DENVER — On a late October afternoon, the sun dips low, casting long shadows in the popular green space for joggers and dog walkers in the middle of Denver's Capitol Hill. Yet some, if not most, don’t know what may be just feet underneath their feet at Cheesman Park.
“They’re completely unaware that they may be walking or sitting right upon the final resting place of one of the thousands of souls who is buried here,” Michael Shube of Denver Walking Tours explained.
Shube is talking about the long history of Cheesman, as he does most nights as part of a Capitol Hill ghost tour. It includes real history, and what some have reported to be the “consequences” of that history.
“The park used to be a cemetery,” Shube said.
Back in the early history of Denver, in the mid-1800’s, the land where Cheesman Park now sits was known as Mount Prospect Cemetery. The Denver Public Library has an extensive history of the cemetery on its website, including early photographs.
The cemetery opened in 1858, but by the 1890s the cemetery was barely used. An act of Congress gave the city of Denver the ability to change the cemetery to a park.
“In 1893, the task of moving 5,000 graves began under the management of undertaker E. P. McGovern. Due to mishandling of the project (including allegations of dismembering corpses so they could be placed in child-sized coffins), McGovern was famously dismissed before all of the graves could be relocated,” according to the library’s history of the park.
Basically, all of the headstones were removed but not all of the bodies were.
“To this day it is estimated that there are 2,000 bodies still buried in the earth here at Cheesman Park,” tour guide Shube said, citing local historians and research.
“When it rains, the density of the bones can cause them to rise to the surface,” Shube added.
Those are the facts of the popular park. Whether or not the area is actually haunted depends on who you talk to and what you believe. There have been reports of “cold spots” in the park that some link to spirits, sightings of a woman singing who vanishes, children playing who vanish, and even a changed view of the park.
“It’s said if you stand on the west steps of the pavilion on moonlit nights you won’t see Cheesman Park but the grave-filled cemetery of the 19th century,” Shube said.
And it’s not just the park itself. Many of the 19th century mansions located in Capitol Hill, some right on the edge of the park/cemetery, are reportedly haunted as well. That includes the Stoiber-Reed-Humphreys Mansion on 10th and Humbolt.
“It’s said a woman can be found on the dining room table holding her severed head in her hands and the head is weeping. The story goes that when it came time to move the bodies from Cheeseman Park, her head was taken one place while her body was left in Cheesman,” Shube said.
There now sits a 12-foot-high wall surrounding the mansion, once owned by a four-time widow, which is now a private residence.
“It certainly suggests the wall is there to keep people out or keep something in,” he added.
The history can be seen as dark; the fact that bodies are still underground is creepy to some. Whether you believe the sightings or the ghosts is up to you.