Friday, June 8, 2012

Cheesman Park, Personal Experiences

   Cheesman Park, Personal Experiences

   I am trying to remember where exactly I am.  It is pitch black so I know it is evening, but I cannot see anything.  I also have absolutely no sensation in my body.  I try moving my arms, but I have none.  I don't know if I am lying down or standing up, I can't see my legs or feel them, and in this dark void I've found myself in, I wouldn't know if I were moving anyway.  I hear no beat of my heart, no breath escaping my nostrils.  I am simply conscious, and I begin reasoning that I am just asleep, dreaming of oblivion.  Time passes, and I wait for something to happen, but everything remains still and quiet.  It seems as if I am stuck here, and with that thought a panic begins to settle in.  I begin to fear that I have somehow become caught in some kind of static dream loop, devoid of any information, but there is nothing I can do until I wake up.  Then, barely audible at first, I begin to hear a groaning, or howling coming from far off.  There is no horizon, no forwards or backwards, up or down, just a sound which becomes increasingly more terrifying the closer it gets. I have no legs to run with, no means of protection, and as the sound becomes a piercing shriek I am finally jarred back into reality.

   I realize I am fully awake, but still horrified to find blackness around me.  The howling has dissipated, and I feel something ruffling against my leg.  I look down to see that there are blades of long grass blowing in the wind.  I am cold, alone and disoriented.  I roll over, feeling a grateful relief to see the lights of the city, of passing cars, of streetlights and distant planes.  I look in the opposite direction and see the illuminated marble of a pavilion.  I am in Cheesman Park, Denver, Colorado.  The last thing I remember was sunlight.  I had come here during the afternoon as myself and my best friend Julee usually did, rollerblading, picnicking, enjoying the surroundings.  I must have fallen asleep, but I don't remember visiting this area of the park.  I was lying inside a soft body-sized depression in the ground.  It was comfortable, but cold, and I guess I was simply grateful to have had a nice nap in the park undisturbed.  I checked my back pocket to find my wallet still there, and looked at my watch.  It read 9:30PM.  I was shocked to find I had been sleeping for so long, and embarrased that I might have been seen doing so.  I got up off the ground, terribly groggy, and made my way back to civilization, the wind still chilly and shrill around me.

   This experinece happened to me in about 1993.  It would be years later before I learned that the park used to be a cemetery, and that there were still several thousand bodies buried underground: forgotten, unnamed, lost.  I would also find out that the little depressions in the earth were caused by the collapse of the remaining wooden caskets beneath the surface.  And no matter how many times the depressions were filled back up with earth, they would still sink, leaving body-sized craters.  I would find out that many people attempting to lie in these hollows would be mysteriously pinned down, restrained by an unknown force.  There was a chill running up and down my spine, one that I could not shake off as I made my way home, and this would not be the last time I was pulled into oblivion by something I could not see.

   About a year later, I was sunbathing with Julee in the park.  We had made fast friends with one of the visitors there who marked her favorite picnicking spot with a colorful kite, and always invited us over to join her for fried chicken.  I remember us tanning beside her blanket one day when I perceived something similar to the lights going out during an electrical storm.  One moment there was sunlight, the next only blackness.  I don't remember how long this lasted, but I remember being quickly jostled awake with fear and shouting Julee's name at the exact same time she was shouting mine.  The same thing had happened to her, and neither of us could explain it.  When we awoke, we found that we had terrible sunburns, and our friend was nowhere in sight.  Suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration, we quickly left the park.  Again, we may have unknowingly been lying atop some of those mysterious depressions, a deathly cold just three feet beneath us.

   When this area of land, taken from the Apaches in 1858 by General William Larimer, became Mount Prospect Cemetery, there was already an Apache Indian burial site there.  Those bodies lied the standard six feet underground, so the new ones being interred there were buried three feet atop those original Native American remains.  But, by 1872, everything had fallen into severe disrepair.  It became federal land and was renamed the City Cemetery.  In 1890 it was decided that the grounds be converted into a park, and in 1893 a caretaker was hired to remove the unclaimed bodies.  He was fired shortly afterward when it was found out that he would break apart an adult body and place the remains in three child-size caskets, thereby tripling his pay for each "fresh" box he transferred to the Riverside Cemetery.  Body parts and bones were strewn everywhere, which several "souvenier" hunters had their pick of looting.  By 1902, shrubbery was simply planted in the open graves but no other bodies had been removed.  In 1909, the Cheesmans donated a marble pavilion and the site was renamed Cheesman Park.  A horrifying wave of supernatural phenomena quckly followed, and these stories became the basis for Steven Spielberg's "Poltergeist", as well as the 1980 movie "The Changeling".  The ghastly occurences experienced by visiting guests and nearby residents also became popular with paranormal television shows such as "The Scariest Places On Earth" and "The Most Terrifying Places In America".

