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    After lighting some logs in the maintenance shack’s oil-drum stove, Cave Hill Cemetery head gardener Danny Key steers his utility vehicle on a winding path toward a gravesite — Lot 2, Section U — at the southern edge of the cemetery’s 300 acres. This is the first thing he has done almost every morning since June 10 of last year. On this drizzly and cold Thursday in May, wipers clear fat raindrops from the windshield. Key parks, shuts off the engine. A pond fountain down the hill supplies the only sound. A storage compartment in the vehicle contains a palm-sized boxing glove Key found here yesterday.

    The 7-by-3-foot ledger of African granite is inscribed with a quote from the man buried beneath it, about how he stirred up a bunch of ingredients — a few cups of love, one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern — and served it over the span of a lifetime to every person he met. Muhammad Ali: January 17, 1942 to June 3, 2016. When Cave Hill re-opened to the public the day after the burial, thousands of people visited what was then just a modest marker with Ali’s name. “They were coming in taxi cabs,” Key says. “It’s still hard to believe that this is Ali here, right there in the ground.” 

    For about 45 minutes each morning, Key maintains the gravesite. The 58-year-old wipes down the granite benches, clears magnolia leaves and bright-red hibiscus petals off the limestone steps, puts on knee guards to trim the ivy that has been hard to grow because of all the foot traffic. “I get on my hands and knees when I need to,” Key says. He also collects the things visitors leave behind, all of it stored in the basement of Cave Hill’s administrative office: flags (Canada, France, Italy); elephant figurines symbolizing the Rumble in the Jungle; notes in Arabic; a rocking chair with a child’s cardboard canvas depicting a boxing ring surrounded by hundreds of little hearts. “Never thought in my life I’d be this close to him,” Key says.

    All photos by Chris Witzke

    This originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

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