Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cheesman Park

On monday during the blackout I took Pachuca over to Cheesman Park, which is about 4 blocks from where I live and is also the name of my neighborhood. They are currently doing a lot of construction at the park, adding new walkways and sprinkler systems. As I was walking around I was looking into the trenches imagining that I would find some human bones. Why would I be thinking about something so morbid, you ask? Because Cheesman Park used to be Mt Prospect Cemetery.

Mt Prospect Cemetery

In 1858 Denver set aside 320 acres of land to use as a cemetery for its wealthiest citizens. However as time went on, a large portion turned into a paupers field. It also got a bad reputation for all the outlaws and vagrants that were also buried there. Because of this, the wealthiest people chose to be buried elsewhere and Mt Prospect fell into the hands of a wanna-be undertaker who did an awful job of maintaining it and it fell into disrepair.

In 1872 the city took back the cemetery, renaming it the Denver City Cemetery. They designated certain areas for various religious and ethnic groups. Some groups did a great job at maintaining their plots, but others were severely neglected. By the 1880s it was barely used except to bury the victims of small pox from a nearby hospital in mass graves near the potters field. In an area of Denver that was one of the most prestigious, the cemetery was a major eyesore. In 1890 Congress made the decision that the cemetery be vacated and turned into a park.

Most sections owned by churchs and groups were removed properly, but the majority of the cemetery were paupers,criminals and small pox victims and nobody wanted to claim them. So heres where the scandal starts. Denver hired a contracter named E.P. McGovern to remove the rest of the bodies. He was required to provide a fresh box for each body and would receive a $1.90 per casket. As a way to earn extra money, McGovern used child sized caskets, sometimes using up to 3 caskets per body. Obviously not concerned with respecting the dead, the graves were looted and body parts strewn about. The Denver Republican did a story on the mess describing the scene "The line of desecrated graves at the southern boundary of the cemetery sickened and horrified everybody by the appearance they presented. Around their edges were piled broken coffins, rent and tattered shrouds and fragments of clothing that had been torn from the dead bodies...All were trampled into the ground by the footsteps of the gravediggers like rejected junk." Finally McGoverns contract was terminated.

Even though there were many open graves left behind, and lots more still buried, work on the park was started in 1894. The graves were left open though, until 1902 when shrubs were planted in them and a large Pavillion was built. The park was then named Cheesman Park.

Opening Day 1910

Other sections were still being used as burial plots during this time. In 1923 the Hebrew section was removed to make way for Congress Park. In 1950 the Catholic Church exhumed its graves so that the land could be turned into the Denver Botanic Gardens, which is directly next to Cheesman Park. The rest of the original cemetery land was used for a residential community. It is estimated that around 2000 bodies remain buried there. (Remind you of Poltergeist???).

The last of the graves in 1950.

Needless to say that with such a gruesome history the area of land that was once Mt Prospect Cemetery has had its share of ghost stories. The legend is that you can still see the outline of graves when the grass is changing color. There are supposed hot and cold spots, apparitions, and moans. One of the most prevalent stories is that every now and then human bones will be discovered. Urban legend? Nope.

In 2008 during the construction of a parking garage for the Denver Botanic Gardens human bones were found. Apparently, they didnt just discover a few bones, but actually two rows of coffins.

Last night as I was watching the news they did a story about bones found in Cheesman Park that day. The funny thing is that where the bones were found was in the same spot I was walking Pachuca, looking into the trenches they had dug for the new sprinkler system. The whole park is under construction so its not like its just in one area. (Here is the link to the video. I couldnt get it to embed.) I just thought is was rather coincidental.

When I moved to Denver one of the first things I did was research its haunted history. I love scandals and ghost stories and was so excited to find out that I lived just a couple blocks away from the old cemetery. I do not live on any of the old graves though. My neighborhood is older, built around the turn of the century. I live in part of that 'prestigious neighborhood' that saw Mt Prospect/Denver City Cemetery as an eyesore. One thing I love about Denver is its history and the story of Cheesman Park is one of the most enduring. Hopefully the people that are still buried there have found peace. Though if you believe in all the ghost stories circulating around its obvious that they have not.

The Pavillion today, surrounded by gardens and fountains.


  1. What an interesting and fascinating read! I had no idea! I love history.

    I have found two blogs that I often visit one is called Ephemeral New York and it talks about all the hidden and forgotten history of the city:

    Another is about the history of my hometown Richmond, Virginia.

    Both sites are fascinating! I love the old pictures and stories.

    Again, Temperamental, this post was awesome! And how wild is the fact that you and your dog were near some old bodies long forgotten!

  2. Thanks!I love history too, especially the seedier stuff. And thanks for the tip on those other blogs. They are really interesting!!

  3. Wow I love hearing about things like this!
    So interesting girl.

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