One of my inspirations in writing the Wisdom Court books is an ongoing fascination with hauntings. I’ve long loved spooky stories about strange sounds and cold mists, about encounters with spirits who do not rest. I’ve scared myself silly with ghost movies, and I’ve been forced to look under the bed before I can go to sleep.
I live in Denver, a city with many haunted sites, one of the most notorious being Cheesman Park, not far from my home. It’s a beautiful expanse of grass and trees, and at the top of a rise there’s a pavilion overlooking Capitol Hill and the Rocky Mountains. By the appearance of the park, and the wide array of people who enjoy it, you’d never know it was once the site of Mount Prospect Cemetery. Moreover, you’d never dream there are bodies under the grass, and, according to some, that their spirits walk. On a cloudy evening it’s not hard to discern lower spots in the grass where bones may still lie. Several were discovered during repairs made to the sprinkler system a few years ago. Some of the homes near the park are reportedly haunted by the spirits whose graves were disturbed. Here are excerpts from the story from Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheesman_Park,_Denver
“[Prospect] cemetery opened in 1858 and the first burial occurred the following year. In 1872, the U.S. Government determined that the property upon which the cemetery sat was actually federal land, having been deeded to the government in 1860 by a treaty with the Arapaho. The government then offered the land to the City of Denver who purchased it for $200. Although today it is still mostly remembered as Mt. Prospect Cemetery, in 1873 the cemetery’s name was changed to the Denver City Cemetery.
The Cheesman Pavilion, dedicated 1908
Panorama of the Cheesman Park Pavilion at dusk.
As time went on different areas of the cemetery were designated for different religions, ethnic groups and fraternal organizations such as Odd Fellows, Society of Masons, Roman Catholics, Jewish, the Grand Army of the Republic, and a segregated section at the south end for the Chinese. Some sections were well maintained by family descendants or their organizations, but others were terribly neglected. In 1875, 20 acres (81,000 m2) at the northeast part of the cemetery (slightly east of where the botanic gardens are now located) were sold to the Hebrew Burial Society, who then maintained it, while much of the rest of the graveyard fell further into disrepair. By the late 1880s the cemetery was rarely used and in great disrepair, becoming an eyesore in what had become one of the most exclusive parts of the quickly growing city. Real estate developers soon began to lobby for a park to be in its place, rather than an unused cemetery. Before long, Colorado Senator Henry Moore Teller persuaded the U.S. Congress to allow the old graveyard to be converted to a park. On January 25, 1890, Congress authorized the city to vacate Mt. Prospect Cemetery and in recognition, Teller renamed the area Congress Park.
Families were given 90 days to remove the bodies of their loved ones to other locations. Those who could afford this began to transfer bodies to other cemeteries throughout the city and elsewhere. Due to the large number of graves in the Roman Catholic section off to the east, Mayor Joseph E. Bates sold the 40-acre (160,000 m2) area to the archdiocese, which was then named Mount Calvary Cemetery. The Chinese section of the graveyard was given over to the large population of Chinese who lived in the “Hop Alley” district of Denver. Most of these bodies were then removed and shipped to their homeland of China.
Several years went by while the city waited for citizens to remove the remains of their families, but few did. Most of the people buried in the cemetery were vagrants, criminals, and paupers, which probably had a lot do to with why the majority of bodies, more than 5,000, remained unclaimed. In 1893 The City of Denver then awarded a contract to undertaker E.P. McGovern to remove the remains. McGovern was to provide a “fresh” coffin for each body and then transfer it to the Riverside Cemetery at a cost of $1.90 each. The macabre work began on March 14, 1893, while an assorted audience of curiosity-seekers and reporters came and went. For the first few days, the transfer was orderly. However, the unscrupulous McGovern soon found a way to make an even larger profit on the contract. Rather than utilizing full-size coffins for adults, he used child-sized caskets that were just one foot by 3½ feet long. One source claims this was done at least partially because of a coffin shortage caused by a mining accident in Utah. Hacking the bodies up, McGovern sometimes used as many as three caskets for just one body. In their haste, body parts and bones were literally strewn everywhere in a disorganized mess. Their haste also allowed souvenir hunters and onlookers to help themselves to items from the caskets.
The Denver Republican newspaper ran a story breaking the news, its March 19, 1893 headline read: “The Work of Ghouls!” The article described, in detail, McGovern’s practice of hacking up what were sometimes intact remains of the dead and stuffing them into children’s-size coffins. The article partly described the scene:
“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.”
Mayor Rogers canceled the contract and the city Health Commissioner began an investigation. Although numerous graves had not yet been reached and others sat exposed, a new contract for moving the bodies was never awarded.”
It’s no wonder people still talk of ghosts walking through the park. Sometimes you can see in the grass the barest outlines of sunken areas where graves once were.
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