The Haunted History of Cheesman Park

So, I thought I’d tell you about a city park with a dark history lurking, around beneath the surface. I’m talking about Cheesman Park.

The park is a 81 acre oasis sitting right in the middle of Denver. It’s basically one massive botanical garden. Every inch of this property is meticulously maintained. There are ponds and streams, bridges and gardens and right smack in the middle of it all is a massive white marble pavillion. It’s a fairy tale backdrop for the wedding of your dreams, or your worst nightmare, depending on who you ask. Cheesman Park might have actually coined the phrase “You never know what lies just beneath your feet.

In 1907 the city gave notice, If you have family or loved ones in Mount Prospect Cemetery, you have 90 days to dig em up and move em out! Yep. You heard me right. So by late 1907 several thousand bodies had been exhumed. Mount Prospect was a sprawling burial ground that was founded in 1859, and it served as the resting place for many of Denver’s founding fathers.

Originally, it was intended for the wealthy to be interred on a high crest near the center of the cemetery. Those that were unclaimed, murdered, executed, undesirable or just flat out didn’t have the cash to buried in a more proper manner, were all laid to rest around the edges of the property, leaving the middle income families to purchase the ground in between for family plots. Well, by the late 1880s, Mount Prospect Hill was looking rough. It was unkept and many of the headstones that had endured, were damaged or kicked over by cattle that had been allowed to graze there in hopes of pruning back overgrowth. Considering what an eyesore it had become, City officials decided to turn the cemetery into a public space, which would later be named; Cheesman Park.

So as you’ve probably already guessed, not all of the bodies were removed. Once family members claimed the remains of their loved ones, the city hired a shady undertaker to deal with the remaining bodies. Graves were exhumed and the bones found within them were crammed into boxes that were a lot smaller than coffins. Some bodies that were dug up were still decomposing. If the workers couldn’t get them in to the boxes, they didn’t get paid. So they’d chop those corpses up and then shovel the pieces into the boxes. Well all of this madness was going on while the Mayor was out of town. When he returns home and sees what’s happening, he comes unbolted and orders everything come to a stop, right then.

So for months, gaping graves lined the landscape, box upon box of human remains sat stacked neatly just beyond piles of smashed coffins all while an investigation was pending. The upheaval at the cemetery was positively grisly. The Denver Republican described the scene in an article from March 19, 1893:

“The line of desecrated graves at the southern boundary of the cemetery sickened and horrified everybody … 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.”

Long story short, the exhumations stopped, thousands of bodies remained buried on the grounds and the construction of Cheesman Park began.

So skeletons have been turning up here ever since, and as recently as in 2010. And it’s not just the physical remnants that leave park visitors a spooked. Since opening day, Cheesman Park has been plagued by reports of unexplained activity.

Actually reports of crazy encounters started while bodies were being exhumed back in 1893. Gravediggers were complaining about being touched, pushed and punched while they were trying to work. When they would turn around to see who it was harassing them, they found that no one was there. The folks that lived in houses facing the cemetery started making reports too. There were statements made that strange shadowy looking people were coming to their homes and knocking at their doors. When the home owners would open their doors they’d see the desperate faces of these roused spirits just before they would vanish right before their eyes.

Cheesman Park’s spooky reputation has even inspired movies like Poltergeist and The Changeling. The writer of The Changeling once lived at a house on the northern edge of the park. In the movie version of the story, the haunted home is called “Cheesman House.”

Visitors today report feeling a deep and daunting sense of unease. Many have reported hearing the sound of whispering or chattering as they wander across seemingly empty fields. Others have seen or heard groups of giggling children. and there is also one apparition who sings quietly to herself before vanishing. While taking a walk through the park at night, visitors are horrified to look upon what appears to be the rise and fall of phantom tombstones. Others say they feel pinned to the ground, as if being restrained.

One horrifying story tells of two friends walking through the park one night in 2005. They came across an agitated man in a hospital gown, who asked to bum a cigarette. As he came closer, the two friends noticed his jaw was broken. He asked, “Did you see them? The ones who did this to me, they stabbed me 15 times.” The eerie man showed them his bleeding wounds, then disappeared into the night.

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