Latest News

Ike's wind made a mess of cemetery

LOUISVILLE — The windstorm that tore through Louisville last month did more than inconvenience the living. It damaged trees and battered century-old marble monuments to the dead in one of the country's largest cemeteries.

Cave Hill Cemetery superintendent Lee Squires said about 400 trees were damaged, with another 47 uprooted and 30 more snapped so severely that they had to be removed.

And about 30 monuments and headstones were damaged Sept. 14 by falling branches or tree trunks.

"The larger trees are in older sections of the cemetery where we find original statuary made of marble that is very brittle," Squires said. "Limbs fell on statues erected in the 1850s, '60s and '70s. We had quite a bit of damage."

When it opened in 1848, the 300-acre cemetery was considered a "rural garden cemetery."

Today, it is one of the country's largest, with grave sites of dozens of famous people and 5,000 veterans whose service dates to the Civil War. In all, there are some 130,000 people buried at Cave Hill, in graves honored with thousands of marble and granite statues, obelisks and monuments.

Squires said the full cost of the storm damage is unknown, but insurance will cover up to $25,000 for tree removal — a figure he said will be easily met. In some cases, private insurance or endowments will cover the cost of marble repairs. Cemetery crews will do smaller jobs.

The storm damage forced the cemetery to close for 10 days. It will be another three months before all the debris is removed and the marble repaired.

Roger Martin is the cemetery's arborist, responsible for removing dangling limbs and fractured tree trunks surrounded by fragile marble artwork.

A tree specialist with 15 years experience and a board member of the Kentucky Arborists Association, Martin called the damage to the cemetery's arboretum "a travesty."

"I've never seen anything like this," Martin said. "We've got 17 miles of roads back here, and we had 17 miles of brush" to mulch.

Among the damaged statues was a marble angel, knocked from the pedestal where it had sat for more than 100 years. The angel landed in the grass, but several pieces of its base fractured, and its praying hands snapped off.

By Oct. 3, the battered angel was in the hands of Ron Adkins, who is responsible for maintenance of statues and monuments. Cemetery workers had managed to find most of its pieces. The only one missing was her nose.

Adkins used an epoxy to glue on the hands, and reassembled the base in the same way. He held each piece in place until the epoxy dried enough for him to let go, and filled in cracks with a mix of marble dust and epoxy.

Then came the hard part: sculpting a new nose. With the same epoxy mixture, Adkins used the edge of his spatula to resculpt the curve and fill in the missing stone.

"It's always better if you can find the piece," Adkins said. "If you can't, you improvise. It's going to be a tough job, but I think I can do it. It's an awesome responsibility."

Squires said cemeteries were the nation's first arboretums. He calls Cave Hill a "shining" example of 19th-century landscape architecture, with more than 600 varieties of trees and shrubs, five lakes and a natural cave.

Early city leaders wanted to buy the Cave Hill farm in the 1840s more for its stone quarries and because a railroad was supposed to run through the property, according to a history of the cemetery published on the Cave Hill Web site. But the railroad skirted the grounds, and a brick house built there became the city's "pest house" for people with contagious diseases.

A graveyard was added to Cave Hill in 1846, about the time garden cemeteries were gaining popularity. Civil engineer Edmund Francis Lee persuaded city leaders to use the natural features at Cave Hill for that purpose.

Today, the property includes several historic buildings and a variety of statues and monuments that nearly create an outdoor museum. Famous people buried there include George Rogers Clark and Col. Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Squires said getting the cemetery back to normal will be a huge task, like none he has seen since he started working there in 1974.

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle to figure out where everything went," Squires said. "It's mind-boggling to think we have to put everything back the way it was" in the 1800s.