Richmond Vampire

April 13, 2012 — Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery is a great cemetery both for its idyllic environs and the massive amount of history decaying within its dirt clods…you just have to watch out for its resident vampire.

Opened in 1849, this cemetery in the Virginia capital is located on 130 acres right on the James River. There’s nothing too city about the cemetery, though, with its natural layout, variety of funeral art, and impenetrable sense of elsewhere. All the best cemeteries have that latter.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of Richmond therein, either. Beneath its grass blades are two presidents of the United States, James Monroe and John Tyler; the President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis; a teacher of Edgar Allan Poe; a couple of Pulitzer-Prize winners; and some 18,000 confederate soldiers who have been memorialized with a 90-foot-tall stone pyramid that dates back to just a few years after the end of the Civil War itself. I’ve stuck a bunch of pics of this stuff at the end of the post. We have to get to the vampire first.

And for that, we head to the mausoleum of W.W. Pool. The genealogy records say that William Wortham Pool was a Mississippi-born bookkeeper who died in 1922 at the age of 80. His mausoleum doesn’t tell us much. It’s simple, built into a hill, and bears his name and year of his wife's death (1913) on the lintel. A small lamb sculpture tops it above a relief of a child surrounded by animals. Nothing ominous. Nothing strange.

Nevertheless, people say it’s the home of a vampire. Here’s why.

In 1925, about a month before Halloween, a railway tunnel in the nearby Church Hill section of the city collapsed. It was being refurbished at the time, killing a handful of workers inside and burying the train that they were using.

However, from the rubble sprung a ghastly creature dripping blood and flesh. It ran straight for Hollywood Cemetery and disappeared inside Mr. Pool’s mausoleum. Some say returned to the mausoleum. Its pursuers couldn’t find it.

So that’s the story. Mr. Pool is a vampire who was outed as a result of the collapse. Here’s what makes the story really interesting, though.

This tunnel tragedy actually happened, with hundreds of workers fleeing the scene. One man’s escape caused particular alarm. His name was Benjamin Mosby, and he was a fireman working near the boiler of the train, which exploded in the collapse.

He fled from the tunnel scalded and flayed from the steam, broken and lacerated from the falling rock, and, assumedly, out of his mind with pain. Some speculate that he might indeed have run toward the cemetery because that was also the direction of the adjacent river.

He didn’t, however, disappear into a mausoleum, Pool’s or anybody else’s. Instead, he was taken to Richmond’s Grace Hospital, where he died soon after. Why his story became a vampire one and not a ghost story, I’m not really sure. I suppose he could have run past some unsuspecting children whose only context for the entire thing was that a shocking and grisly creature ran past them toward the graveyard.

The cemetery is located on 412 Cherry Street. Finding the mausoleum is pretty easy. I went in having only a picture and pretty much drove right to it. It’s not too far from the entrance and can be found in the first line of mausoleums that you see.

As I mentioned, there’s nothing really cool about the grave plot itself, other than the inherent coolness that all mausoleums can boast. It has no windows, and when I peeked into the locked black metal grating that covers the door, it only revealed a solid door a couple of feet beyond.

So the vampire story ends a bit weakly, but the real story ends spooky as all. After the collapse, they dug in to find bodies of some of the missing men. They only discovered one, that of an engineer named Tom Mason. Eerily, he was sitting upright in the cab where he had been trapped. They were never able to find any of the other bodies nor excavate the train fully, so they just bricked up the entrance. The overgrown wall stands to this day near the corner of 18th and Marshall Street. Attempts to enter in the intervening years have been curtailed due to fears of unstabling the thickly settled surrounding area.

So whatever went on inside that tunnel on the October day that caused a cave-in, made bodies disappear, and involved a vampire may never be known.

Excuse me. I need to go write a screenplay.

John Tyler's grave is marked by the
pillar. James Monroe's is the wrought-
iron cage behind it.