Letter To The Editor By Jordan Baer


jordan baer

EDITORS COMMENTS: Posted without opinion, bias or editing.

In just a few weeks, it will have been a full calendar year since I began the task of lobbying for drastic reform at both city cemeteries- Oak Hill & Locust Hill.
What started out as a simple goal of finally fixing what has been a decades old problem has now surprisingly turned into a full blown battle against those dedicated to maintaining the status quo of neglect, dilapidation, and disrepair. This has been the case in just about every task I’ve worked on in this city. It has been the same gang with the same excuses with the only difference being a new case of demolition by neglect each time. It’s getting old, and it’s getting old fast.
First of all, I would like to thank those who have done what they can do for these cemeteries. The first people to join the cause were 5th Ward Council Member John Friend who introduced Resolution C-2012-16 and 6th Ward Council Member Al Lindsey who cosponsored this much needed legislation. Next, a ton of credit goes to 4th Ward City Council Member Connie Robinson who actually took the time to go and view these cemetery conditions for herself.
As most residents in this area know, having a council member, or any city official for that matter, actually go out and survey the problems first hand is something new and unheard of here in the Evansville area. I thank Connie for doing this and God Bless You Please Mrs. Robinson.
Finally, I would like to thank those who directly handle and manage the cemetery grounds that have made a few improvements to Oak Hill after it was brought to their attention by the city council. This group includes the mowing crew as well as Chris Cooke- Our local Superintendent of Cemeteries.
Although much progress has been made, the conditions of either cemetery are beyond anything acceptable, and truthfully, I’m at a loss for words as to why anyone would find either cemetery in acceptable condition. You’ve seen the pictures and it doesn’t look pretty. Toppled head stones, out of line plots, and covered up grave markers are just a few of the problems that have plagued these cemeteries long before you, I, or any other CCO supporter has been alive.
Last week, I returned to the historic confines of both Oak Hill and Locust Hill Cemeteries, and it didn’t take long before these conditions were out in the open for all to see once more…

Last month, the Courier & Press decided to pay Oak Hill Cemetery a visit. How nice of them to finally join the party and report on the neglect going on at these cemeteries. For a newspaper that doesn’t want a half baked hotel plan, they seem quite content with a less than stellar cemetery grounds. One would think that with the amount of cemetery advertisements popping up on their site they would have joined the CCO last year in fighting to repair these iconic grounds.
Thankfully, Chris Cooke took them on a walk through Oak Hill Cemetery in an effort to get the word out about cemetery erosion. What the following image should prove to those who want to maintain the status quo in these cemeteries is that denial is not a river in Egypt.
The bottom line is this: there is ample amount of evidence that both of these cemeteries are suffering from erosion and neglect, and these conditions are only getting worse. The hardest part to accomplish in the goal of getting these conditions corrected was to get someone to go in front of the City Council and demand cemetery repair, maintenance, and perpetual care funds be replenished back to their proper levels. I did this last summer, and it was quite a battle. Initially, at the first council meeting discussing these funds there were not enough votes to get these funds. It, like every other project, took a lot of political will power to eventually round up enough support.
At the end of the day, I was able to secure these funds thanks to John Friend, Al Lindsey, and Connie Robinson on the City Council. These funds are believed to be around the $70,000 mark ($35,000 per cemetery). No other city official was willing to do this from the mayor all the way down to the mowing crew. So, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for the city to give us a plan of action as well as a rough estimate for a timetable as to when these cemeteries might be fully repaired.
Although having Chris Cooke and the lawn mowing workers make subtle improvements such as avoiding hitting head stones with lawn mowers, placing broken stones on stop of the rest of the stone, and standing head stones up that had fallen are all good improvements, they are far from reaching the goal of having a completely repaired cemetery that is the pride of residents from all over Evansville.
Any comprehensive plan of action will have to involve the mayor’s administration- particularly Mr. Todd Robertson who was the one who spoke at the Council Meeting about the cemetery funds. One person on one level of city government will not be able to solve this problem alone. Like Mr. Robertson said in an Eyewitness News interview, it is a “long standing” problem. It will not be solved overnight. Therefore, any plan of action must include, but not limited to, the following…
1. What are the main problems facing the cemeteries?
– i.e Toppled head stones, lost grave markers, out of line rows, damaged grave markers, and diminished repair/maintenance/perpetual care fund(s).
2. What is the size and scope of these problems?
– i.e Approximately how many head stones are broke, damaged, or lost and how many are out of line? How much needs to be placed in the proper perpetual funds and accounts?
3. What resources will it take to fix these problems?
– i.e How much labor, what kind of labor, what kind of materials, how much/many materials, and what kind of political support is needed?
4. Roughly how much funding would be needed to fix these problems?
– i.e What would the total bill be for labor, materials, and funds to replenish the proper cemetery accounts?
5. Approximately how long will it take to fix these problems?
– i.e How many years? How many phases?
6. What problems can volunteers solve? What problems can only qualified staff members solve?
– i.e What problems can the public volunteer to help solve? What problems must qualified individuals be utilized or newly hired to solve?

