|Gateway to Eastern Cemetery|
From the moment you arrive, you can feel that things are a bit off kilter. Of course, the look of the place does nothing to dispel this thought.
Welcome to Eastern Cemetery, 28-acres located next to the famous and well-groomed Cave Hill Cemetery where Colonel Sanders and Muhammad Ali are laid to rest. But across the concertina wire, Eastern Cemetery lies in tatters, abused by the elements, and vandals, for over thirty years.
|The Wake House|
Eastern Cemetery was founded in the 1844 by two Methodist churches. At that time, it was known as The Methodist Cemetery and was one of the earliest burial grounds in the city to allow people of different races and religions to be interred together. The cemetery is home to some of the movers and shakers of early Louisville along with regular citizens. This includes state officials, mayors, soldiers, slaves, and musicians. Charles Clarke and Arthur Lommis designed the original Richardsonian Romanesque wake house in 1891. And Eastern was also the first cemetery in Kentucky to have a crematorium.
But Eastern Cemetery has a decidedly dark past. Records from as early as the late 1850s indicate that bodies were being buried in graves already occupied. The New York Times did an article on the cemetery back in 1989 describing how the graves were being resold after the remains and headstones had been removed – at least most of the time. There were also indications that bodies were stacked on top of one another – some buried only a foot or so deep – in order to maximize that burial space, and make more money. In a cemetery with room for 16,000 burials, experts estimated close to 50,000 people have been “laid to rest” here.
Records shows that of the four grave maps made of the cemetery, covering the years 1880, 1907, 1962 and 1984 – all are inconsistent in grave placement from time period to time period. Sections have been redivided and renamed, all in keeping with the reburial of bodies.
About ten years ago, an unlocked building was discovered to contain dozens of cremated remains And state investigators reported that more than 90% of infant burials were done in a foot or less of soil.
Today, the graveyard is a tangle of weeds, downed trees and toppled stones. Vandalism is apparent but not as rampant as might be expected. Maybe the negative vibe of the place is off-putting even to those miscreants.
When you enter the cemetery, the air is oppressive and you feel watched from every corner. This is not a cemetery that encourages wandering, or even loitering. This is an in-and-out cemetery: in for photos and out as fast as possible. Rumor has it that a nineteenth century lady wanders the cemetery trying to care for the infants graves. Footsteps and voices can be heard, and ghostly figures have been seen in the chapel, and wandering the grounds. But knowing the story, is it any wonder that this City of the Dead is restless?
Today, a non-profit organization made up of a caring group of volunteers are working to take back the cemetery. Friends of Eastern Cemetery do what they can to keep the cemetery grass cut, downed trees cut up, and stones repaired. But it seems to be a never-ending job. If you’d like to volunteer, visit their web page for more information.
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