RVA50 Object 29 “The Richmond Calamity, 1870″

“The Richmond Calamity,”1870
From a sketch by W.L. Sheppard
Harper’s Weekly, May 14, 1870
Wood engraving

For Richmond, a city still demoralized and physically scarred by the American Civil War, 1870 became known as the “Year of Disasters.” In addition to several deadly fires, a drought, a record flood and the death of General Robert E. Lee, one of the saddest events was the collapse of a courtroom floor in the Virginia State Capitol building on Wednesday, April 27th.  More than 50 individuals were killed instantly, and more than 100 people were wounded, some eventually dying from their injuries.

This Harper’s Weekly illustration is after an original sketch by   Richmond artist William L. Sheppard (1833-1912).  Sheppard was a popular artist of his day and is now best remembered for his oil portraits of prominent citizens.  He, along with John Adams Elder, William James Hubard, and the Valentine brothers, Edward and Mann, were all part of an artistic community that thrived in nineteenth century in Richmond.

On the day following the disaster, many of the dead were buried, and the day was devoted by the city to mourning and prayer.

Hibbs Print Collection, 1948