Delight in Colorado Fall Colors…In A Cemetery?
posted by: Heather Ruch
I haven’t been feeling the need to drive up to the mountains for this year’s Colorado fall color spectacular. Perhaps the $3.60+ price at the pump contributes to my apathy toward a mountain day trip and the fact that my minivan sucks up that $3.55+ per gallon of liquid gold like it was as precious as air or something.
Doing something different, and closer to home, sounded more dynamic. More adventurous. More spontaneous. Staying closer to home for something new, different, and fun certainly sounds way better than proclaiming I don’t want to feed the mean gas pumping machine as frequently. So we took a trip to Fairmount Cemetery.
A cemetery? Really? Talk about getting off the beaten path! It’s highly likely that your head is cocked to one side with one or both eyebrows raised and there are probably several furrowed brows staring at the computer screen in disbelief.
Yes, we chose (well, I chose and didn’t give my kids an option but packed them in the gas-sucking minivan) to take a trip to Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery (a 20 mile trip instead of 125 miles) to check out the fall colors.
It’s not all that strange after all Fairmount is an arboretum (the largest in Colorado) and Denverites have been walking the grounds enjoying the trees and roses of Fairmount since the 1890’s when the cemetery was founded and developed as a park.
I’m also a genealogist by hobby and a big part of researching my ancestors includes traipsing through cemeteries looking for headstones.
When my husband and I moved to Denver in 1998, I thought we were the lone family members to reside in Colorado but through genealogy I’ve discovered that my family roots go back to the early days of Evergreen in the 1870’s. It’s a connection made through marriage made possible when my grandmother, her siblings and my great-grandmother all migrated from Missouri to Denver just after her father died in 1920.
In June, I attended the All Things Cemetery lecture and tour at Fairmount sponsored by the Fairmount Heritage Foundation and the Colorado Genealogical Society where I learned that Fairmount was created in 1890 to serve as the main cemetery for Denver. The previous City Cemetery, located in what is today Cheesman Park, suffered from neglect and misuse for years before being closed over health concerns in 1890.
There’s a whole world of controversy that ignited over the process of digging up and moving nearly 5,000 graves. Many of the graves were not moved and that explains why when petunia’s are planted each year in the park there’s a good chance a bone or two will be dug up.
At the time it was developed, Fairmount was the largest landscape project in the West. Famed landscape architect Reinhard Schuetze designed the cemetery to be more like a park with trails winding through thousands of trees, lush green grass, and bright and fragrant roses.
Folks from Denver would take a steam train that ran from 1893-1896 and then was replaced with an electric street car from downtown to enjoy a day in the only public green space around which also happened to be a cemetery.
In September, I learned that my great-grandmother and my great-aunt are both buried at Fairmount, a huge milestone in my genealogical journey. While on the All Things Cemetery tour I had secretly hoped to spot a family surname on a headstone and make a family connection to Fairmount.
Now I know with certainty that we have family at Fairmount so this makes our fall color jaunt self-serving as I want to visit my relatives graves again and I want to share this genealogy breakthrough with my kids. Don’t worry, they also like traipsing around cemeteries too.
We have visited both the Fort Logan and Evergreen cemeteries before in our (my) goal to learn about our Colorado family history. At these historic cemeteries the kids and I have marveled at the artistry of the headstones and mausoleums and remarked at the cycle of life and death where some are taken too early and some experienced a long life. There’s a remarkable amount of history and insights into culture to be gleaned from a cemetery.
If you think about it, then, it’s historically accurate for us to visit the cemetery and enjoy the landscaping as it sheds its summer attire to spiffy up for autumn before a long winter’s nap. So not only were we enjoying the magnificent color show of a Colorado autumn we were also walking in the footsteps of 122 years of Denverites and in the footsteps of our very own family.
Fairmount Cemetery has been designated an Urban Wildlife Watching Area by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. There’s no shortage of squirrels but you might also catch a glimpse of deer and foxes.
Fairmount Cemetery is full of history and famous Coloradans. Visit their website to purchase a variety of pamphlets for self-guided history walks. Nestled under this tree is the grave of Emily Giffith who founded the Griffith Opportunity School in 1916, the first free school for adults in the country at that time.
Fairmount Cemetery is open daily from sunrise to sunset and is located at 430 S. Quebec Street Denver, CO 80247. Fairmount Heritage Foundation can be reached at 303-399-0692.
A new series of All Things Cemetery will begin in the spring of 2013. For upcoming events hosted by the Fairmount Heritage Foundation including the exciting History Mystery Tour later this month at Riverside cemetery (walking tours are held year-round) the summer heritage rose tour and sale, and even school programs click here for more information.
Resources: All Things Cemetery at Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado on June 24, 2012 sponsored by Fairmount Heritage Foundation and the Colorado Genealogical Society.