The Bardstown Cemetery Ghost

Bardstown lies in Nelson County, southeast of Louisville, and it's host to a large, beautiful cemetery on the northern edge of town. The earth was first broken in the cemetery in 1852, and it's grown to occupy 15 acres with more than 3,000 people at rest within its grounds.

The cemetery's life took it through the height of monument craftsmanship in America. A great craze for mourning, funerals, and monuments for the dead spread across America and the British Isles in the late Victorian era. Combined with the ornate architectural and sculptural styles of the period, this movement filled cemeteries across the English-speaking world with some truly beautiful sculptures. Cemeteries from the period were designed to be a combination of garden and art gallery, intending to provide a tranquil place for permanent residents and visitors alike. The Bardstown Cemetery is home to some exceptional monuments, and it's well worth a visit just to take a tour of the monuments.

But one of the cemetery's most famous residents was in no way in favor of these elaborate memorials. John Rowan was a prominent politician in the first half of the 19th Century. He served as Kentucky's secretary of state, chief justice of the court of appeals, as well as representing the commonwealth in the U.S. Senate. His estate is now a Kentucky State Park, fondly called My Old Kentucky Home because of its association with his cousin, the great American songwriter Stephen Foster.

Rowan's achievements were many, but at the end of his life he insisted that he wanted no memorial placed above his grave. His parents had been buried in graves without markers, and Rowan was firm in his belief that he should not be honored above his parents. When he died in 1843, his wishes were initially respected, but his family soon formed the opinion that his legacy and importance to the history of Kentucky overrode his wishes. A few short years after his death, and a large obelisk was placed over his grave.

Then the troubles began. One morning, a few months after the marker was raised, a groundskeeper on his morning rounds found that obelisk had tumbled from its base, and was lying in the grass some distance from the grave. There was no immediately obvious reason why the gravestone should have fallen. There had been no wind the night before, in fact the weather had been calm and clear for some time. The puzzled groundskeeper called in the local stonemasons to return the obelisk to its base. A few weeks later, the monument was once more lying on the ground. Once more it was restored, and once more it came tumbling down.

People soon began o think that John Rowan's ghost was upset at having his wishes ignored, and the angry spirit was knocking over the grave marker. At one point, the stonemasons became so frightened of the idea of a ghost knocking over the gravestone that they refused to return to the graveyard to replace the obelisk.

For over a century, without apparent cause, the grave marker has occasionally tumble to the ground. While he seems to have become reconciled to the marker over the years, John Rowan's ghost will still occasionally knock over the obelisk. It's a game of tug of war that the ghost and the groundskeepers may well be playing forever.

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