The Story Behind “The Great White”

by Hazel Buys

When I learned about the Iron Dog that stands protectively over the grave of a child in Hollywood Cemetery, I wanted to know more about the little girl and her devoted overseer. An internet search turned up different stories about the grave and its famous statue, but all agreed that the toddler died of disease (sadly, common in those days) and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in 1862. She loved the Iron Dog that had stood outside a shop (some versions say that Iron Dog was owned by her family), so it was placed beside her small grave as a gift and memorial (or to prevent it being melted down for the war effort).

The mystic appeal of the Iron Dog seemed to beg for a grander origin story. From the little girl’s grave, it is possible to see down to the James River where the Hollywood Rapids tumble toward the lower James. It’s a beautiful and serene setting, but at the same time, a setting that has potential for great drama. Cemetery plus river rapids plus legendary statue suggested an origin story based on a living, breathing, heroic family dog. I decided to tell that story.

The Great White was inspired by our much loved Samoyed, Shamu, who was my muse for this story.