Arriving early this morning in Denver I stopped at a cafe to figure out what I wanted to do before my Airbnb was ready for check-in. Not everything I had down on my to do list was open yet, but I noticed the Denver Botanic Gardens was about to open for the day.
While taking the bus there I looked up the associated park behind the gardens, Cheesman Park. I’ll get to that part in a moment.
Unlike other botanical gardens I’ve visited, the Denver Botanic Gardens is enormous. The outdoor area is broken down into sections, focusing on plants from different climates and parts of the world. Each part of the garden looks different to reflect its theme, for example the section with native plants from Colorado looks like a rocky desert, whereas the Chinese/Korean section is decorated with a stone pathway and wood gates.
The Japanese part of the park was a little lacking on my visit as it was too cold for the bonsai trees so they’d all been moved indoors to a greenhouse inaccessible to guests.
The tropical greenhouses are accessible to guests though, and the largest of them is an egg-shaped building with a “treehouse” you can climb around in to view three levels of plants inside the building.
Statues are present throughout the park, some of which at least are part of a rotating exhibition.
All of this could have been a nice peaceful stroll through a collection of plants, but it was not to be. Multiple field trips were making their way through the park. One group of high school art students kept to themselves and their watercolors, but a much, much larger group of shrieking little kids kept running around, ignoring the staff who kept politely asking them to knock it off.
Around the back of the Botanic Gardens is Cheesman Park, named after a 19th century Denver businessman. The park is mostly lawn with paths for walking and jogging. The only major structure is the pavilion seen in the above photo.
It seems like a fairly uninteresting park — and it would be if not for its morbid history.
Previously the land that’s now Chessman Park was a cemetery shared by people of many religious and ethnic backgrounds. By the time the 19th century was wrapping up it had fallen into disuse, and since it was in a wealthy part of town there was pressure to clear the land for new uses.
They started by reaching out to families and churches to see if they could get the bodies moved. That worked to an extent but what to do with the rest of them? The city hired an undertaker to dig up and bury the bodies elsewhere. The undertaker didn’t have enough adult-sized coffins, so he simply chopped the bodies up and stuffed the remains into child-sized coffins.
When the city found out about this they cancelled the contract, leaving the rest of the dead bodies buried. The park was built on top.
Cheesman Park: come by for a jog, stay forever because you’ve been possessed by the souls of the dead.
My recommendation: The Botanic Gardens are worth a visit though drop by on a weekend to avoid large groups of children on field trips. There’s not much to see in Cheesman Park — unless you’re searching for ghosts.