James Monroe

(Originally visited 23 June 1999.)

James Monroe

In historic downtown Richmond, through a residential neighbor, lies Hollywood Cemetery. Right at the entrance there’s a map of the cemetery carved in stone, detailing exactly where to find all the famous graves. This means there isn’t much of a story behind finding Presidents’ Circle where Monroe and Tyler are buried.

A great black cast-iron cage surrounds Monroe’s sarcophagus. Getting the image of the inscription visible below required more than a little effort since the bars of the cage are just a little too close together. I had to slide the digital camera between the bars then stick my arms in as though I were operating a glove box. The image below is the best I got and I had to seriously crop it so I don’t look like the amateur I am.

James Monroe

While I was trying to extract the camera from Monroe’s cage, my fingers fumbled and I dropped it. It hit the marble of the base with a dreadful crash. I’m lucky it wasn’t seriously damaged and that the picture I’d worked so hard to obtain wasn’t lost.

But now I had another problem. My camera was within the cage and the ironwork at the bottom was too narrow to reach through. I put my right hand back in the cage, twisting so that my muscular forearms (I’m not Popeye, but my arms are certainly wider in one direction than another) could pass between the bars. I still couldn’t quite reach my camera though. As I was squeezing my bicep between the bars I had to look at the back of President Tyler’s obelisk and hoped I wouldn’t have as much trouble getting a picture of his grave as I was having with Monroe.

I was in up to my shoulder but I couldn’t find the camera. I could feel a crack in the cool marble but couldn’t turn my head to see down through the bars. Just as I was about to withdraw my arm to reassess my situation, something very cold clutched my wrist! I remember it wasn’t a damp, icy cold. It was dry yet absolutely cold. Instinctively I trying to pull out but I couldn’t escape its grasp. I tried to scream but couldn’t put any force into my voice so my parents, who accompanied me on this cemetery walk and weren’t far away, didn’t hear me. All I could utter was a weak “help me” which I could barely hear over my own pounding heart.

Then, just as suddenly, I was released. I lost my balance and toppled over. I lay on the warm grass, beneath the beautiful blue Virginian sky, gasping for breath, staring at my camera in my left hand!

And just as a dream fades upon waking, I remembered a faint voice telling me to make up a good story about this grave. Which is just what I did.

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About Bartholomew Barker

Bartholomew Barker was born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, worked in Connecticut for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough, North Carolina where he makes money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.
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One Response to James Monroe

  1. Pingback: John Tyler | Bartholomew Barker, Poet

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