Friends of Eastern Cemetery is a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer group aiming to restore and maintain Eastern Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. The history of Eastern Cemetery is not one without controversy. The property was abandoned in 1989 when proof of widespread grave abuse was discovered. For over two decades the property sat untouched and uncared for. Headstones crumbled as the grounds became overgrown and the pristine environment diminished as people used the grounds for parties or vandalism. The rich, historic and cultural center of Eastern Cemetery soon became a mangled, desperate sight right in the heart of the city. The Friends of Eastern Cemetery was formed to change that.
Early in March 2013, the first Eastern Cemetery Clean Up Day brought out a diverse group of people. Some were relatives of the interred, preservationists, historians, neighborhood residents, and others just wanted to make a difference. Armed with trash bags and a single mower, the group began picking through the grounds, doing their best to clean up over two decades of neglect. From Sunday to Sunday, the number of names on the sign-in sheet varied between two and twenty-two. Since then, the group continued to grow as people took an interest in one of Louisville’s oldest cemeteries. Monument conservator Jonathan Appell has held workshops in Eastern Cemetery on how to property restore headstones, so that the Friends of Eastern Cemetery can help, not harm, the cemetery.
Friends of Eastern Cemetery became an official 501(c)(3) non-profit group in 2014. Our board members include Andy Harpole, president; Savannah Darr, vice president; and Amy Wright, secretary; and Stefanie Buzan, treasurer. We currently have two committees: the Arts and Crafts Committee and the Event Planning and Coordination Committee.
The Friends of Eastern Cemetery have served as an example to other groups who are looking to either clean a historic cemetery or create a “friends of” non-profit group. Taking their extensive training, Andy Harpole and Savannah Darr have spoken with members of the Louisville Genealogical Society, Samuel Plato Academy, and Gallatin County Public Library about the basics of cemetery preservation, including the right and wrong ways to clean stones. Andy and Savannah have also encouraged those groups to attend future workshops, so that they can start preserving and restoring cemeteries in their communities. Furthermore, they have provided contacts, such as Jonathan Appell and National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and materials so that these groups do not harm those cemeteries that they wish to help.
The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation awarded the group a Service to Preservation Award in 2015. The Association of Gravestone Studies presented the Friends of Eastern Cemetery the Oakley Certificate of Merit in 2016, and the Louisville Historical League gave the group a History Award in 2016. In 2018, Preservation Kentucky awarded the group the Helen Dedman Excellence in Preservation Advocacy Award.