As cities grow, many things may have to undergo changes to keep up with the demands of the metropolis. A place that was once a park may become a new setting for buildings. What was once the cemetery outside of town may need to be moved as the city becomes too large. In the old west, these stories are a dime a dozen. Sometimes they build libraries over the site, giving the librarians their fair share of ghostly activity. They might build a school on the site, even if all of the bodies haven’t been properly exhumed. But what happens when a cemetery becomes a sprawling park, with nearly 2000 graves beneath the grass and trees? What happens when those bodies that were exhumed have a tragic side to their reinterment? 

That’s the story we’re exploring today, with the beautiful Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado– said to be one of the most haunted places in the entire state. Don’t let the beautiful foliage fool you when bodies lay six feet underneath the park benches. 

The 81 acre park began life as the Prospect Cemetery, originally at the edge of the growing city in the Rocky Mountains. Prospect Cemetery was established in 1842, the location being desirable for the sprawling cemetery. In those days, Cemeteries were similarly used to the way we enjoy parks today– It was perfect for afternoon picnics in the sun and recreation. In the 1880s, the city decided there was a better way to use the space than a giant cemetery to house the dead of the mile high city. The neighborhood that grew up around the cemetery was one of the oldest established in Denver, and today is still a desirable part of the city to live in, so the goal was to keep that prestige with a new use for the land. Thus began the process of digging up the graves and relocating them to another cemetery. 

Prospect Cemetery, 1880s

Congress approved the appropriation of the land in 1890, ordering the over 5000 graves to be disinterred and moved to a new location. However, they seem to have hired the wrong man for the job.  They hired E.P. McGovern to carry out the exhumations and place the bodies into new coffins to be reburied elsewhere. McGovern was given a price per coffin, making 1.90 per coffin- The equivalent of around $65 today. 

In order to make more money off of the exhumations, McGovern dismembered many of the bodies and buried them in child-size coffins to increase the price they could ask for the job. Government officials caught word of the fraud and deception and took him off of the project after only about 1000 bodies had been exhumed. Rather than going through the ordeal of finding a new undertaker to undertake the task, the city removed the headstones and went on with the plans of making the cemetery into a beautiful city park. 

With an estimated 3000 bodies still buried beneath the grass. 

While the park only encompasses part of the original cemetery boundaries, the rest of the neighborhood holds the same secrets. The catholic part of the cemetery was where the Denver Botanical Gardens sit today, with other sections being underneath Congress Park and the rows of stylish houses in the neighborhood. It’s estimated that most of the bodies that were not exhumed sit below this section of the city, and it certainly has created a huge amount of paranormal activity in the area. 

Many Denverites have experienced a huge sense of melancholy when walking in the park. Residents of the walkable neighborhood say they experience ghostly knocks on their doors from lonely spirits not at rest in their final resting place. The hauntings in this region are so numerous, even movies have been made about the haunting experiences from those living in Cheesman Park. One was even adapted into the 1980 film, The Changeling. 

Residents of the neighborhood have reported hearing ghostly screams in the night coming from the lush and green park, cries of anguish they attribute to the mutilated bodies reburied by McGovern. Others say the spirits seem confused and lost, asking for help before disappearing when their would be helpers turned their back. Other residents have claimed to feel a heavy force when laying in the grass, making it difficult to get back up again. Still others say that the outlines of graves can still be seen on moonlit nights walking through the park. 

Children have been seen playing in the park after hours, only to be gone when security attempts to locate them. Ghosty singing even echoes through the neighborhood as a lost soul sings quietly to herself before disappearing with a scream. More sensitive visitors have said the park sounds like a cacophony of whispers and shouts in the darkness. 

If any place in the Mile High City were to be haunted, Cheesman Park is certainly the top contender. If you want ghosts, building over a cemetery is certainly the best way to achieve that goal. Today, the park is a bustling neighborhood with residents that are happy for the most part, but also a little bit frightened. Living on top of the graves of souls from 150 years ago seems to be desirable, as the neighborhood was named one of the best neighborhoods in Denver to live in, due to it’s very walkable configuration. 

Though it’s not always just residents walking around, especially at night. 

If you find yourself in Denver and wanting to explore the haunted neighborhood, be sure to check out some of the ghost tours offered in the area, especially the haunted gardens event at the Denver Botanical Gardens.

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