The Haunting of Cheesman Park
Cheesman Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Denver, Colorado. The largest part of the town is Cheesman Park itself. It’s a beautiful place to go and soak up the sun, bicycle, go for a walk, or have a picnic. Legend has it that it’s also haunted. But it wasn’t always a park. It used to be a cemetery. It was converted into a park in the 80s. There’s just one small problem…some of the bodies are still there.
Cemeteries used to be like parks. Families would picnic on their loved ones’ graves. This dated back to Victorian times. In 1859 the Mount Prospect Cemetery was opened in Colorado. During the Gold Rush years, the cemetery quickly filled up with prospectors, criminals, the poor, and victims of disease. People started calling it the “Old Boneyard” or “Boot Hill”. No “respectable” resident wanted to be buried there. Years later, because of competition from new cemeteries in the area, Mount Prospect started getting run down. It was built on such a beautiful piece of property that the town decided to convert it into a park.
In 1890 Congress approved turning the cemetery into a park. The transition did not go smoothly. The families of the five thousand people buried there were offered free plots at a different cemetery. It took several years, and only seven hundred bodies were moved. In 1893 Denver hired undertaker E.P. McGovern to move the rest. At the time he made one dollar and ninety cents per coffin. McGovern wanted more.
McGovern started dismembering some of the bodies and putting the parts in child-sized coffins. He wasn’t exactly careful, and body parts and broken pieces of coffins were found in the cemetery. After his scheme was discovered, he was pulled from the job. He had only removed one thousand bodies. The city didn’t bother hiring a new undertaker. They just moved the headstones and built the park. (If you’ve seen Poltergeist you know this is never a good idea).
The cemetery had sections for different religions. The Denver Botanical Gardens was built over the Catholic section, Congress Park was built over the Chinese and Hebrew sections. Part of the land had a section with a “pest house”. It was for people left to die of diseases like smallpox. Behind that was “Potter’s Hill” -where the poor were buried in mass graves. There are houses built on it now, several of which are said to be haunted.
For years people have reported seeing ghosts on the former Mt. Prospect grounds.. The homeowners reported seeing sad and confused ghosts looking through their windows or knowing on their doors. The 1980 movie The Changeling was inspired by a real life story from one of the homes built on the cemetery grounds.
Many reports over the years have come from park visitors. People have reported moans coming from the grounds and seeing ghostly tombstones after dark. Ghostly figures walk around. Moaning and whispering voices have been heard coming from graves that have been dug up, and the area around them. Children have been seen playing that have just disappeared. People claim that they can’t get up after lying on the ground, like someone is holding them down. Some people have claimed that they’ve heard a woman singing.
Around two thousand bodies are estimated to still be buried there. Bones have been found by gardeners and digging for building projects. In 2008 workers were excavating for a parking lot at the Denver Botanical Gardens and uncovered two rows of coffins. In 2010, workers found four skeletons while digging for an irrigation system. Sometimes after a heavy rain bones can come up from the ground.
Cheesman Park and its surrounding area sound like a ghost hunter’s dream. Several companies offer ghost tours, and historical walking tours touch on it too. If I ever get to Denver I am absolutely making Cheesman Park part of my visit. And for any developers looking to build on an old cemetery…MAKE SURE YOU REMOVE THE BODIES!!!!