Eastern Cemetery, one of Louisville’s oldest, was abandoned after a scandal erupted in the 1980s. Today, it is cared for by the Friends of Eastern Cemetery, a volunteer group dedicated to its restoration.
The cemetery is a 30 acre tract adjacent to Louisville’s famous Cave Hill Cemetery (the final resting place of Colonel Sanders). Designed in the picturesque style, the cemetery is park-like — filled with trees and a rolling landscape. Burials on the site began as early as 1843, and possibly as early as 1835. It was the burial ground for Louisville’s high society, black and white. Nearly all of Louisville’s 19th century black leaders were buried here. Additionally, numerous fraternal societies have lots and clusters of lots. The Odd Fellows, the Masons, the United Brothers and Sisters of Friendship are just a few organizations that occupy lots in Eastern.
Records at Eastern Cemetery indicate that the reuse of graves began as early as 1858. It is estimated that 48,000 people are buried in just 16,000 graves. Comparison of maps for Eastern Cemetery (circa 1880, 1907, 1962 and 1984) indicates entire sections were renamed and reburied. In some cases, sections were renamed as many as three and four times (i.e., Old Slave Ground, became Cheap Willow, then became Public Section 2, then became Cave Hill Corner, and finally became Sections 11 & 14). When this information, as well as information regarding the mishandling of cremains (crematory ashes) came to light in the 1980s, the cemetery was abandoned. For two decades the property was neglected – it became a site for illegal dumping, parties, and vandalism. To this date, no one has been prosecuted for mishandling the cemetery’s burials or its neglect.
Currently, the Attorney General’s office is the manager of the trust for maintenance. The interest on the trust generates only nine thousand a year to maintain this cemetery and two others. The FOEC’s ultimate goal is to create a self-sustainable model for the continued upkeep of the historic property.