Cemetery Dogs

Another highlight of our trip to Richmond (mentioned in my last “Pet Pen”) was a visit to the city’s Hollywood Cemetery. It’s a huge place and contains the graves of presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, as well as that of Jefferson Davis. One entire section is devoted to soldiers who fell during the Civil War.

It was all very interesting, but, of course, my interest was in a cast iron Newfoundland that guards the grave of a child. The writing on the gravestone is almost entirely worn away, but according to information at www.thedeadbell.com, the child, Florence Bernardin Rees, died of scarlet fever in 1862, “aged 2 years, seven months, and 14 days.”

There are various stories about how the dog came to be placed there. One was that the dog was on display outside a store and whenever the child passed it, she would pat the dog. When she died, the storeowner donated the statue to the family. Another story says that the dog was not donated until the start of the war, when it was given as a grave marker to save the statue from being melted down for bullets. Still another says the child’s father bought the statue as a grave marker.

Stories about the statue include a grounds keeper claiming that he has seen the ghost of the little girl playing with the dog. Many people claim that the statue moves, and is sometimes pointing one way and sometimes another. Another story is that the dog growls when anyone gets too close to the child’s grave (www.ghosteyes.com). We got very close but I heard no growls. I did find it interesting that in all these years after the girl’s death, the grave is still decorated with items left by visitors, including many stones, which, according to www.myjewishlearning.com indicates that someone has visited the grave and that the dead individual’s memory lives on.

Another dog-related story is that of Ellen Glasgow, who asked that her two dogs be dug up from behind her house and re-buried with her. The story goes that visitors can hear those dogs running and playing near the gravesite at night (www.ghosteyes.com). We didn’t see or hear any ghostly hounds.

As we were leaving the cemetery, both my husband and sister-in-law spotted some other, less famous dog sculptures. One was of a small black dog wearing a cloth bandana. It’s hard to determine what breed the dog is supposed to be, but someone is visiting regularly to give the dog a clean bandana.

Nearby was a statue of a sweet little Dachshund, lichen giving him a dappled appearance. He must have been the faithful pet of the person interred nearby.

Not far from these two was another, different style of dog statue. This dog has a curled tail and is sitting up on his haunches in a playful begging position. He has lovely spaniel type ears and a smooth head that just begs to be stroked. The image conveys what a joyful pet he must have been.

I felt like I’d hit the jackpot, finding three dog statues in a small area, then, as we were leaving the cemetery, I spotted another one. My brother-in-law kindly stopped the car once again so that I could run back and snap pictures (thanks for letting me use your phone, Joan) of our fifth canine find.

The sculpture looks like the dog was a labrador retriever and it keeps watch over the grave of Sarah Winston Townsend Harrison.

There’s no information on any of these dogs online and we didn’t have time to see what information might be available in the cemetery’s office. There are no stories of any of these dogs running free or growling at intruders. We’re free to use our own imaginations about these dogs and their owners.

The statue of the Bandana Dog is so vague that I imagine a mixed breed; so ugly he’s cute, but greatly loved. With the Dachshund, I picture an older person holding the dog on his or her lap, gaining comfort from the compact little body. The more playful pose of the next dog makes me think that he brought a lot of laughter to his family. The Labrador statue suggests a devoted companion and his position so close to the headstone also implies that he was a protector.

I’ll never know the story behind any of these statues, but it was fun to see them and to guess about the dog’s relationship with the person buried nearby.