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Denver's Capitol Hill Haunts

The Molly Brown House, Cheesman Park and the Croke-Patterson Mansion

Halloween is upon us, and all around the country corn mazes with chainsaws, city ghost walks, séances and haunted houses are attracting crowds of visitors looking to be spooked. Some of the most frightful places are steeped in the past, however, within city landmarks and homes one may walk by each day. Denver abounds with such places, giving visitors a chill at all times of the year.

Molly Brown House Museum

Built in the 1880s, this Victorian-era house was purchased from the original owners by James Brown, husband to the well-known Titanic survivor, Margaret (Molly). Over the years, the home served as the Governor’s Mansion for a period of time, and also as a boarding house before being sold after Molly’s death in 1932. Since then, the Queen Anne-style house has been restored by Historic Denver, Inc., who now gives free public tours of the property year-round.

The role-playing staff knows that when the lights are turned out at the Molly Brown House Museum, simply being in a space full of so much history holds haunting potential. And so, each year in the weeks leading up to Halloween, the public (ages 12+) is invited to climb up four flights of stairs to the top floor, to hear tales that hearken back to the romantics and gothic literature. With chilling lines from the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Horace Walpole, minds race, hearts speed up and fun is had by all.

Cheesman Park

Residing in the Capitol Hill area, Cheesman Park wasn’t always such a carefree place. In fact, some would argue it still isn’t.

In 1859, the land was established as Prospect Hill Cemetery—Denver’s first—on the east end of the city. Not entirely coincidental, this was land that had also been used by American Indians for observing death. Within a few decades though, the 320 acres were hardly being used anymore in what had become an elite part of town, and the city government ordered families to remove their loved ones’ bodies. After several years of barely anyone heeding their warning, the city hired someone to do it for them in order to get on with plans to turn the space into what eventually became Cheesman Park in 1907.

Besides the already questionable morality of the situation, not all of the bodies made it out. In fact, the majority didn’t. Even as recently as 2008, human remains and parts of coffins were found during new construction projects, and the restless spirits that supposedly stayed on are said to occupy the park—whispering voices are heard calling from the grass and visitors are left with unexplainable feelings of sadness. The outlines and mounds of old graves can often still be seen, an especially eerie sight with a cool evening or early-morning fog, during the full moon or on Halloween night. Think it’s a bunch of hogwash? Pack a picnic and find out for yourself.

Croke-Patterson Mansion

The year was 1891 when Thomas B. Croke (a Denver-area businessman-turned-senator) had a 14,000-square-foot sandstone home built in the Capitol Hill area. Opulent as it was (the Harry Potter castle-like architecture is an imposing sight to take in), the Croke family abruptly vacated after moving in, for reasons unknown. The subsequent owner of the house—Thomas Patterson—stayed longer, keeping it in his family for several decades.

Today, the mansion joins others in an area that was once known as Millionaires Row, barely out of the shadow of downtown high-rises. It’s been restored as the Patterson Inn—an upscale sort of bed and breakfast—but mysterious tales surrounding the old home have followed it into its modern life. Rumors swirl of a girl’s spirit wandering the halls, her body entombed in the cellar; Thomas Patterson himself is said to appear in the courtyard; rowdy parties are heard on the top levels at all hours of the night, only to be met with silence; a cold spot is felt in front of the mirror in the main foyer; locked drawers open and close on their own; the list goes on. True or not, the stories, like the restored chandeliers and stained glass windows, add charm to this otherwise perplexing place. Stay the night to see what does (or doesn’t) happen; if you make it to the morning, a breakfast of fresh quiches and homemade pastries will be waiting downstairs.