Two new ventures hope to bring more activity – both live and virtual – to one of Richmond’s most notable resting places.
RVA Gem Car Tours recently began selling private tours of Hollywood Cemetery on six-person electric carts.
Owner Buck Ward said the venture, which launched in May, is a spin-off of his other businesses Segway of Richmond, which launched in 2008, and RVA Trolley, which got rolling in 2012.
Ward said the cemetery tour business is in keeping with his mission of letting people experience Richmond in different ways. He said the carts cater to groups too big for a Segway tour but too small to rent out a trolley.
“This is another way to see and discover Richmond,” Ward said. “It’s more geared toward private tours.”
RVA Gem Car Tours has three Polaris GEM cars in its fleet. Ward said they cost about $20,000 apiece – the price includes the cost to install solar panels on each vehicle. The cars are street legal and can go as fast as 24 miles per hour.
Ward said RVA Gem Car Tours has done more than 125 tours since launching in May. It costs $35 per person for a 90-minute tour, which begins at Hollywood Cemetery. Ward said in 2014, 25,000 people took a tour with either Segway of Richmond or RVA Trolley.
“We’re already up 20 percent this year,” Ward said.
He credits the nonprofit Richmond Region Tourism for the increase.
“I think the entire region is experiencing growth thanks to these guys,” Ward said.
Ward said he expects RVA Gem Car Tours to grow. He is looking into buying 10 more cars next year. He plans to offer shuttle services from Richmond hotels to places like Carytown and Rocketts Landing.
On the virtual side of things, the nonprofit Friends of Hollywood Cemetery launched an interactive website in July that lets users take virtual tours of the burial ground.
The group enlisted local ad firm Addison Clark, the agency of record for the cemetery.
Jeff Allen, managing partner at Addison Clark, said the new site caters to the two segments Hollywood Cemetery serves: tourists and plot seekers.
“Hollywood Cemetery is a very unique entity,” Allen said. “Everyone thinks of them as an outdoor museum. Not a lot of folks know that they are an open, functioning cemetery. Those that do know assume they are cost prohibitive or for old Richmond elite.”
Over the course of about six months, Addison Clark and HostRVA, formerly NimblePitch, built a digitized map of Hollywood Cemetery and overlaid it with GPS coordinates. They then focused on compiling online reference materials and integrating them with points of interest on the digital map.
The website can be used both by on-site visitors looking for interactive, self-guided tours and by remote desktop users curious about the cemetery.
On-site tourists can use their smartphones to be led on tours that cover the highlights of Hollywood Cemetery and find direction to specific points of interest. And the site can also serve as a planning tool prior to visiting.
Eventually, Allen said the website will give users access to varying amounts of information on everyone buried around the site. It’s the final resting for more than 18,000, according to Hollywood Cemetery’s website.
Addison Clark does a lot of digital work for clients such as Patient First, Ethan Allen and Moe’s Southwest Grill. But Allen said the site for Hollywood Cemetery stands out.
“This is probably one of the more interactive things we’ve done,” he said.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a more accurate number of those buried in Hollywood Cemetery, which is more than 18,000.
Great article, thanks Michael! FYI – Here is the link to the new virtual visitor guide: