Monday, August 19, 2019

Richmond Is For Lovers

We recently celebrated our anniversary in our beautiful state capital of Richmond, where we got engaged. (For those who are not fellow Virginians, the title of this post is a play on our home state's tourism slogan: "Virginia Is For Lovers"! It's a little strange.) Richmond is such a cool city with a great food scene and plenty of things to do, so I think I'd be happy living there - let alone visiting. Our first stop was the Virginia State Capitol. We stood on the steps right where we got engaged via video game (long story), and then we took a free guided tour inside. The building itself was very cool, with architectural flourishes like these black limestone floor tiles with real fossil imprints in them.

The Capitol tour was filled with interesting Virginia history, from Thomas Jefferson's designs to a beautiful original statue of George Washington. I will admit I was extremely disappointed that slavery was not represented in any of the many exhibits or paintings or statues throughout the Capitol. The slave trade was mentioned briefly in passing at only one point during the tour. When I asked the guide if the Capitol was built by slaves and if the historical operations once it opened were made possible through forced labor, he said yes and talked about it for a minute or two.

At one point, a woman in our tour group asked the guide if any visitors complained about Thomas Jefferson. He answered that they don't but some do object to the many Confederate figures who have paintings or busts or statues in the building (like the one pictured above of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee). She said something about people getting too offended nowadays and a man in the group said something about how everyone back then owned slaves anyway. Just as the slaveowners and Confederate leaders are part of our history, though, so too are enslaved people. The Capitol was working on memorials for prominent Virginia women and a Native American monument, and those efforts are laudable. However, there's no excuse for leaving out something as core to Virginia history, the Capitol, and our government as the dehumanizing institution and practice of slavery.

If you agree, then check out the free Capitol tour when you visit Richmond and add your voice to mine and others requesting that slavery not be ignored or glossed over in tours or exhibits. I hope that, with enough feedback, they can do better (as I understand Monticello did as a result of outside pressure). I also highly recommend swinging by the stunning, two-sided memorial just outside the Capitol building. It's dedicated to the Virginians and others who made the outcome in the famous 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (the one that desegregated American schools and declared "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal") possible. Isn't it beautiful?

We then took a history break and enjoyed some delicious waffles at Capitol Waffle Shop, which as the name would suggest is just a short walk from the Capitol. You build your own waffle there with whatever savory or sweet toppings you want. I went for a fruity waffle, while M went for a Nutella-marshmallow-caramel combo. Talk about a sugar rush!

Our next stop of the trip was Historic St. John's Church, where Paul Revere gave his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775. The tour guide we booked was worth every penny, as he gave us excellent historical context and did a passionate re-enactment of a selection of Paul Revere's literally revolutionary words. (You can read the speech in full here.)

Last, we drove through Hollywood Cemetery, where a number of famous figures have their final resting place. I was disturbed by the large number of fresh Confederate flags placed at the graves of those with ties to the Confederacy. (We have a long way to go, Virginia.) We even saw the monument over the grave of John Tyler, the only U.S. President whose death was not officially recognized in Washington, DC due to his Confederate allegiance. Confederate President Jefferson Davis still held a big memorial service for him, prominent Confederate flag over the coffin included. At least there was a nice view of the James River that didn't include a single Confederate symbol.

After our jam-packed day, we checked into Quirk Hotel, which lived up to its eccentric name. Everything was all very modern, artsy, and just a little bit pink. Best of all, they had Tesla destination chargers for us to use while staying there! (Yes, we bought a Tesla. More on that in a future post.)

So we had a wonderful time in Richmond, and we did all of that in just one day. We highly recommend you visit Richmond if you haven't before, or even if you just haven't been in a while. It'll be worth it. After all, Virginia really is for lovers (and/or history nerds and/or foodies)!

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