Monday, April 6, 2015

Washington Spradling's Grave

Yesterday I drove up to southern Indiana to spend Easter with my family. On the drive back to Frankfort I decided to take an slightly alternate route and try to locate the grave of Washington Spradling, a wealthy antebellum Louisville black barber. 

I knew his grave was somewhere in Eastern Cemetery, which is located next to better known Cave Hill Cemetery, but was not sure exactly where. After only a couple of wrong turns, I finally finally found both cemeteries. What caught my immediate attention was the drastic difference in how these two historic graveyards are maintained. 

Cave Hill is a huge cemetery, and it is immaculate. It features a lovely landscaped park-like atmosphere and contains the remains of numerous famous Kentuckians. Neighboring Eastern Cemetery on the other hand has many vandalized and tilting stones, tree limbs scattered here and there, and grass sprouting up in clumps instead of being finely manicured like Cave Hill. The main difference between the two is money; while Eastern is merely maintained by volunteers, Cave Hill is funded by a foundation. 

It didn't take too much looking around to locate Spradling's grave. I had looked it up on "Find a Grave" so I had an idea of what it looked like. However, Eastern Cemetery was quite a bit larger than I was expecting, and was filled with obelisk-like grave markers. Finally I found it and wandered over to take a closer look and get some photographs.

Washington Spradling was born in 1802 to a slave mother, Maria Dennis, and white overseer father, William Spradling. Washington's freedom was purchased by his father in 1825, and he soon had set up a barber shop in Louisville. As an aggressive entrepreneur, Washington developed close relationships with his white influential clientele and began using his barbering profits to purchase, sell, and lease real estate. By the 1860s Spradling had acquired quite a fortune for any man, white or black. Spadling's wealth comes through in the elaborate nature of his monument.

Spradling's stone contains the names of his wife Lucy Ann, and daughters, Martha and Julia, on one side, and his two sons, Washington, Jr. and William, both of which were also Louisville barbers and business men, on the other. I am not sure if Spradling's family members are buried in the plot around the stone with him or if just had their names included on his marker.

Washington Spradling surely understood the financial benefits that barbering had brought to his family and sought to have his sons follow in his footsteps to ensure their ability to support their own families. Spradling's son, William, ran the above advertisement in Louisville newspapers in the mid-1850s seeking patrons, and Washington Jr. founded the "Smoketown" neighborhood in southeast Louisville after the Civil War on land inherited from his father.

In business, for the Spradlings, it was like father, like sons.

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