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Chapter 22 - Chimborazo Hill, African Burial Ground, Broad Street, Hebrew Cemetery & Shockoe Hill Cemetery

Gordon drove Jimmy and Hezekiah to the Richmond National Battlefield’s Chimborazo Visitor Center where the two boys volunteered every Thursday.

 

Gordon turned down the music as he turned at Thirty-third and East Broad Streets into the well-groomed Chimborazo Park.

 

During the Civil War on this forty-acre plateau stood the largest military hospital in the world, looking more like a town than a medical facility.

 

The only building on the grounds today was a boxy, light brown brick Greek Revival built in 1909 as an outpost for the US Weather Bureau that now served as an NPS visitor center and a Civil War medical museum.

 

Outside flew a plain, dull yellow pennant designating a military hospital.

 

Rather than going directly back to the farm, Gordon couldn’t resist taking in the Chimborazo Hill overlook for a minute. . . . The view of a rail yard, warehouses, and the urban-renewal housing of Fulton Bottom wasn’t much, but the topography was powerful.

 

From this vantage point, Gordon caught a glimpse of the river where in 1607 Captain Christopher Newport led an expedition, ten days after going ashore at Jamestown, to the falls of the James. On the fall line, Chief Powhatan’s son Parahunt welcomed Newport and his twenty-three men, including John Smith.

 

Gordon got back in the Delta and headed west on East Broad Street. . . . He coasted down steep Church Hill

 

then moved across the paved-over rich bottomland where Shockoe Creek used to run.

 

Gordon started up Shockoe Hill, passing the site of the city gallows where Gabriel was executed in 1800 for planning his slave insurrection.

 

Conveniently located beside the gallows was the African Burial Ground. Most of this eighteenth- and nineteenth-century black cemetery was covered over when I-95 was constructed.

 

Still riding on Broad Street, he gazed skyward at the big downtown buildings.

 

Broad Street fifty years ago was the commercial center of the city and downtown Richmond’s unofficial dividing line between whites and blacks. To the segregationist holdouts, the south side of Broad Street was still the white side,

 

and the north side was still the black side. The line wasn’t as clear as it used to be, but poor black people still waited for the bus along Richmond’s main thoroughfare.

 

He found Hospital Street and parked his car behind a clean white Cadillac along a high brick wall, protecting Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond’s first municipal cemetery.

 

When the Hebrews filled up their own cemetery at the base of Church Hill, they expanded to Shockoe Hill before the Gentiles in 1816.

 

He walked up the brick pathway as Sy reached out to place a pebble of remembrance on the top of a tombstone among other pebbles that had been left.

 

Attached to the front of the grave marker, the only one in a large grassy plot, was a memorial tablet with a Star of David at the top.

 

Iron had been molded into fence posts in the shape of four stacked mussel-loading rifles, their barrels shrouded by a Confederate battle flag and a kepi on top.

 

The fence sections between the stacked arms were formed into crossed swords with laurel wreaths hanging from them.

 

For a few moments, Sy and Gordon stood in silence in the shade of an old elm, surveying the Jewish Confederate Soldiers’ Section of the cemetery, a rare burial ground for Jewish soldiers outside of Israel.

 

As they walked out of the graveyard, Gordon looked across the street at Shockoe Hill Cemetery.

 

The structure, built just before the war,
was to be Richmond’s almshouse but instead was pressed into service as a hospital for the Confederacy, initially for Union prisoners of war. In the summer of 1864 when Federal troops shelled and burned Virginia Military Institute, VMI relocated to the almshouse and stayed there until the evacuation of Richmond the following April.

 

Gordon continued on, passing the grave of John Marshall, the great chief justice of the early nineteenth century who had placed the Supreme Court on equal footing with the other two branches of the US government by issuing court opinions establishing judicial review.

 

But Gordon was more interested in visiting a tomb lying further into the boneyard. . . . A arrow-shaped, metal sign pointed the way to the grave where he wanted to pay homage. Written in white paint on the black background of the sign was the name.

 

He strolled down a path between the headstones and
saw a large rock, shaded by a magnolia and a tulip tree, marking the grave of the North’s most successful spy during the war.

 

Eleven years after her death, the City of Richmond tore down her Church Hill mansion to build the Bellevue School.

 

Gordon nervously looked over his shoulder past the west brick wall of the cemetery at the Gilpin Court housing project.

 

Gordon reached down to prop up the flower arrangement beside the boulder and heard the crunch of crinoline and fallen magnolia leaves.

 

“Good day then.” Gordon tipped his slouch hat and walked briskly back to his car, leaving Crazy Bet in the field of the dead.

Chimborazo Hospital

Oakwood-Chimborazo Historic District

Native Americans in Virginia

Shockoe Valley

Gabriel's Conspiracy

Richmond Slave Trail

Broad Street Commercial Historic District

Hebrew Cemetery

Shockoe Hill Cemetery

John Marshall House