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Rick Ludlum named superintendent of historic Linden Grove Cemetery; envisions museum of trees

By David Holthaus
NKyTribune reporter

Linden Grove, the historic cemetery and arboretum in the middle of Covington, has named a new superintendent.

Board member Rick Ludlum has been named superintendent of the historic Linden Grove Cemetery (provided photo).

After serving on its board for 12 years, Rick Ludlum will take charge of the site that has been a burial ground for 175 years, and more recently a site for the planting and maintenance of a wide variety of plants and trees.

The job is part-time only, but demands someone with a working knowledge of historic, active cemeteries, arboretums and even genealogy. 

Ludlum, 65, has decades of experience in horticulture, garden centers, and sales, design and installation of landscaping and worked for 18 years at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. He’s retired now, giving him the time to devote to a labor of love that pays $18,000 a year.

He was the acting superintendent through 2018, volunteering his time that year. During his time on the board, he advocated for upgrading the collections of trees at the 22-acre site.

“Our mature tree stock was neglected,” he said.

Since then, he said, the board agreed to spend $125,000 on tree removal, pruning, cabling and fertilization, and in treating its 19 ash trees for the tree-killing emerald ash borer. 

“Someday, it will be places like this that will keep the ash species alive,” he said.

Linden Grove is an accredited arboretum. That designation, at its most basic, demands a master plan, a governing board, a collection of plants of at least 25 species or varieties, a staff or group of volunteers and a public purpose.

Linden Grove maintains 350 trees and shrubs of 135 different species, varieties or cultivars, Ludlum said.

“We’ll eventually be a museum of trees here,” he said.

Linden Grove began its life as a cemetery in 1843 on land owned by the Western Baptist Theological Institute. Benjamin Grove, a landscape gardener, designed the cemetery’s layout, but over the decades it was neglected and fell into disrepair. The situation deteriorated until 1948 when the Kenton County Circuit Court ordered the property placed into receivership.

“We were basically bankrupt and abandoned,” Ludlum said. Linden Grove went through a series of court-appointed receivers until 1998 when the city of Covington and Kenton County reached an agreement to maintain the property and a board of overseers was appointed.

The City of Covington and Kenton County each provide a stipend of $40,000 annually, which makes up about 80 percent of Linden Grove’s budget. The rest comes from burial plot sales, burials and perpetual care fund, Ludlum said.

The site is rich in history and in 2001 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Four former congressmen are buried there, including John G. Carlisle, who was speaker of the House of Representatives for three congressional terms and also served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Grover Cleveland. 

Also buried there is B.F. Howard, who founded the first African American Elk Lodge in 1899, at a time when the Elks was deemed to be a whites-only fraternal organization.

Linden Grove is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at 401 W. 13th St. in Covington.

Contact the Northern Kentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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