Checking Out: ‘The Scenic History of Denver Cemeteries’ by Phil Goodstein

By Wendy Thomas

Notable historian of Denver’s seamy and sordid is back, this time digging into where the bodies are buried. In Volume 1 of a three-volume series, Dr. Phil Goodstein takes a look at The Scenic History of Denver Cemeteries: From Cheesman Park to Riverside.” Join him on a stroll through these historic cemeteries to see how they reflect Denver’s cultural and political history.

Denver’s first cemetery, Mount Prospect, was designed to be a romantic park cemetery, a place for families to visit their dearly departed while enjoying picnics and afternoons away from the city. The plan and the reality soon diverged when maintenance was neglected, families dumped their loved ones’ remains without purchasing plots and those prospecting for gold (as in jewelry, teeth, etc.) as well as thrifty medical students found the resources abundant at Mount Prospect. With the further decline of the cemetery, it eventually became Cheesman Park, where an estimated 2,000 bodies still remain. 

The volume is also filled with stories of the cemeteries’ residents. One of the more memorable is that of a saloon operator whose mausoleum served many purposes – except the one for which it was intended. Upon his death, it was discovered that he was a bigamist and his vengeful and scorned wives refused to raise the funds needed to inter him in the mausoleum. Instead, Denver Police were known to use the structure as a holding cell where the inebriated could sleep it off, the Denver coroner occasionally used it to hold bodies found in the Platte while they awaited autopsies and at various times it was a base of operations for both a bootlegger and a lady of the evening. Not exactly the dignified eternal rest he imagined.

A little closer to home, Joseph Granville Brown made a name for himself working for the Rocky Mountain News, managing the newspaper collection for Denver Public Library and overseeing the relocation of the Eugene Field house to Washington Park. Despite his contributions, Brown fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and supporters of the rebellion erected a headstone and a Confederate flag celebrating his service, shedding light on his politics and adding an element of notoriety to his legacy.

With irreverence and humor, the author explores both the heartwrenching and sordid with equal aplomb. Photographs of memorable monuments pepper the narrative, and discerning readers will find a nod to our neighborhood library’s namesake in the volume. 

Check out a copy of “The Scenic History of Denver Cemeteries: From Cheesman Park to Riverside at a Denver Public Library branch near you and join us at the Smiley Branch Library on Saturday, Jan. 13, from 2-3:30 p.m. as Dr. Goodstein tells tales from the graves of Denver’s famous and infamous. Copies of his books will be available for purchase at the event and can be signed by the author.

Wendy Thomas is a librarian at the Smiley Branch Library. When not reading or recommending books, you can find her hiking with her dogs.

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