These questions, which should serve as a backbone for a comprehensive plan of attack, should be debated, answered, and addressed in front of the public eye and not behind closed doors. And once a plan is formed, we will then know what kind of problems we are dealing with and what you, I, and the rest of the city needs to do about it.
Make no mistake, these problems can be solved. Recently, I came upon a company website of a man named John Walters who many call the “Graveyard Groomer,” whose business deals with rehabilitating dilapidated cemeteries in the Indiana and Kentucky areas. When you look at his before and after images, you will see that the pictures a posted above could easily be fixed by someone like this.
A quote from him stuck out to me: “It don’t take a rocket scientist to do this, but it does take a heart.
And I got one of them.” That’s the mentality we need here with our two great cemeteries. The fact is, death is undefeated. One day, you will be buried in a place like this…
And I will be buried in a place like this…

We all need to take care of these cemeteries!


  1. I am a descendant of the late, Isaac Knight and Mathias Whetstone. Both were founding members on the original Vanderburgh County charter. Both of their headstones are now located in Warrick County. They date back to the late 1800’s. There is a memorial stone of Isaac Knight at the corner of Lincoln and Greenriver in the parking lot. That location was at one time the “Knight Cemetery”, but the Lantz family purchased the property back in the early 1900’s and developed it out. My family agreed to have his grave moved to Rose Hill Cemetery at the time.

    Both of their headstones are in need of repair. I have long thought that we need to have a different process for managing the older marble and limestone headstones. Rebuilding some headstones that have become brittle and worn past the letter impressions does not seem like the best idea, really.

    I understand what Jordan is getting at and I am not speaking directly about his concerns, but it is related….and I have long believed that we need a volunteer committee to decide what to do with stones that are 2+ centuries old. I just can’t fathom keeping a grave site in good order that is hundreds of years old, especially when no family members are interested or present to view or make use of that grave site. My best idea on thus far would be to consolidate these ancient stones into a monolithic monument that represents the older grave sites as opposed to arbitrary repairing them all for the next millennium.


      • I am very familiar with the Isaac Knight story. I have imagined myself in his shoes a few times and have geographically guessed where he was when he was captured. The irony of the Isaac Knight story in my own personal life is that I grew up on the same riverbank that Isaac Knight was captured on…best I can tell anyhow. On the westside of town a bit down Old Henderson Road I figure. Growing up, we had a rivercamp in that area and I walked that riverbank for miles many times as a kid.

        My grandmother talked a lot about Isaac Knight when I was growing up, but I never gave it much thought or weight until I got older and read his horrific story.

        The situation with those graves were awful. I don’t believe that any of my descendants were among those that were mismanaged. But I have included this article in my family parchments in the event that it comes to light that there are more empty graves. Thanks for sharing that.

        I think I am going to go get my witch stick out now and go find the edge of my ancestors graves to verify its there. 🙂


    • I appreciate you posting your story. Believe it or not most headstones can actually be repaired (key word most). I mean look at some of the head stones the grave yard groomer fixed…


      It’s like anything else- Looks can be deceiving.

      Also, I would say the percentage of brittle and worn out headstones are in the far minority compared to headstones that just need to be repaired back together like this one which appears to have steel rebar in it (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10101317146893990&set=a.10101317136390040.1073741839.12913772&type=3&theater) or this one which just needs a nice little nudge back over (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10101317146015750&set=a.10101317136390040.1073741839.12913772&type=3&theater).

      Also, if you consolidate all headstones into one area, you will eventually lose track of where the actual bodies are buried. This is how most burial grounds are lost. Yes, I know it would take quite some time to lose track of OH and LH but it would eventually happen.

      Long story short, this is why I hope Todd Robertson and those like Chris Cooke underneath him take this article seriously, put together a plan containing the above data from the article in it and post it in the CCO for all to see. Then, we can have an open and public discussion about where we go from there. This is a problem that will take both city funds (since its a public cemetery) as well private volunteers.

      If this is going to be the time that the cemeteries are finally fixed from decades of decline, this MUST be an OPEN process, it must be a process where ALL residents that care about these cemeteries like you, I, and Cooke among others all have some skin in the game, and it MUST be a plan that addresses all (or at least most) of the concerns in a sustainable, timely, and achievable manner.

      In other words- No more ready, fire, aim.

      • Jordan,

        I want to clarify my earlier statement. It was late at night and I did not review my post very well before posting. When I said that I wanted to consolidate the graves, I meant removing their headstones entirely and creating a new larger monument with maybe a plaque on the side. The plaque would have the names of people that were once buried there. I have not discussed this idea with anyone else really and I am not going to pretend that I know what the best path is for Evansville. But I am very interested in this subject matter.

        The degeneration of the headstones at our local cemeteries is the lowest common denominator of the problem. And it is probable that we will see more headstone damages and losses due to the weakening of those stones. Yes there will be some storm damage, vandalism, and some of the headstones may get bumped by the power equipment that is being used around them. So, I am not disagreeing with you on the need to look at this problem and I am not going to start a long winded debate here, but I do believe there are a lot of factors in this discussion that can not ultimately be sorted out within this forum.

        So, I respectfully disagree with your approach on this matter. I believe a better approach would be to create a volunteer group of people who are sincerely interested in addressing this one particular issue and hashing it out. It would be important to include people such as Chris Cooke, and maybe some Township Trustees like Kathryn Martin. Other people and resources come to mind…

        I would be willing to make some phone calls and spearhead a meeting and embark on a greater, deeper conversation on the ideas that you and I may have about this subject matter. But I am not going to debate or discuss this in this type of medium. With all of our technology, nothing beats a sit down face to face conversation.

        Aside from that, I pray that you have a wonderful 4th of July and I will be checking back next week!


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