However, most those buried in the cemetery
were vagrants, criminals, and paupers. When the majority of bodies
remained unclaimed, the City of
awarded a contract to undertaker E.P. McGovern to remove the remains in
1893. McGovern was to provide a "fresh” box for each body and
transfer it to the Riverside Cemetery at a cost of $1.90 each. The
gruesome work began on March 14, 1893, before an audience of
curiosity-seekers and reporters. 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 3 ˝ feet long. 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 and in the
disorganized mess, "souvenir” hunters began to loot the open graves and
When the Denver Republican got hold of the story, its headline
proclaimed on March 19, 1893: "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 undersized
boxes. The article, in part, described the scene thusly:
"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."
Commissioner immediately began an investigation into the matter and as
a result, Mayor Rogers terminated the contract. Afterwards, the
city built a temporary wooden fence around the cemetery, leaving it in
shambles with open holes still displayed. Though numerous graves had
not yet been reached and others sat exposed, a new contract for moving
the bodies was never awarded.
In 1894, grading and
leveling began in preparation for the park, though several of the open
graves wouldn’t be filled in until 1902, when shrubs were planted in
many of them. The park was finally completed in 1907, without
ever having moved the rest of the bodies. Two years later, in
1909, Gladys Cheesman-Evans, and her mother, Mrs. Walter S. Cheesman,
donated a marble pavilion in memory of
pioneer, Walter Cheesman. The donation was conditional that part of
the park’s be designated as
Cheesman Park and so it was. The pavilion continues to stand
In 1923, the bodies
from the Hebrew Burial ground were removed to other sites and the
cemetery returned to the city, where the site currently serves
as the site of the reservoir in Congress Park.
The section once used
as the Chinese cemetery was used as the city tree and shrub nursery
until 1930 when a WPA project converted it to an addition for Congress
In 1950, the Catholic
Church moved the remains of those interred in the Mount Cavalry
Cemetery and sold the land back to the city, which is now the location
Denver's Botanical Gardens.
The vast majority of
Cheesman Park was mostly the Protestant portion of the old
cemetery. A residential community separates Cheesman from
Today, an estimated
2,000 bodies remain buried in
It comes as no surprise that the spirits
of these forgotten, looted, and sometimes desecrated bodies continue
to make their presence known, not only at
Cheesman Park, but in neighborhood that surrounds it.
Almost immediately, when the bodies began to be removed from the cemetery
in 1893, strange things began to happen. One of the first reports
was when a grave digger named Jim Astor felt a ghost land upon his
shoulders. Astor, who had been looting the graves as he moved the
bodies, immediately ran from the graveyard and failed to return to work
the next day.
Those living in residences surrounding the graveyard began to report sad
and confused looking spirits knocking at their doors and windows, as well
as the sounds of moans coming from the still yet open graves.
Today, these restless
spirits are still said to occupy the park as dozens of tales continue to
be told of paranormal activities taking place. Most visitors tell of
feelings of unexplainable sadness or dread in a place, that is today,
meant for pleasure and relaxation. But other reports are more
specific, often including the sounds of hundreds of whispering voices and
moans that continue to come from the fields where the open graves once
Children have been seen
playing in the park during the night before they mysteriously disappear
and a woman is said to be seen singing to herself, before she too,
On some moonlit nights,
the outlines of the old graves can still allegedly be seen. Others
have also claimed that after lying on the grass, they have found it
difficult to get up, as if unseen forces are restraining them.
Yet more reports tell of
strange shadows and misty figures that seem to wander through through the
park in confusion.
Park is located at Franklin and 8th Streets and is open from dawn
until 11:00 p.m.
©Kathy Weiser - Legends of America - October, 2005
Slackjaw of Cheesman Park
By Lee Cook
I live and work only blocks from the infamous
Park in Denver,
and I've heard stories of its haunted nature but never thought much of it.
One night my friend
Rubin and I decided to take a walk through the park. We walked across
the south lawn to the pavilion where there were several skateboarders
making jumps on the sides of the old fountain and other people walking
about. We talked about work and other mundane things as we strolled
away from the old pavilion to the rose gardens, where there is a
natural maze of huge rose bushes.
Just then I heard a
rattling chain behind us and said, "Rubin, can you hear that?"
As I looked around, he replied that he hadn’t heard anything.
"There, I heard it
again!” I exclaimed as I heard the chain jingling.
Still, he didn't hear
it and we could see no one. Continuing our stroll, we moved toward the
middle of the big field where it was more open and sat down in the
cool grass to smoke a cigarette.
Moments later we were
surprised when we saw a kid riding a bicycle with a chain dangling
from his pocket. Turning circles around a thin pale man, dressed
in what appeared to be a shredded hospital gown covered with blood,
the pair moved toward us. To say the least, we were petrified!
As they grew closer,
I could see that the pale man’s jaw was broken. He then
approached us and asked for a smoke. As I handed him a
cigarette, he said, "Did you see them?"
Dumbfounded, I simply
"The ones who did
this to me. They stabbed me fifteen times," the man said.
He then lifted his
sleeves to show us what looked like very deep stab wounds in his arms,
back, and chest.
Horrified, I said,
"Shouldn't you be in the hospital?”
Shaking his head, he answered, "They let
me go because I didn’t have any money.”
He then warned us to
watch out for "them" and stated several times: "I’m going to get
When I reassured him that
if we saw "them” we would let him know, the pair casually moved away from
us into the darkness.
When we could see them no
longer, Rubin and I quickly ran toward my apartment as fast as we could,
never looking back. Afterwards, we talked about what we saw for a long
time, both confident that we had seen and talked to "the walking dead!”
So, if you ever go out to
Park at night, know that you just might be questioned by a ghost in a
hospital gown who continues to look for his killers. I have dubbed
the ghost "Slackjaw.”
Submitted by Lee Cook,
Lee worked at King Soopers, a supermarket near
Park and lived in an apartment right across the street from the park.
He is also a musician and recording artist trying to make a living in
this field part time. Lee is also fascinated with ghosts.