One of my favorite places in Lynchburg is Old City Cemetery. Husband John and I visited again in mid-May. It was about a week after “Rose Day,” an annual event that shows off the cemetery’s amazing collection of antique roses.
Many of the rose bushes are planted on either side of a brick wall that surrounds the cemetery’s Confederate Section. More than 2,200 Confederate soldiers from 14 states are buried there. Many (perhaps all) died at Lynchburg’s 30-some Civil War hospitals.
During the Civil War, Lynchburg was a hospital and railroad center. Many of the city’s tobacco warehouses and homes became makeshift hospitals. Three railroads brought the wounded from area battlefields, including The Wilderness, where casualties numbered more than 29,000.
According to the folks at Old City Cemetery, “after the Battle of the Wilderness (May 1864) … Lynchburg, with 6,000 inhabitants, was overwhelmed with over 10,000 wounded and diseased soldiers.”
It’s estimated that more than 20,000 soldiers were treated in Lynchburg during the Civil War and about 3,000 died.
The oldest section of Old City Cemetery is located just inside the main entrance, to the right. There, one can find the oldest known grave, that of Terriza Wallace. Terriza died in 1808 at about a year old.
While Terriza is listed in the cemetery’s database as white, about 75 percent of those buried at Old City Cemetery are black. Until 1885, Old City Cemetery was the only Lynchburg cemetery open to African Americans.
Among the African Americans buried there are educators, politicians, ministers and other prominent local figures. You can read more about some of the interesting people buried in the cemetery here.
Some of the most colorful characters buried in the cemetery are “Blind Billy” and the Langleys.
Blind Billy was born a slave in about 1805 and died in 1855. According to cemetery literature, he was a “beloved fife player and street musician. He led parades and played for private parties in the homes of affluent citizens.” He was apparently so well-liked that grateful citizens bought his freedom.
Near the cemetery entrance, mother and daughter Agnes and Lizzie Langley are buried in an elaborate plot surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. The pair ran a “sporting house” in the 1800s. The house of ill repute was located on Commerce Street, in an area of town known as “Buzzard’s Roost.”
(As a side note, there’s a neat antique store on Lynchburg’s Commerce Street that’s called “Buzzard’s Roost,” an homage to the old red-light district.)
According to cemetery literature, “It is not known whether [the Langley’s] impressive family plot was a result of the ladies’ earnings or the admiration of those of great wealth.”
You can learn more about the Langleys and other Lynchburg “sporting women” at the cemetery’s annual “Bawdy Ladies” tour. The tour and other events, including bird walks, candlelight tours, workshops and concerts, are listed on the cemetery’s website.
There are five different museums at Old City Cemetery, among them the Mourning Museum. Its exhibits include mourning clothing and jewelry and other items relating to 19th- and early 20th-century funeral traditions.
Outside, there’s an exhibit about African-American burial traditions, which includes a bottle tree.
There’s also the Pest House Medical Museum. It’s a funny-sounding name, but basically a “pest house” was where the very sick and those with infectious diseases were taken to die.
There’s also the Station House Museum, the Hearse House and Caretakers’ Museum, the potters fields, the lotus pond…
I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here, because there are way too many neat things at Old City Cemetery to put in one blog post. So you’re just going to have to go there. Really, you are. It’s definitely worth the trip.