Cheesman Park

Did you know that the movie Poltergeist was based on the history of a real cemetery? Located in Denver, Colorado, Cheesman Park was apart of a city government scandal. Buildings weren't built on the cemetery by mistake. How about I start from the beginning.

In 1858, William Lamier set aside 320 acres of land for a new cemetery named Mount Prospect. Sites on the crest of the hill were set aside for the wealthy, paupers and criminals were buried on the far sides and the average people were buried somewhere in the middle.

John Stoefel murdered his brother-in-law and was sentenced to hang from a cottonwood tree. Stoefel and his brother-in-law were buried in the same grave. More and more murder victims and those killed from accidents were buried in the lower parts of Mount Prospect. Nicknames like "Old Boneyard" or "Boot Hill" were soon given to the cemetery.

In 1873, the graveyard was re-named the City Cemetery. The lack of interest and care made the cemetery become an eyesore. Cattle were allowed to graze among the graves, tombstones had fallen over, and prairie dogs had burrowed into the hills. Affluent families started burying their families at the new Riverside and Fairlawn Cemeteries. The City Cemetery was left for the criminals, paupers, transients and other unclaimed bodies.

Meanwhile, ownership of the cemetery passed on to John J. Walley and he did little to improve it. With new homes and buildings being built nearby, the city government had to do something about it. The U.S. Government discovered an Indian treaty which made the United States Government the legitimate owners of the cemetery. They sold it to the City of Denver for $200 in 1890.

While Walley owned the cemetery, it was divided into three sections. The Catholic and Jewish sections were well-maintained while the city's had deteriorated. The Jewish churches removed their dead and leased it to the City Water Department while the Catholics purchased their land and kept it well maintained.

That following summer, the City Government announced that all interested parties had 90 days to move the dead elsewhere. Most were reburied but 5,000 were left unclaimed. In 1893, preparations were made to remove them. An undertaker named E. F. McGovern was awarded the contract. Each body would be dug up and placed in a 3 1/2 feet long and 1 foot wide box. McGovern would be paid $1.90 for each box that was delivered to Riverside.

In March, McGovern's men went to work. At first, the work was orderly and soon but it didn't take long for it to get careless. The bodies that wouldn't fit in the boxes were broken up and shoveled out of the coffins. Reporters and curiosity seekers stopped and watched them work. One elderly woman told them to say a little prayer for every body they dug up or they would return. Of course, they just laughed at her.

People who lived nearby reported seeing spectral manifestations in their homes and confused spirits knocking on their doors and windows at night. Low moaning sounds could be heard over the field of open graves... a sound that can still sometimes be heard today.

Local newspapers ran front page stories about the atrocities being committed at the cemetery and the overall corruptions at City Hall. There were discrepancies between the number of reburials being charged to the city and the number of boxes being delivered to Riverside. Because it had become a full-blown scandal, the project was brought to a halt. There was an investigation and some graves were left unfilled. The rest of the bodies were forgotten and still remain under the park grounds and gardens.

In 1907, the City Cemetery was turned into what is now known Cheesman Park (named after prominent Denver citizen Walter S. Cheesman). Two years later, a marble pavilion was constructed in his honor. The Catholic Churches portion was turned into Denver's Botanical Gardens and the Jewish section is now Congress Park.

Confused ghosts still wander the grounds. Misty figures and strange shadows are still occasionally seen there. Possibly they will always remain there, searching for peace.

More Info:

*Taylor, Troy (2002). Rest in Peace? Colorado's haunted Cheesman Park. Retrieved on October 28, 2005 from the Prairie Ghosts website:


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