Cheesman Park is one of the Mile High City’s most traditionally haunted locales, and whether you believe the grossly exaggerated urban legends or not, the truth is, what’s hidden beneath this Denver park is truly haunting and utterly disturbing. Just below the lush grasses and vibrant gardens of the park are the remains of an estimated 2,000 unclaimed corpses, desecrated bodies, and restless spirits who reportedly emerge from unmarked graves and make their presence known to unsuspecting visitors and nearby residents in their anxious search for a final resting place. On moonlit nights, mournful moans are heard, eerie cold spots are felt, and shadowy figures are seen hovering ever so lightly above the earth, only to vanish into thin air when approached. Should you find yourself at Cheesman Park after dark, keep your eyes peeled for ghastly ghostly figures and your ears perked for mysterious whispers.
In 1858, William Larimer set aside 320 acres of ground to serve as a cemetery for Denver's elite and named it Mount Prospect. However, the cemetery soon gained a seedy reputation as a dumping ground for the city's most unsavory characters, including murderers, transients, paupers, and unclaimed victims of typhus and small pox from the local pesthouse. In 1873, the graveyard was renamed the City Cemetery but continued to live up to its renown as an unkempt eyesore in an otherwise burgeoning metropolis.
Cattle reportedly grazed atop graves, prairie dogs burrowed beneath bodies, tombstones had fallen over, and the cemetery grounds were in a desperate state of disrepair. The city eventually gained possession of the land in 1890, and families were instructed to relocate their loved ones to other locations within 90 days. Since most of the bodies belonged to vagrants and criminals, the majority of them remained unclaimed, and the City of Denver contracted undertaker E.P. McGovern to remove and transfer the deceased in 1893. And that's when the real horrors began.
McGovern was a shady undertaker who was out to gain the largest profit possible from the contract, and he thus decided to use child-sized coffins that were a mere 3 ½ feet in length to rebury and transport the bodies, rather than using the proper full-size caskets for adults. Consequently, McGovern decided to hack up the bodies of the unfortunate souls and stuff them into the undersized boxes, but the workers soon became careless and hasty, and bones and body parts were strewn about the grounds in a despicable manner.
On March 19, 1893, the Denver Republican gave a description of the scene in gory detail, under the headline: The Work of Ghouls! The following is a excerpt from that terrifying report: "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." EGADS!
As if that wasn't enough, workmen and other souvenir hunters and grave robbers pillaged the open grave sites and coffins, taking whatever they could get their greedy hands on, with absolutely no sign of respect or reverence for the dead. Not surprisingly, an investigation into the matter was soon underway, the contract was terminated, and the park was reportedly completed in 1907, without ever having moved the rest of the remains offsite.
Today, Cheesman Park is a popular spot for all sorts of leisurely and recreational activities, but it's also a place where an estimated 2,000 corpses lie dismembered and in shambles beneath the seemingly peaceful grounds. Next time you're tossing the frisbee, enjoying in a picnic, or marveling at the vibrant gardens, remember to whisper a little prayer for the unsettled spirits buried just below the grass and snow.
If you're strolling through Cheesman Park after dark, be aware of tales told of misty figures and shadowy entities, feelings of unexplained sadness and dread, and ghostly moans emanating from confused corpses wandering the grounds in search of rest and restitution.