Saturday, June 25, 2016

Roadboy Vists The Denver Botanical Gardens

Home of Colorful Blooms, Buzzing Bees and Lots of Dead Bodies
And (Until October 2) Thirteen Wonderful Sculptures from the Walker Art Center

This week I had few free hours to spend in Denver before my scheduled flight back to Phoenix. Confident in knowing that United Airlines would try to extract a ridiculous fee for me to stand-by for an earlier flight I opted instead to spend an afternoon at the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) in Cheesman Park. 

What a treasure.

The 24 acre garden is divided into various themed sections representing geographic and climatic zones.  The gardens of the west include gardens inspired by native Americans along with various low (and no) water gardens.

 From the Garden's of The West

The International gardens include Asian inspired gardens, tropical gardens and a South African Plaza.

 A Tsukubai (Water Basin) in The Japanese Gardens

There are ornamental gardens that feature an orangery, lilacs, herbs, water, fragrances, roses, romance and scripture.


Junge Frau (Young Woman) 1926
Georg Kolbe (1877-1947)
(Located in the sacred earth section, my favorite of the Walker sculptures)

 The Boy and a Frog 1898
Elsie Ward Hering 
(In the herb garden this piece is part of the garden's permanent collection)

 The Romantic Gardens

There are shady gardens featuring oaks, pollinators and low light woodlands.

 A Busy Bumble 
(It was Pollinator's Week!)

 Hare on Bell 1983
Barry Flanagan (1941-2009)

There are also two water gardens.

 Clouds Reflected in The Monet Pool

 Summer Blooms Everywhere

Strangely, when I visited the DBG website it offers zero "History of the Gardens".  I found that sort of odd. So I looked up the history of the park in which it resides (Cheesman Park). What I found is a perfect old west tale; gruesome, full of illegality and wrapped in money.

It turns out Cheesman Park was built on top of a very large graveyard. To be specific, it was the Mt. Prospect (or Prospect Hill) Cemetery opened in 1858 (the same year Denver became a city) by William Larimer.

The cemetery's first graves were destined for murdered gambler Jack O'Neal and his murderer John Stoefel. The cemetery filled quickly with the victims of typhoid and other diseases expected in an overcrowded boom town.

After about fourteen years the US Government realized the cemetery was actually located on federal land. The Feds then offered the land to Denver "as is" for $200.

So, in 1873, Mt. Prospect cemetery became the Denver City Cemetery. The City let it fall into neglect and it became an eyesore. However, the neighborhood surrounding it had become highly desired. So local developers and realtors determined if they could get the City to pick up the tab to convert the cemetery into a park they could make an even bigger killing developing the land that adjoined it.

So, in 1890, when the City announced it would build a park on the site it informed the unfortunate families with loved ones buried there, that they had ninety days to move them.  Most families did nothing. So ninety days turned into three years and by 1893 there were still about 5,000 graves left.

Denver then offered a contract to an undertaker to relocate the remaining bodies. The terms of the contract required that bodies be exhumed, placed in a new coffin and be reburied elsewhere. He would receive $1.90 per coffin. The undertaker then maximized profits by using cheaper child sized coffins. And since he was being paid by the coffin, not the body, he exhumed bodies, hacked them up, and put 1/3 of each body into three separate coffins. Newspapers soon reported the macabre larceny and Denver halted grave relocations.  Nothing else happened until in 1894 the City just started to build the new park over whatever/whomever was still left there. 

So, to this day, new DBG projects and construction in the park still "finds" more pioneer remains.

Roadboy's Travel © 2016

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