Richmond Vampire: Cemetery houses urban legend born from historic tragedy

The mausoleum of Richmond bookkeeper William Wortham Pool is a popular site in Hollywood Cemetery due to its association with the Richmond Vampire, a popular urban legend that has been recited for generations. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor 

Rumors of a vampire lurking in the shadows of Hollywood Cemetery have circulated since the 1920s. The mythical figure is described by locals as a ghastly creature — dripping blood and flesh — who slumbers in a tomb on the site’s hallowed grounds.

The urban legend, which had its first known print appearance in The Commonwealth Times, alleges that the vampire escaped during the deadly Church Hill train tunnel collapse of 1925. After the collapse killed and buried several railway workers, the first fanged-creature sighting was reported near bookkeeper William Wortham Pool’s grave.

“Mr. [Pool] is alleged to be a vampire,” former CT staff writer Garry Curtis wrote in The CT’s 1976 article. “There seems to be a cult in Richmond that has grown up around him.”

The urban legend of the Richmond Vampire had its first known print appearance in a 1976 issue of The Commonwealth Times. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Pool, who resided in Woodland Heights, died from pneumonia at the age of 80 in 1922. His initials, “W.W. Pool,” are engraved into stone; some say the letters resemble a vampire’s fangs. 

Curtis contrasts the eerie subject matter of the local tale with the cemetery’s “peaceful atmosphere,” noting the grounds’ springtime flowers, statues and crosses. According to the article, medical students used to break into the cemetery to steal Pool’s remains. 

Tour guides from Haunts of Richmond, a company that gives walking tours of Richmond’s paranormal past, tell the story of the Richmond vampire in the “Church Hill Chillers” and “Shadows of Shockoe” tours. 

Vice President and co-owner Chris Houlihan hosts year-round tours with his wife, Beth, and has been doing so for about a decade.

“The historic background for our tours is … just as important to us as ghost tours themselves,” Houlihan said. “We like to talk about the haunted history and let people know where the stories actually originated from.”

The tours emphasize the tale of the Richmond Vampire as an urban legend. Houlihan said the tale most likely originated in a “game of telephone,” most likely started from a sighting of an injured individual with blood on their face, broken teeth and other injuries after the Church Hill tunnel collapse.

“And that story gets relayed from one person to the next,” Houlihan said. “All of a sudden, you go from an injured individual to there being a vampire.”

Hollywood Cemetery’s long, winding paths wrap around tombstones of various shapes and sizes. The grounds serve as a resting place for many famous Virginians, including author James Branch Cabell and Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy.

The cemetery’s rolling hills also serve as the burial sites of two former U.S. presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler.

The Hollywood Cemetery is located near Oregon Hill, at 412 S. Cherry St. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Houlihan said the original 1920s tale is more frightening than modern-day depictions of vampires, making it an urban legend that would pass through generations of Richmonders.

“There’s so many ghost stories here in the central Virginia area,” Houlihan said. “It gives us, as storytellers, no shortage of material to work with.” 

A tour on Nov. 1 will explore the origins of the tale and other instances of paranormal activity in Church Hill. Read this week’s events calendar for more information. 

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