Walking [with the] dead: Denver’s historic cemeteries

I’m going to go ahead and say it...I like cemeteries. It’s strange.

As a child, one of my “playgrounds” was a churchyard in Stockholm where old graves dotted a square that, from afar, resembled a park. During recess, my friends and I made up stories about the people lying underneath the stones.

As a teen, I lived for a period of time across from a cemetery in a small town in Belgium and watched from my window as the rain fell on above-ground monuments to those loved and lost. The chrysanthemums were bright, colorful spots in an otherwise dreary place.

Though the connection to death is obvious and literally written on every stone, with memories like the ones above, I never felt that cemeteries were morbid, creepy places. Cemeteries seemed simply like places of transition or, for an imaginative mind like my own, places where stories lived, even if their participants no longer did.

As Grace and I continue to explore the history of Denver and the people who played critical roles in the evolution of our city, I thought it’d be interesting to find their final resting places specifically because there are two primary historic cemeteries in Denver - Fairmount and Riverside - that make for #easyweekendadventures.

I visited Fairmount early on a sunny Sunday morning. Founded in 1890, the cemetery is a park-like experience and for good reason. Reinhard Schuetze, who designed several of Denver’s well known parks - City Park, Congress Park and Washington Park - designed the cemetery. It’s beautiful. There are diverse trees and a collection of roses that botanic gardens would envy.

Beyond a place to put loved ones to rest, Fairmount is a place to ride your bike, take a tour, watch a movie or attend a classic car show. I spent an hour or so walking the grounds looking for the graves of some of the famous women Grace and I talk about on our Women’s History Tour including Emily Griffith and Justina Ford Allen, M.D.. With the beauty of its expansive and lush grounds, I can see why people chose to be buried there, why loved ones continue to attend to their graves and why people like me visit. It’s a place that makes what could be heavy seem light, what could seem like the end actually become a place of new beginnings and growth. So basically, what I’m saying is...you should go visit.

My visit to Riverside Cemetery happened on a gray and wet summer Saturday. After a morning coffee and croissant at The Rolling Pin Bakeshop, I drove up and into a very different cemetery. In 2001, the cemetery lost water rights and, in 2017, the grounds are dry, stark and desolate. After parking, I began to walk around initially thinking the combination of the moody natural color palette, emptiness (I was the only person there) and industrial noise from the surrounding neighborhood and passing trains made for a pretty unique experience. Let’s just say it didn’t last. While exploring the mausoleums down near the South Platte River, my imagination and some random noises sent me quite literally running up the hill and back into the center of the cemetery. I recovered quickly, but as you’ll see from the photos, Denver’s oldest cemetery is a place that should certainly be visited...with a buddy! #creativemindsmakeupstories

Check out our gallery page for more images of Fairmount and Riverside!