News>Feature - Bored on Buckley: Dead remain beneath Cheesman Park
DENVER, Colo. – The Gravestone of Walter Scott Cheesman located in Fairmount Cemetery Oct. 2, 2012. In 1909 Mount Prospect Cemetery was renamed to Cheesman Park in honor of Cheesman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Phillip Houk)
DENVER, Colo. – The sun illuminates Cheesman Park which is located at the former site of Mount Prospect Cemetery, Oct. 2, 2012. In 1872 the city of Denver began renovating the cemetery, moving the deceased to various cemeteries in the local area. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Phillip Houk)
DENVER, Colo. – The sun begins to set over the pavilion in Cheesman Park Oct. 11, 2012. The park is a scenic getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city, but 2,000 bodies still remain buried from when Cheesman Park was Mount Prospect Cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marcy Glass)
DENVER, Colo.– An uneasy feeling accompanies the dark in Cheesman Park Oct. 12, 2012. The rose maze is a beautiful place to get lost during the day, but tread carefully at night; any place you stand could be a forgotten grave. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marcy Glass)
DENVER Colo. – A lone jogger makes his way through Cheesman Park Oct. 11, 2012. The park offers the chance for many activities including ghost hunting. The park was built on top of the Mount Prospect Cemetery where more than 2,000 remains were left when the park's construction began in 1894. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marcy Glass)
by By Senior Airman Marcy Glass
460th Space Wing Public Affairs
10/15/2012 - DENVER, Colo. - -- Nestled between Colfax and 6th Avenues lays a beautiful 80.7 acre grassy knoll known as Cheesman Park. Adjacent to the Denver Botanic Gardens and Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park is home to green hills, rose gardens, the Cheesman Pavilion and 2,000 or more buried bodies.
During the 19th century, Cheesman Park was known as Mount Prospect Cemetery founded in 1858 by Gen. William Larimer, who also established the city of Denver named after the territorial Gov. James W. Denver. Larimer set aside 320 acres for the cemetery, which later became known as City Cemetery.
The basic layout of the cemetery had the city's wealthy resting in peace on the hills crest. Down the hill lay the middle class with the criminals and paupers lining the outer edge of the cemetery.
After succumbing to a lung infection, Abraham Kay was the first person buried in City Cemetery. Strange tales are told and written about those who lie under the park's green grass.
One such tale speaks of John Stoefel. After arriving in Denver to settle a dispute with his brother-in-law, Stoefel shot his kin April 7, 1859. Rumors spread that Stoefel shot his brother-in-law over his gold dust. A "people's court" assembled and Stoefel, convicted of the murder, was hanged from a cottonwood tree at the intersection of 10th and Cherry Creek Streets. More than 1,000 spectators were present for the hanging. Stoefel and his brother-in-law were buried in the same grave at the edge of the cemetery.
As time passed, areas of the cemetery were designated for different religions, ethnicities and organizations. Twenty acres were sold to the Hebrew Society that maintained their land while the rest of the cemetery became overrun by nature and vagrants.
As the town grew, diseases spread. With no clean water or sanitation, typhoid and small pox swept through the population. A hospital was established south of the Jewish cemetery, where the sick were placed and often left to die. People perished quickly and mass graves were dug to accommodate the large number of bodies.
In 1870, the U.S. Land Office declared the cemetery location was federal property, and in 1872 the land office sold the property to the City of Denver for $200. The U.S. Congress authorized the city to vacate the cemetery and renamed it "Congress Park." The City of Denver awarded undertaker E.P. McGovern a contract to remove the remains, provide a "fresh" box and transfer each body to the Riverside Cemetery at the cost of $1.90 per coffin.
Cutting corners to make a profit, McGovern and his crew reportedly dismembered remains and sometimes put two or three bodies into child-sized coffins. The entire move became a disaster of body parts. Grave robbers and souvenir hunters took advantage and looted the open graves. An excerpt of a Denver Republican article that broke the story March 19, 1893, reads, "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."
In 1894, work began on the new park and many graves were left open while thousands were never moved. In 1902, the open graves were turned into planters for shrubs. In 1907, the park was completed without another body removed for more than 100 years. In November 2008, construction began on a new parking structure for the Botanic Gardens. Parts of coffins and human remains were discovered and work immediately stopped. All the bones and remains were cataloged and buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colo.
The park's name was changed from Congress Park to Cheesman Park after one of Denver's esteemed residents, Walter Scott Cheesman. His wife and daughter donated the marble pavilion in memory of Cheesman, and the City of Denver agreed to rename a large part of land Cheesman Park.
Over the years, residential areas grew around the park and stories of the paranormal developed from people visiting and living around the park. Some people claim a feeling of dread or sadness takes over while walking through the park. Others claim to see children playing at twilight before they vanish. Moans and whispering voices are reportedly heard coming from the once-open graves, and some claim the outline of old headstones can be seen on moonlit nights. Strange shadows, misty figures and a feeling of being restrained when lying in the grass are other claims of park goers.
If you are ever feeling adventurous, Cheesman Park is a place to go. With Halloween around the corner, spooks and thrills are highly sought. With a haunting and dark past, Cheesman Park can provide relaxation during the day and maybe a paranormal experience at night. Whatever your pleasure may be, Cheesman Park is free and open from 5:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Information about Cheesman Park was retrieved from www.legendsofamerica.com/co-cheesmanpark2.html and http://cheesmanpark.net/