   In 2006, I founded my own paranormal investigative unit, and the following year we visited the park with the latest spectre-detecting equipment only to find it flooded with every other ghost-hunting group in the state.  It was Halloween night, after all, when the "veil" between worlds was said to be at it's thinnest.  I led James and three of my cousins about the park in the hopes of capturing some supernatural activity for a television program I produced called The SpiritChasers. There was an almost festival atmosphere at the park, with camera flashes and blinking EMF detectors going off sporadically.  Younger generations were there tearing by in costumes, forming human pyramids and doing gymnastics on the grounds.  We met a couple other teams, joking with eachother regarding the names and abbreviations we had chosen for our respective groups, and as it got later, and less populated, we began tuning into the energy of the old cemetery.  We would stop every so often to trade tools: dowsing rods, pendulums, laser thermometers, digital voice recorders and camcorders with night vision.  Being the most intuitive of our bunch, I posed a series of questions to anyone listening we could not see.  "What did the name on your gravestone read?"  "Was your coffin looted?"  "How many of you are buried here?"  The dowsing rods spun wildly, especially in areas where we found the collapsed coffin depressions, and our EMF detectors lit up brightly just before capturing photographs of luminous balls of light.

   We came to an old, gnarled tree, and I though of how it may have originally been planted in an open grave, growing up around the bodies of those who never got a chance to be interred at Riverside, unclaimed and unknown.  After photographing this "spirit tree", we noticed faces had appeared within it.  We saw the face of a little girl, and a grinning skeleton in another.  Two of our party were more skeptical, which is exactly what one wants on any investigation, someone helping to objectify your findings, but we had no answer for the images which began to appear before us. We walked through areas of icy cold, devoid of any wind, where the orbs would fill the entire viewscreen of our cameras.  In another area, we smelled fresh flowers, a particular kind of flower, one often left at headstones...

    Returning to Cheesman a few years later, after many investigations of other sites and a lot of exposure to authentic paranormal activity, we found the area still highly active, even though it wasn't Halloween.  James, Julee and I walked the grounds late one evening in hopes of taking more spirit photography, which had become a specialty of The SpiritChasers by then.  Julee had visited the park a couple weeks prior and had captured some mystifying images.  We accompanied her as back up, as her friends had felt a certain malevolence in the area.  We went looking for the "Spirit Tree", but were having difficulty finding it again.  James and I had already flown to L.A. for a Biography Channel interview regarding a separate paranormal encounter of ours, and Julee and I would both be flying out together for our own "My Ghost Story" episode concerning Cheesman.  She was hoping to capture stronger evidence for herself as I had my own catalog of images from my original visit in 2008.

   It didn't take long for the spirits to show themselves.  Acting on intuition, James snapped a photo of Julee near a tree.  We were following whispers and cold spots, and they led us to a particular tree near the pavilion.  After an enlargement of this photo, we discovered the image of a short female in Victorian attire observing Julee.  We might not have even seen it had it not been for a bright, milky orb hovering to its right.  Also near the Cheesman pavilion, we took another photograph of a figure standing by itself, as well as various orbs, unexplained mist and ectoplasmic trails of light.  We also had difficulty with our equipment, as is usual in areas rich with spirit activity.

   A month later, I returned to the site with one of the cousins who had originally accompanied me to the park in 2008.  She had flown to L.A. with Julee and I for an interview in the Biography television studio and shared her own personal experience of her visit to Cheesman.  This time, for the first time, we weren't visiting the park to capture evidence of supernatural activity, but to film our episode of "My Ghost Story".  As only two storytellers were needed per segment, Julee had to sit this one out, and a cameraman was sent out to record the re-created, dramatic footage of our shared experience there.  I arrived first, early in the day, tuning into the energy of the park and pulling out my dowsing rods, hoping they would lead me back to the elusive Spirit Tree.  When Steve arrived, he began shooting scenic sequences which would introduce our story.  The dowsing rods did lead me back to the tree, and as we searched the grounds for depressions to film we searched our memory in order to recreate the Halloween night we spent there five years ago.  In a nearby clearing, we were startled to discover a perfect, rectangular boxed impression in the ground.  It was the exact same shape and size of a child's coffin.

