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Elmwood Cemetery

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A cemetery may not seem like the most obvious place to experience Norfolk’s Victorian era. But for those in the know, Norfolk’s Elmwood Cemetery has always provided a tranquil respite from urban life and a fascinating insight into 19th century America.

The Victorian Rural Park Cemetery movement began in Paris in 1815 with the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Prior to this time, cemetery design was fairly functional. Garden cemeteries were initially informally landscaped with sweeping roads wide enough for carriages and smaller paths for strolling. Careful planting - particularly of trees - and architectural features that impressed or drew the eye were key features. The whole effect was that of a private, landscaped park, with a central chapel instead of a community house. The Victorians saw cemeteries not only as a place in which social status could be established but also as a place to visit, reflect and contemplate, have a picnic, take a stroll, and spend a Sunday afternoon.

This fashion continued for the next several years until, in 1842, John Cladius Loudon published On the Laying Out of Cemeteries which promoted more efficient use of space and less landscaping. Also around this time, attitudes about death changed; headstones became more discreet and ostentatious tombs fell out of favor. The First World War contributed to this change and many of the simple, understated memorials to the victims of the Great War are testimony to this. Elmwood Cemetery was established in 1853 and although Victorian Rural Park Cemeteries were already beginning to fall out of favor in Europe, they were still all the rage in the US, especially along the eastern seaboard. Elmwood was opened by the City of Norfolk because the City’s first public burial ground, Cedar Grove, was full. A bridge was built crossing Smith Creek, now Princess Anne Road, to allow passage from one cemetery to another.

Elmwood Cemetery features a tremendous variety of markers, stones, and family mausoleums. The Victorian romantic idea of death as sleep is evident in many inscriptions on stones as well as in the design of bed-like markers which include a tall head stone to resemble a headboard, a smaller foot stone or footboard and side rails - a romantic bed in which to slumber while awaiting judgment day. The majority of memorials incorporate Victorian funerary iconography – lilies, sheaves of wheat, lambs, tree trunks, roses, wreaths, sea shells, anchors, cross and crowns, and shaking hands among others. Free standing angels and mourning figures are abundant including an eight foot heroic bronze recording angel crafted by internationally renowned Norfolk sculptor, William Couper. Some architectural points of interest include the Core and LeKies mausoleums. 

Elmwood Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. 

Aerial Photograph & Map

Interment Information Online
The Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries' interment database is now available online via The Bureau's database does not include obituaries or monument photographs.  USGenWeb Archives, a cooperative network of volunteers that provides genealogical information on the internet, provides many of these in its interment catalog of Elmwood Cemetery.  If you cannot locate an interment, please call 757-441-2654 or email for more information. 

Cemeteries Events, Volunteer Opportunities, Conservation Information
Click here for information about Norfolk Historic Cemeteries events, volunteer opportunities, and conservation information.