Denver: The Grisly History of Poltergeist Park

Sunday, June 30, 2019. Denver, Colorado.

The Denver trip was not supposed to be the monomythical underworld descent. You ever see that Dark Tourist show on Netflix? Don’t, it’s terrible, but recounting these experiences got me feeling like that guy, if he had chest hair.

We sat on the hostel bed reading digital books and occasionally groaning about how full of exotic meat and alcohol we were.

“This cannot stand,” I said. The elk and alligator were making me too powerful, too rambunctious. The quail were imbuing me with an overwhelming desire to take flight. “I gotta get out of this room. You want to go to the haunted park?”

“What haunted park?” Ladygirl asked without looking up from her ebook about collating shoes or Ronald Reagan or whatever.

“Cheesman Park,” I said. “It’s the plot of Poltergeist, only they turned it into a public park instead of a sick mansion.”

“I’ve never seen Poltergeist.”

“Of COURSE you’ve never seen Poltergeist!” I roared, hurling a chair out the window in a shower of broken glass and pre-broken curtains.

“How far is it?” Ladygirl asked.

“About two miles.”

“Get fucked,” she said.

Okay, she didn’t. She just thought it. But she did, more tactfully, make it known that she was not interested in walking two hours to a haunted park. She was full of steak and wanted to do something called “relaxing”.

She talks about it sometimes. It always sounded fake to me. It’s when you stop moving for like 15+ minutes at a time, but you’re supposedly not bored?

My bones were starting to itch. I said I’d be back someday and darted out into the twilight.

The walk was pleasant enough because Denver is absolutely colossal. In the West they have city planners, which tends to make them pleasant places to live, as opposed to the East’s tendency to make every metropolitan area an homage to Escape from New York. Denver’s full of green spaces, clean air, and dogs.

Cheesman Park could pass for a golf course if it weren’t for all the trees. The square footage is phenomenal. The story is even better.

It used to be Prospect Hill Cemetery, a federal acquisition that just kept growing larger as the city grew larger and more people died, as they are wont to do. According to the Wikipedia,

“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. “

Senator Henry Moore Teller decided this land would be better put to use as a park, and wheedled Congress into letting them move all the bodies. He then named it “Congress Park”. Kiss-ass.

Families were given 90 days to pull all the bodies out and move them elsewhere, and those with the money did. The cemetery was in central Denver, and most of the dead were “vagrants, criminals, and paupers”, so no one came to play musical chairs with their earthly remains.

In 1893, the city of Denver, in its infrastructural dedication, contracted an undertaker named E.P. McGovern to move the remains of the bodies, providing each a “fresh coffin” for a total of about $1.90 each.

For the first couple days, our boy E.P. delivered as advertised. Then, he realized he could be making out better on this deal, and started jamming the remains into 3.5 ft child’s coffins.

Technically within contractual bounds!

A wooden fence was thrown around the perimeter of the park as E.P. began the gruesome work of chopping up the remains and jamming them into discount children’s coffins. It sometimes took as many as three coffins for one body, which sounds to me like a net loss of profit unless the little coffins were 60 cents a piece.

The fence kept a sum total of zero onlookers from looking on. Soon, the whole cemetery (by now a body mill looking like that scene from Fargo) is overrun with reporters, curiosity seekers, and all-purpose ghouls.

The place is littered with corpse detritus. Bones and chunks are all over the ground. E.P.’s in the middle of it all, hackin’ and whackin’ and thwackin’.

Mayor Rogers brought the hammer down on that contract, kicking E.P. to the curb, and they started cleaning up. They filled in all the holes over the next ten years, but they never issued a new contract. The rest of the bodies are still under the park.

Beautiful land, though. I couldn’t even get spooky vibes from it, it’s too clean and neat and full of athletic college students playing with their dogs.

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The haunted park #cheesmanpark #park #ghosts #denver

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I did a couple laps, but there was no paranormal activity. The spirits must be resting in peace. Unsurprising. I’d be all right with being buried in a spot like that.

I trekked back to Aloft, having burned off all those volatile whiskey calories, and managed to lay down and read a little without vibrating out of my skin.


The Bastard

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