Volunteers work to restore Eastern Cemetery


by Claudia Coffey


Posted on July 17, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 17 at 6:39 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – It's a historic Louisville cemetery dating back to the 1800s -- but it's not known for who is buried there but rather the neglect it's endured over the years.

The group organized in March. They are out here almost every weekend and so far they have cleared about two to three acres but they know they have a lot more work to do."

“This is not what people signed up for when they were buried here. This isn't what they wanted. And the fact that they have no caretakers is shameful to me," volunteer Laura Valentine said.

Reuniting families is what drives Andy Harpole and Laura Valentine to change the way this cemetery has been ignored for decades.

Harpole along with Valentine organized the Eastern Cemetery Clean Up Crew, a volunteer group of upwards of 40 people that are first trying to clean up debris.

Somebody has to do something and if nobody is gonna step up, I'd do it," volunteer, Andy Harpole said.

After a few weeks the uncovered more than unmarked tombstones but graves buried under trees, bodies on top of each other. Chris Doerflinger was cleaning up today and literally fell into a sunken grave.

"I pass this hole many times. And I was looking at a new hole that a dog had recently dug and I wasn't looking where I was stepping and I went down," cemetery visitor Chris Doerflinger said.

It was story that WHAS11's Chuck Olmsted did back in the 80's.

The Louisville Crematorium and Cemetery was in charge of the grounds for decades but left it abandoned. Now the effort falls on a new generation hoping to reunite families and make this a place that one can finally find peace.

"Every tree that you turn near and every brush that you pull up another stone and people probably have no idea that their loved one is buried there. And there's no telling how long they have been back there or maybe if there is someone looking for them. I think that is the worst thing to me," Valentine said.

“The group is hoping to form a nonprofit so they can afford to maintain the cemetery.

Dismas Charities is also helping with the cleanup efforts.

Since the property is abandoned no one owns it. 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. 

If you would like to volunteer, send an email to Easterncemeteryvolunteers@gmail.com.