Denver’s Cheesman Park is a popular spot for tourists and local families alike, and it is easy to see why. There are 80 acres of the beautiful lush green park nestled in an urban setting, bordered on 3 sides by private homes. The park was created in 1907, but before that, the land actually served as a burial ground – Mount Prospect Cemetery. Perhaps this explains why Cheesman Park is now one of Colorado’s most haunted places and home to one of the most haunted graveyards in the country!
The History of Cheesman Park
In 1858, General William Larimer arrived in what is now Denver and claimed the land from the Arapahoe Indians. In November, General Larimer designated around 320 acres of land to be used as Mount Prospect Cemetery. It was his intention that the most influential residents of Denver would be buried on the crest of the hill while criminals and the poor were to be buried at the edges. Ordinary middle-class people would be laid to rest in the space between.
One of the first people buried in Mount Prospect was convicted murderer John Stoefel and his victim – his own brother-in-law. As Hungarian immigrants, the men were buried with little ceremony. In fact, both corpses were dumped into the same grave. A growing number of criminals, murder victims, and the poor were buried in the cemetery, and it came to be known locally as the ‘Old Boneyard’ or ‘Boot Hill.’ This was far removed from what Larimer had intended. Embarrassed by this unseemly reputation, he renamed the burial ground City Cemetery in 1873. However, the new name did nothing to help the cemetery, which was quickly falling into disrepair. Tombstones had fallen over, and prairie dogs freely burrowed into the ground, and cattle grazed between the graves. Affluent families no longer wanted any part of the cemetery and took their dead elsewhere. City Cemetery was left to criminals, paupers, and transients.
In 1874, City Hall gave notice that anyone who cared should make arrangements to remove the remains of their loved ones and have them reburied elsewhere within 90 days! Some were indeed reburied, but over 5000 corpses were abandoned and unclaimed. In 1893 the City made arrangements with a local undertaker of ill repute to remove the corpses and rebury them in Riverside Cemetery. The deal was not well paid, and the work was sloppy. The caskets were only 3.5 feet by 1 foot, and anybody not decomposed enough to fit in the small boxes were broken up and forced in. One local woman apparently warned the workers to utter a prayer over each body unearthed or else the dead may return, but they laughed in her face and sent her away. There were rumors that some of the workmen even stooped so low as to loot the coffins, even stealing brass nameplates. Soon, stories of corruption surfaced. It was noticed that the number of actual reburials taking place and being charged to the city did not tally up with the number of boxes of remains actually being delivered to Riverside Cemetery. An investigation was launched, and the result was that the removal of the bodies was never completed. The holes were filled in, and the bodies are still there under the park’s surface, which was completed in 1907.
The Ghosts of Cheesman Park
With the knowledge that this picturesque family park is quite literally built on a graveyard, it is not surprising that this is one of the most haunted places in Colorado. Tales of paranormal activity here actually date all the way back to the time when the bodies were being ‘removed.’ One of the workmen, a man named Jim Astor, actually walked off the job after his brush with the paranormal. He had been stealing brass from the old coffins to sell for scrap when he suddenly felt an ice-cold pressure settling around his shoulders. He was convinced that one of the dead had come to chastise him for his thievery. He was so terrified that he threw down his pilfered brass and ran from the cemetery. He refused to return to work the next day!
Around the same time, the people who lived in residences surrounding the graveyard began to report strange occurrences. It is said that sad and confused looking figures would knock on their doors and windows. The spirits were apparently confused, having been disturbed by the desecration of their graves. Many reports of disembodied moaning and anguished crying came from the open graves in the cemetery during the exhumation work.
Today, the spirits have still not managed to find rest. There are frequent reports from visitors and the nearby residents of paranormal activity in Cheesman Park both in the daylight hours and after dark. Many visitors to the park have described feeling inexplicably sad or feeling unexplained dread, which seems totally out of place considering the park is meant to be a fun place for the whole family. Other visitors say that they have heard the sound of hundreds of whispering voices and moans echoing around the park, similar to what residents reported hearing at the time of the graves being exhumed.
One of the common sightings of a ghost in Cheesman Park involves the spirits of little children who are often seen playing in various areas of the park in the dead of night. However, they will disappear suddenly when people get too close. This also happens with a female spirit who frequents the park. Witnesses have seen her singing to herself as she wanders in the park, but she vanishes suddenly when people get close. There have also been various sightings of strange mists and shadowy figures among the trees, and sometimes the outlines of the old headstones can be seen in the moonlight.
One of the strangest phenomena that have been reported is that many visitors to the park experience an odd sensation if they lie down on the grass. They say that after lying down for a short time, they feel as though they are unable to stand up. It is almost as though some unseen force is holding them down.
The residents who live in the homes that border the park also say that they experienced strange occurrences in their homes ranging from shadow figures and poltergeist activity to the confused wandering spirits that were reported by the residents back in the 1890s when the bodies were exhumed.
A Spirit Named Slackjaw
There are so many tales of paranormal activity in Cheesman Park, and with some 2000 corpses still under the ground and thousands more graves having been desecrated, there are plenty of spirits hanging around. The majority of these are lost souls confused that their eternal rest has been disturbed, and as such, they tend to roam the park, not really interacting with the living. However, there is one particular spirit nicknamed Slackjaw, who is much more chatty than most! One eyewitness account of a meeting with Slackjaw describes the male entity as a pale, thin man with a broken jaw dressed in a blood-soaked, torn hospital gown. The witness believed this to be a living man when he approached, asking for a cigarette. He then proceeded to ask if the people have seen them and, lifting the hospital gown, showed serious stab wounds before indicating that he was looking for the men responsible. When the witnesses asked if he was supposed to be in the hospital, the man replied that they threw him out because he had no money to pay for treatment. The man then disappeared, and they realized they had, in fact, been conversing with a ghost! It is said that Slackjaw roams the park every night in search of his killers.