It was a bit unusual for a group of reporters to be huddled together underneath a tent on a hot and humid August morning at the Green Hill Cemetery in Frankfort, Ky., but if Freddie Johnson is involved, I’ll go anywhere.
Johnson is the legendary tour guide at Buffalo Trace Distillery who has worked there since 2002, and his father and grandfather before him worked there as well. He’s not only won numerous industry awards — including being inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2018 — but he also makes friends with every single person lucky enough to be on a Freddie Johnson-led tour.
He’s personable, his passion for the industry is unwavering and he’s so down-to-earth and approachable that you’ll want to be besties after spending even five minutes with the man.
But back to the cemetery. Johnson has been on the Board of Volunteers of the once-forgotten Green Hill Cemetery for nearly a decade, and he’s vowed to bring the historic grounds into the 21st century by helping raise funds, installing much needed infrastructure and garnering support.
The cemetery was established in 1865 and features the Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial, a 10-foot-tall limestone pillar that bears the names of 142 veterans of Kentucky’s United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War. The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1924, by the Women’s Relief Corps.
The cemetery is in dire need for community support, and its board has worked tirelessly to do what it can for the hundreds of tombstones that have been damaged, lost, buried or stolen.
Freddie Gets a Check
On Tuesday morning, the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace, presented Johnson and the board with a check for $11,872. The money came directly from the sale of every case of Freddie’s Old Fashioned Soda (Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer) sold at the distillery.
Johnson and members of the board were thrilled beyond belief at the amount of money they’ll now have to get started on the many projects needed to be done. He spoke about the project and what it means to him and his family — Johnson has several family members buried at Green Hill — and also what it means to Frankfort and beyond.
Johnson said he’d like this cemetery to be another reason why people visit Frankfort, and his goals include locating lost graves, indexing the entire cemetery and creating an online site where people can search for their ancestors, adding several light fixtures to keep out vandals, and restoring deteriorated tombstones, among many other goals.
Johnson was appreciative of the funds and the attention, and he says his goal is to leave this cemetery in a much better shape before he leaves this earth. Mapping the cemetery will be his biggest achievement, he says, because many families in the area have stopped coming to visit because they can’t find their family’s tombstones or markers.
Johnson and the board plan to work with bourbon archeologist Nick Laracuente to help with the project.