A Goth’s Tour of Richmond, Virginia

Travel Features Richmond
A Goth’s Tour of Richmond, Virginia

It’s hard to escape the feeling of being haunted in Richmond. That comes with the territory in Virginia’s capital city, particularly with many remnants of its 300-year history—some of it complicated and violent, including sites of Civil War battles—still remaining, including the Victorian Gothic-style Old City Hall, built in 1894, which looks like a real castle. There are also parts of Richmond which are said to be literally haunted, like the historic Byrd Theater in Carytown, or the Byrd Park Pumphouse.

Whether or not the presence of actual ghosts play into the equation, there’s a wealth of eerie attractions and gothic sites that will appeal to those, who like Beetlejuice’s Lydia Deetz, are themselves strange and unusual—those who are the weirdos, mister. An essential first stop on a gothic tour of Richmond is Hollywood Cemetery, a sprawling necropolis adjacent to the Oregon Hill neighborhood that features a giant stone pyramid, the graves of two presidents (John Tyler and James Monroe), numerous mausoleums and—most infamously—the crypt of W.W. Pool, known in urban legend as the “Richmond Vampire.”

One of Richmond’s most famous historical residents is Edgar Allan Poe, literary master of the macabre. Though he was born in Boston and later lived in Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore, Poe lived in Richmond throughout his childhood up to his college years, and he briefly attended the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville. Established in 1922, the Poe Museum in Shockoe Bottom contains the largest collection of Poe-related artifacts in the world, and is housed in the oldest building in the city. They also have a periodic “Unhappy Hour” with food, drinks and entertainment, though absinthe will likely not be on offer. It also features a gift shop stocked with Poe’s works as well as Poe candles and other suitably spooky souvenirs.

If you’re seeking creepy artifacts without a Poe connection, head back to Oregon Hill to Rest in Pieces, just down the street from Hollywood Cemetery. Billed as “Richmond’s premiere oddity shop,” Rest in Pieces stocks its shelves with everything from tarot decks and incense burners to crystals, herbs and, most impressively, a wealth of taxidermist specimens. You can also find artwork, t-shirts and other merch. But while most of their items are available for sale online, a firsthand visit should be a priority, not merely because of its items for sale, but because of the items in-house that you can’t buy: vintage medical instruments you’d typically expect to see on a Carcass album, a “mourning mummy,” a vintage Odd Fellows hooded robe—which is arguably the creepiest item in the building—and more.

While your wallet’s getting some exercise, make sure to spend a little time hitting up some of the half-dozen or so record stores in and around the city—after all, every goth needs a suitably dark soundtrack. Each vinyl haunt in town is worth visiting for different specialty items, though if it’s the darker and heavier end of the sonic spectrum you seek, first head to Vinyl Conflict in its newly expanded downtown shop, stocked with a rich selection of punk, hardcore and metal. Then trek over to Scott’s Addition to dig in the crates at Wax Moon, which features an ample supply of goth, post-punk, darkwave and even more metal. (Richmond is a metal town, home to bands such as Inter Arma, Windhand and, of course, GWAR.) While you’re at Wax Moon, you also might as well kill a half hour dropping some quarters into their gallery of pinball machines.

For a proper night on the town, just around the corner from the Poe Museum at that, head to Fallout, the only dedicated year-round goth club in town. Its lineup of events is pretty diverse, including live performances, all-vinyl old-school goth nights, goth karaoke and fetish events. As you might gather from the name, its interior is fallout shelter-themed, though despite the apocalyptic atmosphere, it’s a welcoming and inclusive space that invariably has something fun going on.

And while it’s not necessarily goth in any conventional sense, no visit to Richmond is complete without a stop at GWAR Bar, Jackson Ward’s temple to the city’s famed cartoonishly grotesque heavy metal icons. This heavy metal hangout has an ample menu (including a lot of vegan and vegetarian options) and GWARBeer on tap, and props, costumes and masks from the band’s riotous stage performances. Whether dressed in black or foam rubber, surely any freak can appreciate that.

There are also ample opportunities to go ghost hunting in Richmond, with tours that run through the neighborhoods of Shockoe Bottom and Church Hill, as well as numerous ruins like the hydro plant at Belle Isle and the Fulton Gas Works. Though there are numerous breweries and modern condo complexes cropping up throughout the city, an eerie time is still not too hard to find in Richmond.

Jeff Terich is a Richmond, Virginia-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in SPIN, Bandcamp Daily, uDiscover Music, Grammy.com and San Diego Magazine. His Twitter is @1000TimesJeff.

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