery? Not only a cemetery but the oldest city-owned cemetery…Shockoe Hill Cemetery. Established in 1820 when St. John’s Church yard reached capacity, this brick-walled enclosure is the final resting place for famous and unknown Richmonders alike. John Marshall is buried there as is Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew and Edgar Allan Poe’s foster mother, Francis Allan but so is the “mammy” for a Richmond family who petitioned the city to allow their African American nursemaid’s burial in the family plot. Countless of Richmond’s poor and indigent lie beneath the winter grass, many without headstones but each recorded in Shockoe Hill Cemetery records. These souls may have been forgotten by the world but never by Shockoe Hill.

John Marshall's family plot

John Marshall’s family plot

Today, despite the cold, rainy weather, not unlike Ireland’s normal conditions, a hearty group gathered for what may be the most bizarre combination of venue/participants/guests to celebrate the totally-American-celebration-of-an-Irish-saint…St. Patrick. With refreshments by a local girl scout troop, music by the talented and delightful Susan Greenbaum and tours with Irish and Civil War themes, the afternoon was a blast. If I’d driven down and only heard “Danny Boy” sung by Susan and gone home, it would have been worth the trip. As it turned out, all of it was great.

Susan Greenbaum performing at Shockoe Hill Cemetery

Susan Greenbaum performing at Shockoe Hill Cemetery

Sandi’s Irish-themed tour highlighted Celtic crosses, the role of Irish immigrants in Richmond’s history and a sampling of the monuments in the cemetery. I couldn’t stay for the entire Civil War tour but it included information about local hospitals during the war and a stop at the newly-dedicated monument to the fifteen young girls killed on Brown’s Island during the war. Best friends in life, their families buried four of them together at Shockoe. It’s wrenching to stand at their unmarked graves, now identified by the monument and read the paper signs remembering their names and ages .

Sandy B. giving Irish tour

Sandy B. giving Irish tour

Both Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery tour guides explained the need to locate family members of veterans buried there. When monuments from the War of 1812 and the Civil War crumble, the Veteran’s Administration will replace them but only if a family member requests it so if you think you have an ancestor buried there, give them a call. They might be looking for you.

Today’s event is only one of many planned each year. Check their calendar and take a tour. Go along on the Edgar Allan Poe haunted tour. I mean, really. Any cemetery that invites the city to come for a St. Patrick’s Day party is one fun cemetery.

Oldest section of Shockoe Hill Cemetery & tabletop graves

Oldest section of Shockoe Hill Cemetery & tabletop graves

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