Earth Day Jaunt Through Two Haunted Parks of My Youth

My restless spirit never feels more at peace than when my jaunts take me outdoors. Maybe because growing up my family was only inside when we had to be. If we could get out and experience nature, we did. If we couldn’t get away for the weekend or a day trip as we often did, we’d inevitably jaunt to one of Denver’s abundant parks.

For Earth Day, I thought it’d be fun to reminisce about two haunted parks from my youth: Cheeseman Park and Washington Park. I didn’t know then that either was haunted, though I had my suspicions…

CHEESEMAN PARK

As a kid, this was one of my favorite places in the park to come to.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Denver, Colorado and attended a small private school called Cheeseman Academy. It sat on the edge of Cheeseman Park.

Of all Denver haunted parks, Cheeseman may be the best known. One of it’s claims to fame is being inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist.

There used to be a cemetery where part of the park now stands. In fact, if I understand the logistics right, the pavilion pictured above is on a section where the cemetery once was.

When the city decided to re-zone and move the cemetery, the bodies were relocated. Except, not all of them were treated properly. In 1893, an investigation into the unscrupulous practices of the man hired to move the bodies discovered he was chopping them up and putting them in child coffins to make more money. (He got paid on the amount of coffins he moved.) He was shut down (and I believe jailed). No one else was ever hired to pick up where he left off. The city simply didn’t move the other bodies.

The ones that remained were vagrants, paupers, and criminals. Their families and loved ones either could not afford to, or did not want to, claim them and pay for their transfer. It’s long been thought their restless spirits still roam the park –and the neighboring areas, such as the mansions (much like the one Cheeseman Academy was once housed in), apartments, and even the Denver Botanical Gardens (which backs up to the part of the park where the pavilion is located).

WASHINGTON PARK

One of the flower gardens in Wash Park

Another of Denver’s haunted parks that I frequented in my youth was Washington Park, or Wash Park as it’s more commonly known. Wash Park will always hold a special place in my heart. We didn’t go there as much in the cold months, but during summer? We enjoyed evening concert picnics, took flashlights after the sun had set to hunt for night crawlers (worms we’d use on our fishing trips), and during my dad’s metal detector phase days, we’d hunt for treasure.

One of my fondest memories is from when I was 10 years old, mere days before my 11th birthday. I desperately wanted a 10-speed bike (I know, I’m dating myself). Unfortunately, this was after my parent’s divorce. Neither of them had money to buy me one.

My dad took me to Huck Finn Days, though. The American Legion sponsored it every year. It was a fishing contest for kids. They’d stock the creek that runs through Washington Park with trout, then let the kids fish. But you had to use an old-fashioned pole, meaning one you made from a stick, string, and a hook. Parents could help with that, but not with the fishing part. And you were only allowed to catch so many fish. When you caught your quota, you were done.

The first fish I caught that day would end up winning me the grand prize –a red ten-speed bike. It almost also nearly pulled me in the creek. But I was a feisty little booger. It pulled hard, but after I got my bearings (I vaguely remember with some assistance from a nearby adult who grabbed the back of my shorts before I fell in face first), I pulled back harder and landed that sucker. Much to the jealousy of all the boys around me. They all knew a winning fish when they saw one. I was definitely getting a prize that day, but we had to wait all day to see if it was the bike. Luckily, it was.

Me with my 1st place winning catch.

Do ghosts roam Wash Park? There are two “lakes” (for lack of a better word) in the park: Smith Lake and Grasmere Lake. There’s also the Lilly Pond.

I always felt the boathouse on Smith Lake must be haunted. In winter, when it got cold enough to freeze the lake, that’s where you could rent skates. It always had an eerie feeling to it. Actually, even to this day I feel uneasy when I walk by it.

The boathouse on Smith Lake in Washington Park.

However, in an article about the Haunts of Washington Park, I learned the island in Wash Park’s Grasmere Lake is said to be haunted by “the ghost of of a misbehaving young woman.”

I’ll have to dig deeper to find out if a young woman ever really did die there or who she might be. (There’s a book about the area called Haunts of Washington Park: Vol. 2 of the History of South Denver that might tell me more about it.)

WASHINGTON PARK’S CONNECTION TO TITANIC

You know how most everything is connected by six degrees of separation? I guess because it’s Titanic’s 100 year anniversary, I keep coming across connections to the disaster. Like the marble statue of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod in Washington Park.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod Statue in Wash Park.

I don’t remember it from my youth. Not surprising. It’s not something I would’ve paid any mind to then. I did on our last visit, though. It enchanted me.

In double-checking some of my facts for this post, I learned it was created by a woman from Colorado, Mabel Landrum Torrey. At one point the marble statue had been in the Children’s Fountain in the park. Later it was moved near the home of the man who wrote over 500 children’s poems, including “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” Eugene Field, also a Denver resident.

According to the Denver History Tours Blog:

When his modest home was threatened with demolition along West Colfax, Molly Brown had it preserved by moving it to the park.

Yep, as in Denver’s famous Unsinkable Molly Brown who survived the Titanic disaster.

IF I COULD HAUNT SOMEPLACE…

I do believe if my spirit was restless and prone to wandering instead of crossing over to wherever we go after death, I’d hope to haunt a park. Not just on Earth Day, but like I do now. Whenever I can get out and appreciate the awesome wonder of nature’s beauty.

What about you? Do you find peace in nature too? If so, what are some of your favorite places to jaunt? Are any of them haunted parks?