Hilltop Cemetery Evokes Serenity-
Every night when my daughter was little I would say goodnight to her by telling her I loved her “Bigger than the sky.” One night, out of the blue, she responded by saying, “I love you bigger than the whole cemetery.” This mysterious and peculiar reply unnerved me a bit at first but it harmlessly became a long-standing part of our nightly routine.
Now “love’ and “cemetery” are not words I would usually think of as hanging out in the same sentence. And I hadn’t thought about my daughter’s curious goodnight phrase in many years until a few weeks ago when she was visiting Frankfort. It was a beautiful warm, early spring day and we were looking for a place to go and take a stroll.
Before I knew it I found myself enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the Frankfort cemetery. Later that afternoon we were walking amongst the beautiful old-growth trees and stately monuments that grace the property.
On a walking tour I took last spring I discovered many fine examples of species of trees more than one hundred years old, including sycamores, poplars, maples, ashes, and oaks.
There are younger trees too. A small grouping of yews stands toward the southern end of the grounds. The yew is an apt resident for a cemetery, given its nickname “the tree of the dead’ owing to its ubiquity in churchyards across the United Kingdom, France, and Spain. They are known for their incredible longevity. In all, the cemetery features over thirty varieties of trees.
While I realize the cemetery is a place of profound sadness for the many who’ve said goodbye to their loved ones there, the fact remains it is a place of remarkable beauty and serenity.
Originally created by Judge Mason Brown and incorporated in 1844, the cemetery was designed by landscape architect Robert Carmichael. The property now covers one hundred acres.
If one is quiet a wildlife sighting is also possible. A fox crossed my path one recent afternoon as I was walking the grounds.
In addition to the natural beauty there is, of course, the history. Local historian Russ Hatter was with us on the tree tour and pointed out many headstones of historical interest.
In his 1921 account of the cemetery historian L.F. Johnson dubbed it the “Westminster Abbey of the Commonwealth” because of the number of prominent gravesites. The famous pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone, seventeen Kentucky governors, and Richard Mentor Johnson, the ninth Vice President of the United States are all interred there - as well as senators and generals, poets and painters, and many other renowned Kentuckians.
The view from Boone’s monument is particularly impressive. From this perch one sees the bend of the Kentucky River and all of south Frankfort and downtown unfolding below, as well as beholding a superlative view of our grand state Capitol building.
In the center of the grounds is the State Mound, with a monument paying tribute to those who’ve lost their lives in military service.
The cemetery is also home to the moving Kentucky Memorial for the Unborn. Located in a beautiful, secluded section of the cemetery, overlooking the palisades and the river, it serves families whose hearts have been broken by miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion. Names of children are inscribed on a granite wall.
There is also a lovely chapel on the property.
One might not ordinarily think of the local cemetery as a great place to take out-of-town visitors, but this is a truly special place. If you’re a resident of Frankfort and have not yet visited I highly recommend it as a wonderful destination for a springtime walk. It will be particularly beautiful in April as the trees adorn themselves in preparation for summer.