Denver, Colorado, has a lot of nice parks. There are many small green areas hiding in various parts of the city, but there are also several large areas that easily stand out as you drive around. One of the larger and older parks near the centre of the town is Cheeseman Park. It covers 16 city blocks, about a mile and half east of downtown.
The main feature of the park is the wide-open central lawn. It's surrounded by a band of trees and has three structures. On the west is a small children's playground, on the north is a rustic gazebo and on the east, the highest point in the park, is a large neo-classical pavilion. The rest of the park is grass. In warm weather the slope down away from the pavilion is covered with sunbathers.
Mount Prospect Graveyard
The land now occupied by Cheeseman Park was given to the city of Denver in 1858 by an act of the US Congress for use as a cemetery. It came to be called Mt Prospect Graveyard. It was set up with each group in the city, such as the Odd Fellows, the Masons, etc, being placed in a different part of the cemetery. Furthermore, in 1873 Mt Prospect became the City Cemetery, which meant that criminals, transients, epidemic victims, and the poor were buried there.
The city itself began to expand up to and beyond Mt Prospect with neighbourhoods being developed around the graveyard. Also, with other cemeteries being established in the area around Denver, the graveyard was not maintained and had become an eyesore to its neighbors. In 1890 a second Act of Congress permitted the conversion of the cemetery into a park. The surviving families of the dead were responsible for the removal of the interred remains, but the bodies of the poor were left to the city to move. In 1893, it was decided that the project had to be completed in 90 days, and the job was given to a local undertaker, EP McGovern. He began work on 14 March, 1893.
'The Work of Ghouls'
On 19 March, 1893, a local newspaper, the Denver Republican, printed the headline 'The Work of Ghouls'. It reported that the workers moving the bodies to the new cemetery had been opening the graves and placing the bones into new boxes. They had not necessarily been paying attention to the fact that one body might be placed into two or three different boxes1. Also, the old coffins, shrouds and grave cloths were being cast aside.
The newspaper also checked out the land that the city had obtained for the re-interment. It was a plot of land located next to the Platte River. It was bottomland that the river frequently flooded.
The mayor stopped all work and a fence was built around the graveyard. The plot continued declining until 1902, when the holes in the ground were filled in and landscaping was carried out to complete the park. The bodies that had not been removed were left in place. Bones and other artifacts continue to be discovered2.
Another controversy sprung up about naming the park. Walter Cheeseman was a local land speculator, railroad man and businessman. He owned the Denver Union Water Company, which had a monopoly on the city's water. It was felt by many citizens of the day that the company's rates were too high for the poor quality of service. It was also fighting with the local government about minimizing its taxes; the reported value of its property on the tax roles was frequently a lot less that what it was showing in its own statements. Needless to say, the people of Denver did not hold Cheeseman in high esteem.
At the time of Cheeseman's death in 1907, Mayor Speer was working on his 'City Beautiful' campaign, and was willing to sell the right to name the park for $100,000: the price of a neo-classical pavilion. Cheeseman's wife was willing to pay that much to improve the memory of her husband - the park now had a name and a pavilion.
After that, no more controversy found its way to the park. Today, it's a great place to enjoy a laid back afternoon, the Sun and the company of your friends.