The Thirsty Ground: Visiting The Historic Riverside Cemetery – Part Two

I’m sorry this took so long to post, but here is part two of my visit to the historic Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. In part one, Teddy’s Ominous Warning, I explained that Riverside Cemetery is Denver’s oldest operating cemetery. The cemetery lost its “handshake agreement” with the city for water rights, and because of this the cemetery no longer has water and many of the trees and plants are dying…

Dying trees in Riverside Cemetery Denver, Colorado to illustrate this cemetery blog story.

It was easy to forget about Teddy’s warning because I became so engrossed in the beauty of the cemetery. This cemetery was nothing like I’d seen before. On one hand it was much like a wasteland with dead trees, and no more than a few tufts of grass, yet on the other it was like walking through a museum, with the history of Denver spread out as far as one was willing to walk. I knew that four hours was not enough time to take in all the wonder of this place. But I was going to try.

Cemetery blog picture of the Baker horse monument in Riverside Cemetery.I passed beautiful statuary, monuments, crypts, and tributes. I found large family plots with ornate carved statues marking the final resting place of generation upon generation of Denver settlers. I saw faded headstones that were no longer discernable, monuments whose meanings were unclear, and tributes to soldiers who fought bravely in the Civil War.

One thing that especially caught my eye was the Baker monument. I could see it from the moment I entered the cemetery, and slowly worked my way towards it, taking in the beauty around me, but rarely taking my eyes off of the magnificent white horse.

The horse was standing atop a pedestal, guarding a sheaf of wheat, his tail seemingly blowing in the wind, drawing me in. Years of wear and hot dry weather have taken its toll on the beautiful stallion, but he was magnificent nonetheless.

Picture of Mr. Addison Baker who was the caretaker of Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.It turns out that this is the final resting place of Addison Baker. Mr. Baker was a prominent farmer and the owner of Denver’s first fresh water supply, Baker’s Springs. Legend states that he used to deliver all of the water to this cemetery in barrels atop a wagon pulled by his beloved arabian stallion “Ali”. I wonder what Mr. Baker would think of the cemetery if he could see it now.

I went from tree to tree trying to find what little shade I could so as not to burn in the heat. Luckily, every once in awhile, a soft breeze would pass through. It saddened me to see the condition of what were once large lush trees overlooking a long gone green landscape. I couldn’t help but think back to what I read about the trees in the cemetery, and how they were dying and falling down onto the headstones. Almost immediately I remembered Teddy’s warning. Could I hear the groaning and creaking of the trees when the wind hit them just right? Nah…

Picture different kinds of headstones to illustrate this story in the cemetery blog.But as I approached the back of the cemetery I heard a noise behind me in the woods, a rustling that was coming towards me. Instantly the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I became acutely aware of my surroundings. I was almost completely isolated, hidden from the rest of the cemetery by a hill full of three crypts and behind me was a wall of trees marking the edge of the cemetery…this is where the noises were coming from.

I suddenly felt uneasy, what could be behind me in the woods? I tried to convince myself that it must be a squirrel or a rabbit, but it was too loud to be such a small animal. There was no place for me to hide either, unless I wanted to plow through cobwebs and descend the stone steps into the darkness of the crypt in front of me.

I looked into the woods, my eyes darting around to find the source of the noise. Nothing. As I turned to walk further, I heard the rustling again. I would be lying if I said i wasn’t seriously spooked, I realized that if there was something back there, it could easily get to me and no-one would notice.

Picture of the Evans crypt on the side of a hill in the Riverside Cemetery for this cemetery blog.I told myself I would just take pictures of the last crypt, and then move away from the trees.

The uneasy feeling continued to build up inside of me as I took pictures of the crypt, and the second I heard the rustling noise again I booked it out of there pretty quickly.

I’m not superstitious, but I know there’s no reason to take chances when you’re wandering a cemetery alone, especially since strewn around the crypt area were old beer cans and other signs of habitation by someone who may be in the woods behind me.

I put the rustling out of my mind so as to make the most of my limited time, but there was a problem. The 96 degree sun had been beating down on me the whole time and and it was beginning to take its toll. Now I had a taste of what the cemetery was exposed to day in and day out, all without any source of water. My own source of water, a single water bottle, was fast drying up. I wondered if the old funeral home at the front of the cemetery was open today, and made my way towards the building, hoping for a respite from the scorching heat.

Picture of the funeral home in the Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado setting of the story in this cemetery blog.Walking into the building was like taking a breath of fresh air. The table and chairs, and ceiling fan were a much needed break from the immense heat. I was surprised that the building was open and asked the man sitting behind the counter if i could rest for a short time out of the sun.

After a few minutes break, the man, who told me his name is Jay, showed me around the building. I saw the original crematory (a room I didn’t stay in for long) and the original chapel which had been turned into a museum of sorts with black and white photos lining the walls. I could write a whole blog on what I learned about the history of the cemetery, but I’ll save that for another day.

As I was headed back outside, Jay saw my dwindling water bottle and offered to let me fill it with the water cooler in the back. I was very thankful for this opportunity, but felt a little guilty that I was getting water, while those magnificent trees were not.

Later, when I was sure I could no longer take the heat, I decided it was time to call Teddy and ask for a ride back. As the train thundered past me I called the number he had given me.

“Hello?” I could hear the train on the other end of the line.

“Teddy, It’s Jenn, can you come and get me?” I asked.

“Jenn! I already came, I am waiting for train, very long. So glad you are okay, I came to check on you.”

Panorama picture of various headstones at the Riverside Cemetery.

A few short minutes after I hung up the phone he was pulling into the cemetery. He told me that he had gotten a call for another fare in a part of town far away and was afraid that I would get stranded at the cemetery. “Cabs don’t come here” he said “very bad area”.

On the way back Teddy was very happy that I had made it out ok and was excited to hear how my day had gone. I told him about my adventures, about meeting Jay and how he had shown me around, and about how beautiful it had been. If only I was staying in Denver longer I could have enough time to explore all the beauty there.

Just as we were pulling up to the hotel it started to rain. As the raindrops hit the windshield, I smiled. The cemetery did get some water, after all.

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One Response to The Thirsty Ground: Visiting The Historic Riverside Cemetery – Part Two

  1. Vanessa Pacheco says:

    Hi Jenn,

    My name is Vanessa and I am with the Genealogy Society closest to Riverside Cemetery in CO. I’m sorry that nobody told you about the rustling in the trees and grass but it was probably just the flock of wild turkeys that call the cemetery home. They like to stay in the back part of the cemetery under those trees. But just to warn you, the cemetery does have snakes so anytime you’re visiting old cemeteries like that please be careful! Also, just an idea for next time, if there is one, contact the local genealogy society to see if anyone would be willing to meet you there.

    Your fellow taphophile,
    Vanessa Pacheco

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