There are thousands of bodies beneath this popular Denver park from its days as a city cemetery.

DENVER – With charming tree-lined streets, manicured bungalows and lavish brick mansions, and eclectic local shops, it’s no surprise that Cheesman Park is one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in Denver.

Cheesman Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Denver – a small, densely populated area bounded by Colfax Avenue to the north, York Street to the east, 8th Avenue to the south, and Downing Street to the west.

Not only was the neighborhood named one of the hottest neighborhoods in Denver for 2016 by real estate site Redfin, but it is also considered very bike-friendly and was named the third best neighborhood in Denver in a May 2015 report by Walk Score.

Much of the neighborhood is taken up by 80.7-acre Cheesman Park itself, named after Denver businessman Walter Scott Cheesman.

On weekends and warm evenings, the shady paths are crowded with joggers, strollers and cyclists, while picnic blankets, volleyball nets and yoga mats lie on the spacious lawns. The park is also an unofficial LGBTQ hangout as it hosts some of the city’s biggest advocacy events: it’s the starting point for the annual Pride Parade and home of the AIDS Walk Colorado.

But the park wasn’t always that lively.

This story is part of our weekly # 9Neighborhoods series, which showcases what makes different Colorado cities and neighborhoods unique. Visit us on Instagram on Friday afternoons for a photo tour of Cheesman Park.

Buried the bodies under Cheesman Park

In 1859, Mount Prospect Cemetery opened on 160 acres in the brand new city of Denver.

Cemeteries then resembled today’s parks; People went for walks there or had weekend picnics. The land selected for the cemetery was therefore one of the most sought-after open spaces in the region. It was founded on the highest point in the area with a wide view of the surrounding land.

Mount Prospect was busy for years, but as new cemeteries were built closer to town it became a less practical burial site. In the 1880s it was run down and the city wanted to turn it into a park.

Due to a provision with the sale of land, Congress had to approve the transition, which they carried out on January 25, 1890.

Now they had to move the more than 5,000 bodies that were buried there.

The city initially offered the families of those buried there a free piece of land in another cemetery. After a few years, only about 700 bodies had been moved.

To move the rest, the city hired an undertaker named EP McGovern.

McGovern’s contract was for $ 1.90 a coffin, so he came up with a sinister plot to make more money.

McGovern is known for cutting up bodies and then dividing body parts into different coffins.

Soon body parts and discarded coffin pieces were scattered around the park. The city knew they had to do something.

McGovern was pulled from the job after removing approximately 1,000 of the remaining bodies.

Instead of hiring someone else to do the job properly, the city simply pulled out the remaining headstones.

It is estimated that around 3,000 bodies are still buried under Cheesman Park.

Development of the cemetery

Slowly the graves were mostly forgotten and the construction of a park began.

Cheesman Park’s modern layout includes only part of the land that was part of the original cemetery.

Just south of Mount Prospect, while the cemetery was active, a “pest house” or hospital for people with extremely contagious and incurable diseases like smallpox was heavily used. Thousands of people were taken there and died.

The pest home area is now a street lined with pristine homes.

The Denver Botanic Gardens is also on land that was once part of the Catholic portion of the cemetery. The Hebrew burial site and the Chinese cemetery were converted into parts of what is now the Congress Park. The rest was built over and is now residential.

Bones are still being found regularly at Cheesman Park and the Denver Botanic Gardens during construction projects. The last one was in 2010 during the irrigation work in the park when workers discovered four skeletons near the park pavilion.

The spook

It is widely recognized as one of the most haunted places in the state due to the region’s spooky past.

Ghostly encounters are reported in the park and in several surrounding houses. In fact, the horror film The Changeling was inspired by the paranormal activity the writer experienced while living in a mansion in Cheesman Park.

There are several ghost tours that tell the stories about the haunted places in the area.

Magpie Paranormal offers two-hour walking tours that specifically focus on the haunted history of Cheesman Park on the weekends leading up to Halloween. More information: https://bit.ly/2yPO774.

The Denver Botanic Gardens also has a Ghosts in the Gardens tour that takes visitors around the grounds and into some of the buildings known to be haunted. Find dates and buy tickets: https://bit.ly/2yBS4gQ.

There are several other companies across the city that offer ghost tours, which include Cheesman Park and the surrounding areas, such as Denver Free Walking Tours, the Denver Architecture Foundation, and others.

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