‘Walking with the Dead’ blends facts with frights

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On a dark and stormy night, the dead walked the grounds of Littleton Museum.

OK, none of that was true. It was the end of a glorious fall day Oct. 26, and they were just museum volunteers portraying characters long gone by during the “Walking with the Dead” tour of the 1860s farm. They brought to life the likes of Sleepy Hollow’s Ichabod Crane and the Fox sisters, who inadvertently created the spiritualism movement in the 1840s by convincing people they could communicate with their dead loved ones — for a price, of course.

“Even when the Fox sisters admitted it was a hoax, people still believed,” said tour guide Jennifer Barnett.

Then there were local charlatans like undertaker E.P. McGovern, who was hired in 1893 to remove the remains from what was then a cemetery to make way for what is now Denver’s Cheesman Park. He was paid $1.90 a body, and soon realized he could make more money by chopping up adults and placing their pieces in child-size coffins.

“It was a messy process,” said guide Jennifer Woeste.

According to the Legends of America website, neighbors began to report sad and confused looking spirits knocking at their doors and windows, and moans coming from the park. It’s said that these restless spirits remain today, with many visitors experiencing feelings of unexplainable sadness and hearing whispering voices and moans.

What’s for sure, though, is that the job was never finished, and skeletons still occasionally turn up. Cheesmanpark.net says it’s likely there are still thousands below the surface.

The “ghost” of a wealthy but stranded traveler who was murdered in Franktown in 1871 also visited the museum during the tour. It perhaps was looking for two of the men who murdered him in a cabin quite similar to the museum’s 1860s log cabin, where Woeste told his story.

The MacIntyre family graciously took the traveler in, fed him a hearty stew and then as he slept, stabbed him to death and robbed him. Several days later, a posse seized the elder McIntyre and his two sons after finding the dead man's body.

The sons confessed to the killing and told the posse their father was not involved. But only one son was hanged, as the other had slipped away with his father, never to be seen again.

The tour was educational as well as eerie. A lesson on death photography revealed that glycerin could be used to plump up a deflating eyeball, and glue applied to keep the lids open. But the demonstration went awry when the photographer tried to show the visitors how to insert a spoon into the deceased’s eyes to hold them open, and his very much alive assistant suddenly became uncooperative.

Before the evening was over, visitors would encounter a roaming scarecrow, gates dangling from trees and other oddities.

“Pranks were enormously popular,” said Woeste.