Cheesman Park has been a fancy-pants part of Denver for years…at least since it stopped being Mt. Prospect Hill Cemetery, when the parcels of land available here were understandably much smaller, and far less sought-after. By early in the twentieth century, though, the cemetery had mostly been moved, and Cheesman Park had been named for water baron Walter Scott Cheesman, for whom the park’s gorgeous central pavilion was built. As the memory of the cemetery faded, the park created a new boom in manor homes, classic architecture and no small amount of panache. President Barack Obama even used Cheesman Park as the backdrop for his 2014 speech in Denver.
Still, despite the considerable draws of Cheesman Park, there are several things here that can raise the finely coiffed hackles of residents. Perhaps the most common complaint is that people think it’s spelled “CheesEman,” but there are more serious complaints, too, many of them focused solidly on the park that is the jewel in this sometimes bougie Denver neighborhood.
7. People Who Call the Area Bougie
According to the always dependable Urban Dictionary (and by “dependable,” we mean “entertaining and occasionally NSFW”), “bougie” means “anything perceived to be ‘upscale’ from a blue-collar point of view.” Not exactly high praise (especially if you’re a Bernie Sanders supporter), but a fair assessment of the area on both a historic level and a contemporary one. Ever since the living replaced the dead in Cheesman Park, it’s been one of Denver’s favorite places for people movin’ on up to the east side — of downtown, that is. The folks who toil tirelessly on behalf of the park and the houses and apartment buildings around it are passionate folks, and rightly so. Does that passion sometimes resemble extremism? Yes. Does that extremism sometimes recall elitism? It might, to some, even if everyone’s heart is in the right place. Ipso facto: bougie.
It’s an issue all over Cap Hill, for sure (as one of our readers noted in a comment on our Capitol Hill neighborhood gripe list). We're including it here because a) Cheesman Park is technically in Cap Hill, and b) the last few cases of these little terrors have come from friends with apartments in Cheesman. That’s not to suggest that Cheesman Park and its borders are in some way more susceptible than the rest of Cap Hill, of course, but as one of our aforementioned friends afflicted by the curse of bedbugs said, “You just don’t expect it in a place like Cheesman.” But that’s just part of the bedbug fun — that, along with losing most of your stuff and gaining a deep suspicion of upholstery.
5. Misuse of the Park
There are lots of stories of the many ways that Cheesman Park has been poorly used over the years, especially back when downtown Denver was a little less sought-after than it was initially and has become again. We’re talking about seriously shady stuff, from drugs (both usage and dealing), sex (both recreational and for hire) and general lawlessness. These days, the park is working hard to live down the reputation that it had earned for a while, and has been largely successful. It’s now a draw for joggers, dog walkers and picnickers, day and night. But only because the neighborhood keeps a close eye on the place, also day and night.
4. Or Even Use of the Park
In the summer of 2015, Cheesman Park was deliberately not included on the list of public parks available for private, fee-based activities like events, sports camps, exercise classes, etc. The then-president of the Friends and Neighbors of Cheesman Park neighborhood organization called that sort of use “extremely distasteful and disrespectful,” and “a slap in the face.” We’re going to give the prez the benefit of the doubt and chalk up this (seriously melodramatic) protest to not wanting to monetize the activity of all parks, which is of course the use of the place for stuff like gathering, sports and exercise.
Issues surrounding driving have always been something of a pain in Cheesman Park, what with the interruptions to through streets, the same parking woes that plague all of Cap Hill, and reduced speed limits that sometimes get willfully ignored…but Cheesman Park has done something about it. For years now, there have been regular “Auto-Free” Sundays scheduled every May through September, so the evils that are motorized vehicles have to spare the park and its visitors for at least that one day. Presumably, this will allow more use of the park in a more nineteenth-century sort of way — and by that, we don’t mean a place to bury Uncle Pete.
2. Dogs Running Amok
To be fair, pretty much no neighborhood likes dogs running amok…but Cheesman Park has a specific history with this that Westword covered way back in 2003. At the time, dogs were sometimes allowed to run off-leash in the park by their owners, and there was contention about whether or not to create a specific place where residents could legally let their dogs loose. Some claimed that it just made sense, given how the park was already being used. Others feared “maulings” and said that such a plan would “create a stigma.” The latter group seems to have won the argument, as dogs are still officially required to be leashed in Cheesman. (No word on whether this has cut back on the maulings.)
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1. Ghosts…Ghosts Everywhere
There’s a reason that spooky movies The Changeling and Poltergeist both owe a debt to the story of Cheesman Park — because it’s a pretty messed-up story. In a headline on March 19, 1883, the Denver Republican proclaimed it “The Work of Ghouls!” And ghoulish it was: When the city decided to reclaim the land of Mt. Prospect Hill Cemetery, they gave families only ninety days to move the remains of their loved ones, and the bodies left behind were supposed to be moved by gravedigger teams to Riverside Cemetery. As the story goes (and as attested to by the occasional remains unearthed both in Cheesman Park and the attached Denver Botanic Gardens, which also sits on the former cemetery grounds), an unscrupulous undertaker made some extra scratch by dismembering remains and putting the parts of several adult bodies in small coffins meant for children — and then charging full price, one body by one body. When even that became too much trouble, he moved the headstones and left the remains behind. (You can imagine Craig T. Nelson shaking him by the collar in the rain surrounded by pop-up corpses, because this is the detail that Spielberg totally stole from Cheesman Park.) Because of this gruesome reputation, the park and most of the manor homes and old apartment buildings in the blocks around it have been known to host resident spirits of the non-alcoholic kind. The dead walk in Cheesman, and have for over a century now — and as long as the park remains one of Denver’s most beautiful, they’ll always have a home.