Richmond Times-Dispatch Reviews RTF: “An Important Chronicle”

Today, June 3rd, the Richmond Times-Dispatch launched its Virginia Book Notes section with a look at The Richmond Theater Fire. In a very positive review, Jay Stafford remarked that the story was told in “vivid detail” and wrote “her book…serves as an important chronicle of a tragedy that marked — and changed — Richmond.”

As an interesting sidenote, one of the other books reviewed today was by W&M professor David Holmes who helped with some research on the RTF book, and a second was another LSU Press title on John Randolph of Roanoke. (Now I want to read both.)

You can link to the original article here or read the full text below.

Richmond Times-Dispatch
Virginia Book Notes
by Jay Strafford

“Charity was the focus at the Richmond Theater on the night of Dec. 26, 1811, but the date lives in history as one of catastrophe.

During a benefit performance at the theater, fire broke out and killed 72 people, including Virginia Gov. George William Smith.

In “The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America’s First Great Disaster” (317 pages, Louisiana State University Press, $39.95), Meredith Henne Baker, who holds a graduate degree in American history and a museum-studies certificate from the College of William and Mary, tells the story in vivid detail.

“The death count left Richmond — and all of America — in shock. Not only was this a powerful blow for the population of a high-spirited town, but also it was likely America’s first disaster with large-scale civilian losses,” Baker writes. Her book explores not only the fire itself but also its aftermath, and it serves as an important chronicle of a tragedy that marked — and changed — Richmond.

In 1814, Monumental Church was erected on the site at 1224 E. Broad St. to serve as both a place of worship and a crypt for the dead. In 1965, the church was deconsecrated and in 1983 was acquired by the Historic Richmond Foundation from the Medical College of Virginia Foundation. Since then, Historic Richmond has spent several million dollars in restoring the landmark.”