They Only Moved the Headstones! They Didn’t Move the Bodies!
I am originally from Denver, and when I lived there, I often heard stories about ghosts haunting the homes in the Cheesman/Congress Park area. As time went on, I met more and more people with scary stories from that those neighborhoods, some of them so incredible that they were hard to believe.
Eventually, I also began to hear rumors that Cheesman Park was formerly a graveyard and that the bodies were not all removed. I thought this certainly had to be an urban legend. I doubted the rumor mainly because it was so similar to the plot in the popular Steven Spielberg movie, Poltergeist (see clip below).
Poltergeist will forever be etched in my memory. I saw it when I was about the same age as the little boy in the movie, and it was one of the most exhilarating and frightening movie experience I have ever experienced. So many Spielberg movies have played a significant role in my life.
The horrifying legend was true.
To my amazement, after further research, I found that the rumors were true! The entire Cheesman Park, Congress Park, and Botanic Gardens area were a massive graveyard. Furthermore, many of the bodies weren’t moved!
Graveyards have never been that scary to me. A couple of years ago we spent the night in what was supposed to be the most haunted graveyard in Colorado, in Silver Cliffe. Some argue that a cemetery doesn’t seem like a place that a spirit would want to hang out. It would make more sense that they would haunt a person or place of significance to them while they are alive. Although my graveyard investigations have yet to provide any positive results, others claim to have had success in their graveyards ghost hunts.
If graveyards are places of high ghostly activity – assuming ghost exist – it makes sense that the site of a relocated cemetery, especially if the bodies were left, would still be an area of high activity. Such was the case in the Poltergeist movie. All hell broke loose for those poor people.
Cheesman Park’s History
The Cheesman Park area was one of Denver’s first cemeteries. It was huge and meant to be the primary cemetery for the city. It had spaces for all religious denominations, including the large Chinese population in Denver, of former railroad workers. However, the busiest parts of the graveyard turned out to be those used for the poor and criminals.
Eventually, due to poor upkeep and land disputes, the land was seized by the federal government, and then sold to the city for $200. The city then decided to turn it into a park. First, of course, they had to move the bodies. So they told the families with relatives buried there to relocate them. Of course, most people could not afford to do that, and there were numerous unclaimed bodies. To resolve this, the city contracted a 3rd party to relocate the bodies.
The contractor turned out to be highly unethical. Each body was supposed to have its own casket, but the bodies were being hacked up and stuffed into small boxes. They used small containers to make more money, as they were charging the city per box. The local paper caught onto the scam and published an article on how the contractor was mishandling the transportation of the bodies, and the city canceled the contract.
Although the city canceled the contract, development had to continue, so they just bulldozed the area, covering up what was left and began to build a park. They left the remaining bodies were they lay.
Now there are parks, a reservoir, a neighborhood and the Botanic Gardens in the area that once was the cemetery. Some estimate that there are still a couple of thousand bodies in the ground and their spirits appear to be restless.
Stories of hauntings started soon after the city moved the bodies, and the ghost stories persist to this day. Perhaps you even know someone who lived in the area with his or her own ghost story. The longer you live in Denver, the more you will hear.
So be careful hanging out in the park at night. If you see some weird people in ripped up clothing, don’t assume they are filming a Michael Jackson video. I hope none of the lovely families in the area suffer the same fate as the family in Poltergeist!
This story originally appeared in the now defunct Denver Examiner in 2009.
For more read: Legends of America website – Full Cheesman Park history