   After the sun set, we continued filming with the addition of a powerful, portable stage spotlight powered by a generator.  The shadows our bodies cast by the light stretched deep into the park and snaked about the trees and shrubbery in the night.  In the middle of another depression the dowsing rods helped us to find, I photographed a "nest" of orbs leaving the ground, as if we were standing atop a spirit portal or vortex of supernatural energy.  We went back to where the child's coffin had collapsed, which looked all the eerier at night, and the usual orbs began filling my viewscreen.  We passed the area where James had taken the photo of the female spirit watching Julie.  I had the feeling we were also being observed there, so I asked if that particular spirit remembered me.  As a chill crept up my back, I asked if the spirit remembered watching Julee, and there, lying right in front of me, I found the branch of a tree shaped in a perfect "J".

    It began to grow very late, and we all began to grow weary of filming.  We had shot for several hours.  My watch read 9:30PM.  We were hungry, cold and tired.  I myself was still exhilarated, having told and retold hundreds of ghost stories as a child, I was exactly where I always hoped to be, and there was paradoxically nothing like ghost-hunting to make me feel more alive.  As a Native American taught about the spirit world very early, I thought of my ancestors, the Oglala Sioux, and of the ghost dances they performed.  It didn't take much to summon up any spirits here, and I thought of me and James' first encounters with the unknown back in 2006, when we were simply trying to film a generic ghost-hunting program as a DVD invite to our Halloween party. I walked up and down the inside of the pavilion, thinking about how far I had come venturing into the great unknown.  Before The SpiritChasers, I had originally created a blog entitled "Signs Of Intelligent Life", which gained thousands of followers from all over the world.  It had much to do with dreamtime, with consciousness in and out of that world, of synchronicitous events, of communicating with my own architect, with the forces just outside our field of vision.  I left that writing to go back into the field as a paranormal enthusiast, to attain fresh data, new stories, images which could say as much as my writing, while still leaving their existence open to interpretation.  I wondered what our episode would look like, what opportunities might come from it, if I should arrange a viewing party for its airing, until a brisk wind came up around my pant legs and held me with cold realization.

   I was so used to hearing ghost stories, to sharing them, to even being in some of them.  I could go home and snuggle up in a warm blanket, open the window just a crack to get the candlelight flickering and the icy fingers caressing my neck.  I could sit there contented to read my favorite books on the unexplained as leaves rustled outside and the house settled.  Afterward, I could get up, put the book back in my library and look for new stories.  But I realized that the ghosts who contributed to the story I was currently filming never got home.  They were stuck here, in limbo, in darkness, in that dim oblivion I experienced when I lost consciousness here years ago.  They didn't care about the petty little tools I had in my bag, the ones which ghosthunters tirelessly used to get the lights blinking.  These souls didn't care about turning flashlights on and off or rocking tables for an evening of Victorian novelty.  They didn't care about AM bands or sending pendulums swinging for the upteenth time.  They simply wanted to be at peace, and wanted others to know what had happened to them.

   We never shouted at any of the souls bound to particular locations to get a reaction out of them.  A lot of times, it was simply a loop of data, of sounds, of movement, an energetic echo stuck in a groove of time playing itself out over and over again.  But here, there was consciousness, and sadness, a yearning to walk in light, to wake up to sunshine.  We always blessed the locations we visited, burning the sage, cedar and sweetgrass of Native American ritual, prompting the lost to find their way, to be at peace, always coming away grateful for our own lives and the people in them. Because of this, I take flowers when I go there now.  And even though I don't know their names, I know of the desecration they suffered.  I feel a kinship with the Apache there, with their respect for the land, for every living being in and out of this plane.  For any souls who can't find a light, I bring my own.  I will always love a good ghost story, and I know one day people may be telling some about me.  I come from a race of storytellers, and we never discriminated against the ones telling their story, whether they were incarnate or not.  The scariest ones, and the ones that provoked the highest emotional response, the ones I will always remember, always had to do with the departed, and all the things they do to get our attention, to let us know they're still around.  As we fear what we do not understand, there will always be an element of danger attached to them, a danger which will always draw our childlike excitement forward.  So, as I left the park, I offered a prayer of gratitude, for I understood that their stories aren't really about an all-conclusive death, but about the fact that nothing ever dies.

   This is the YouTube video link to clips containing the end segment from SPIRITCHASERS II ( 2008 ), clips from the Cheesman Park segment in SPIRITCHASERS III ( 2009 ), and photographs we took at the park in early 2012.  Please copy and paste to your browser.

   - Christopher Allen Brewer, June 2012

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