City Cemetery, East Hargett Street

You know you want to write a best-seller. And with all your worldly experience, how hard can it be?

So here’s the deal. You give a few $$$ to the cause, and on May 21 you receive the critical secrets — direct from their best-selling author — of The Emperor’s Tomb, The Romanov Prophesy, The Charlemagne Pursuit and many others.

First, the cause.

City Cemetery in Raleigh dates from 1798, one of those hidden jewels in plain sight that you perhaps have never noticed even though it’s located literally a short trot from Fayetteville Street. It’s on the northeast corner of East Street and E. Hargett Street, which is one of the places the tornados struck 19 days ago — and City Cemetery was hammered.

Huge trees are down, others are split, some headstones have been pushed off their graves or were hit by falling limbs … it’s hard to see exactly what the damage is because the city’s got the gates padlocked and rightly so. But it’s extensive. (Pictures on Facebook here.)

Much the same is true at nearby Mt. Hope Cemetery, another Raleigh landmark.

It turns out that there is a group called Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation Inc. It got started in 2006, Board Chair Jane Thurman says, as a spinoff from the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission. The rationale was simple: The old cemeteries needed some TLC, which the commission recognized but it wasn’t their job. So Thurman, whose commission term was ending, shouldered the task and things were going quite well … until the tornados hit.

Now the RCCP needs some help.

Enter Steve Berry. Berry writes thrillers that are ripped from the pages of history, and he has 11 million books in print — in 50 countries — to show that he’s pretty good at it. He also has a foundation called History Matters whose purpose is historic restoration and preservation. Says Berry:

History comes alive when someone is able to not only read about the past, but also able to visit the places, see the artifacts, appreciate the images, read the actual words. For most people, history starts with learning about their family or their community. Imagine trying to discover your genealogy without anything tangible to search. Preservation of our heritage is a vital link to cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, and economic legacies — all of the things that quite literally make us who we are. History plays a vital role in our everyday lives. We learn from our past in order to achieve greater influence over our future. History serves as a model of who to be and who not to be — of what to champion and what to avoid. Every day, decision-making around the world is based on what came before us.


Because history matters.


So Berry’s coming to Raleigh in a couple of weeks to pitch his 11th book, The Jefferson Key, at Quail Ridge Books & Music — that’s on Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, May 21, Berry is staying in town to conduct a daylong workshop for all you would-be best-seller writers. It’s called “Lessons from a Bestseller,” and it promises to teach the four big C’s of story structure, effective dialogue, point of view and the all-important (I’m taking this from the brochure) 10 Rules of Writing. Plus pointers about the business of writing.

No, I don’t know what the four C’s are either, nor can I name the 10 Rules. I guess that’s the point.

Or maybe the point is that Berry persisted, by his count, through 85 rejections over 12 years on five different manuscripts before breaking into print.

Berry’s workshop will be held at Peace College in the Kenan Recital Hall, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It’s $115, including lunch, or $30 for lunch only (featuring Berry’s tales of rejection and perseverance). All proceeds go to RCCP’s restorations efforts.

To sit at Berry’s table at lunch (7 seats only), add $35 to either sum.

Here’s the brochure:


(If you have trouble with the pdf, there’s a link to workshop info from the QRB link above as well as from the RCCP website — go to workshops.)


So who’s buried in City Cemetery? Among others, William Polk, cousin of U.S. President James Polk and kin to L.L. Polk, founder of the Progressive Farmer magazine (which became Southern Living) and one of the great populists in American history.

This is from RCCP’s map of the cemetery:

William Polk (1758-1834). Born in Mecklenburg County, Polk attended the Mecklenburg Convention proceedings on May 20, 1775. At the age of 18, he was a major in a North Carolina regiment of the Continental Line, serving under General George Washington at Brandywine, Germantown and Valley Forge. Ordered South, Polk was with Gates at the Battle of Camden and with Green at Guilford Courthouse. At the hard-fought battle of Eutaw Springs, his horse was killed under him, and he was severely wounded.

A man of many facets, Polk was a legislator, president of the State Bank, trustee of the University of North Carolina, a mason (Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of N.C.) and a large landowner. He was friend of President Andrew Jackson, cousin of President James K. Polk and father of General Leonidas Polk, the Bishop-General. At his death, he was the last surviving field officer of the North Carolina Continental Line.