Inside Eastern Cemetery – Louisville, Kentucky

In 2022 we spent the entire month of December living inside the crooked black gates of a cemetery at The Crematorium. The Crematorium sits inside Eastern Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, and was the first crematory in Louisville. It has since been remodeled into an apartment that we rented for the month through Airbnb.

Black and white photograph of the Eastern Cemetery sign

Why would anyone who doesn’t own an EMF meter or night-vision camera spend the holidays living inside a “haunted” cemetery? For starters, that’s just who we are. We have always loved exploring old cemeteries. They’re full of art, symbolism, history, cultural customs, and stories. They are also the most peaceful places in the middle of any busy city. And… someone gave us the gate key.

Best Intentions

Established in 1848, Eastern Cemetery, originally owned by Fourth Street Methodist Church, pioneered the rare practice of burying individuals of different races, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds together in the same areas rather than in segregated sections. The cemetery houses the remains of a diverse group of individuals, including slaves, congressmen, mayors, ministers, boxers, war veterans, and sports figures.

Eastern Cemetery Has a Dark Past

The cemetery opened in 1848 and within 10 years the corporation that owned it began a policy of selling cemetery plots to grieving people that were already used and burying individuals in occupied graves. Over the decades this practice required them to remap the 30-acre cemetery four different times. These maps and additional cemetery records have been used to unravel what essentially became a mass grave site.

“Records at Eastern Cemetery indicate that the reuse of graves began as early as 1858. Records indicate family-owned lots that were filled with burials were purchased by Eastern Cemetery from their owners and subsequently sold as unused lots.”

Philip J. DiBlasi,Principle Investigator, University of Louisville

Records show that the “Old Slave Ground” was reburied twice and now has a road and meridian over the top of it. In the area referred to as “Babyland”, witness testimony and records show multiple infant burials in single plots, shallow graves, and missing headstones. As of January 2017, the site has just over 16,000 graves holding over 138,000 bodies. Archaeological investigation revealed multiple individuals in nearly every section of the cemetery they sampled.

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The Insults Continue

Tragically, many of the headstones have weathered or been damaged and stolen by vandals. The granite monument that housed the cremains of loved ones has had its bronze plates torn off, and the urns dumped and stolen. A storage area in the basement of the larger crematorium held the cremains of unclaimed individuals, including a large number of infants. These cremains were dumped in the storage room by trespassers and their urns were stolen. There is evidence of the cemetery being used by homeless folks and as a place to “party”.

Due to decades of reburials, the ground at Eastern Cemetery is pitted and sinking in places and the overgrown grass makes it difficult to locate some graves at all. Local dog owners use the cemetery as their own personal dog toilet, in spite of there being multiple dog parks in the area, including one on the other side of the cemetery. Because of this neglect and misuse, the cemetery has given rise to urban legends and ghost stories.

But is it Haunted?

It is said that some of the dead haunt it, angry that the cemetery is in such bad shape. There are reports of phantasmal figures that appear in the chapel and on the cemetery grounds. A ghostly lady is said to tend to the graves found in Babyland and people have reported hearing voices, footsteps, and dogs barking and seeing orbs and figures. The Airbnb guest book inside The Crematorium had recent accounts of hearing footsteps on the stairs, banging on the walls, whispering, and figures lurking in the cemetery at night.

We spent a month living in the cemetery, sleeping in what was once a crematorium, and taking walks nearly every day or evening in the graveyard. And while there is plenty of reason to believe that if any spirits were going to rise up and demand recompense, it would be the dead buried here. Unfortunately, we never encountered any.

A Ray of Light?

Since the 1980s, Eastern Cemetery has been left abandoned and forgotten. A nonprofit group of volunteers, Friends of Eastern Cemetery, works to maintain the cemetery. To learn more about the history of this fascinating location check out the video Facing East: The Eastern Cemetery Documentary.

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