Friday, January 12, 2001

Atty. general moves to save historic cemeteries

$2M trust fund sought for upkeep

By Mike Chambers
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Attorney General Ben Chandler will ask the General Assembly to create a $2 million trust fund to maintain historic Eastern Cemetery and two others that have fallen into disrepair.

        Eastern was the burial ground for nearly all the city's prominent 19th century black leaders and several other dignitaries. Greenwood Cemetery and Schardein Cemetery were both established in the mid-1800s.

        “These cemeteries have an enormous amount of heritage connected to them,” Mr. Chandler said.

        Among those buried at Eastern are Charles W. Anderson Jr., the first black elected to the Kentucky General Assembly, in 1935, and the first elected in the South following the Civil War; James C. Cunningham, a noted dancer and musician who played a prominent role in the underground railroad; and Methodist Bishop Henry Bidleman Bascom, former president of Transylvania University.

        Eastern, Greenwood and Schardein cemeteries were placed under court supervision in 1989 after a class-action lawsuit against the Louisville Crematory and Cemeteries Co. Inc., which was accused of reselling grave spaces. Criminal indictments against company officials were later dismissed.

        Archaeological investigations at the three sites showed as many as 62,500 bodies were buried in previously occupied graves.

        “Here we have a cemetery buried more than seven times over. This has been going on since 1850 and we know that,” said Phillip DiBlasi, of the University of Louisville archaeology department. Mr. DiBlasi performed archaeological work at the sites.

        Mr. DiBlasi said the cemeteries are historical treasures.

        “This is the history of Kentucky and the makers of the history of Kentucky are buried in these three locations,” Mr. DiBlasi said.

        The Attorney General's Office filed court papers in Jefferson Circuit Court on Thursday to remove Omnia Church of God Inc. as the receiver of the properties, after an investigation into its records, Mr. Chandler said. A hearing is set for Feb. 14.

        Omnia, receiver since 1997, was given $18,000 annually to maintain the property. An inspection in September showed the cemeteries overgrown with grass and weeds and many grave markers overgrown with brush or broken.

        An attorney for Omnia could not immediately be reached for comment.

        Alderwoman Denise Bentley said community volunteers and organizations such as Dismas House and churches had performed maintenance in the past.

        Ms. Bentley said she contacted the Attorney General's Office because the job became too large for volunteers to handle.

        The General Assembly will be asked to transfer $1.25 million recovered from lawsuits by his consumer protection division into a cemetery trust fund, which already holds $500,000. Lawmakers will also be asked to match a $125,000 local fund-raising effort, Chandler said.

        The fund would generate more than $127,000 in interest annually to maintain the three cemeteries, the report showed.

        The city would receive about $93,750 to maintain the three sites and $6,250 would be set aside for community activities promoting the historical significance of the cemeteries.

        The University of Louisville would receive $25,000 to maintain the records, a service it has already provided for more than 10 years, the report said.

        Mr. Chandler said he hopes to have the legislation approved this short session or in 2002 long session. Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, and Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, agreed to sponsor legislation.

        House budget committee chairman Harry Moberly said the proposal could be approved in that time line.


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