March 11, 2008

A brief history of Denver local Cheesman Park

Rumors abound about infamous Denver, Colorado’s Cheesman Park. Its history stretches back to 1858 when a General William Larimer jumped claim on the St. Charles Town Company and decided to found his own city, Denver. It was in November of that year that Larimer set 320 acres of that land aside to create a cemetery, the land now being the site of Cheesman and Congress Parks. Naming the cemetery Mount Prospect Cemetery, Larimer set aside several plots on the crest of the hill specifically for the wealthiest and most influential of Denver’s elite. The outer portion he kept for the criminals and beggars. Historians and folklorists dispute the first burial in the cemetery. Historians believe it to be a Mr. Abraham Kay, who died of a lung infection and was buried March 20, 1859. Folklorists tell a more sensational tale of the first burial being that of a man hanged for murder.
Two infamous murders later, one that of a man killing his brother, the other of a man well known figure in Denver history, Jack O’Neil, the U.S. government deemed that the property sat on federal land, having been signed over to the government by the Arapaho Indians in 1860. The government decided to offer the land to the City of Denver who purchased it for $200, the name being changed to Denver City Cemetery. After being used by different groups; Masons, Catholics, Jews, etc. the cemetery slowly rotted away. But in 1881 the cemetery became the home of a smallpox “hospital” and was used to rid the city of smallpox, most of the sufferers being left to die. Mass graves from this era still exist all over the Potter’s Field section of Cheesman. By the later 1880’s the cemetery had fallen into total despair and the city began to see it as a Bain on Denver’s landscape. Soon thereafter real estate developers lobbied to have the cemetery turned into a park. Senator Teller, of the Colorado Senate, finally convinced the U.S. Congress to allow it to be converted to a park on January 25, 1890. Renamed Congress Park by Teller the families of those buried there were given 90 days to remove the remains of those departed. A contract to remove the remains of the many criminals and beggars was set in motion when in 1893 the City of Denver contracted an E.P. McGovern to transfer the bodies to the Riverside Cemetery. McGovern was an unscrupulous man and used the contract to “milk” as much money as he could out of the City of Denver by using coffins to small for whole bodies and looting the gravesites. Mayor Rogers soon terminated the contract when McGovern’s tactics were discovered. But a new contract was never rewarded; although many of the graves were never reached and some were left completely exposed. Leveling the area began in 1894 and after filling many of the exposed holes with shrubs, the work was finally completed in 1907. Two years later a marble pavilion was built on the site in honor of Denver pioneer Walter Cheesman. And that area of the park became the now well known Cheesman Park. But the bodies of those left, due to Denver never signing another removal contract, still remain underneath the dirt of Cheesman. Many Denver residents believe Cheesman Park to be “haunted” because of the forgotten, robbed and desecrated bodies of those once buried there. To this day there are tales of paranormal activities occurring on the grounds and many visitors tell of a feeling of sadness and dread associated with much of the park grounds.