I had one very busy day in Richmond a few weeks ago, but I learned and saw a lot. Most interesting to me were the statues of soldiers on horses all the way down Monument Avenue. There are several statues but the one of General Robert E. Lee is the largest and was the first installed along Monument Avenue. If a statue is facing north, the soldier died in the Civil War; if the statue faces south, the soldier lived, as in the case of Robert E. Lee. No other city in the world has statues commemorating a war that it actually lost,which is an interesting fact!
Richmond was the Capital of the Confederacy, a commercial center for the slave trade, and the site of several major battles – in fact, the entire downtown was burned to the ground, days before Abraham Lincoln walked the streets. Richmond, Virginia was “ground zero” during the Civil War. This makes it a rich and powerful region to tour, and the ideal place to begin a multi-state Civil War and Emancipation immersion.
The Jefferson Hotel was supposed to open on November 1, 1895, but at the last minute it was realized that November 1 was a Friday, and it was considered bad luck to start anything on a Friday. So the hotel was opened on Halloween, 1895 instead. The staircase in the center of the hotel is the one said to have been copied for the “Gone With the Wind” scene later in the movie, where Rhett Butler carries Scarlett up the grand,beautiful staircase.
In his autobiography, The Moon’s A Balloon (1972), Academy Award-winning actor David Niven described a trip from New York to Florida in the late 1930s, when he decided to spend the night at the Jefferson Hotel. Niven said that, as he was signing the guest registry in the lobby, his eyes snapped open with amazement when he noticed a full-sized alligator swimming in a small pool located six feet from the reception desk.The alligators at the Jefferson became world famous. Old Pompey, the last alligator living in the marble pools of the Jefferson’s Palm Court, survived until 1948. Bronze statues of the alligators now decorate the hotel. Its restaurant, Lemaire, has a theme of alligator motifs.