Denver, Colorado (2011) - In the mid 1800’s Denver had an image problem: people thought it was uncivilized. The leaders knew this because the city (and much of the rest of the country) was swept up in the 19th Century “City Beautiful” movement, which said civilized cities had cemeteries with manicured lawns and trees; primitive ones had graveyards.
Unfortunately, at the time Denver’s image was its reality: it was an uncivilized, prairie town filled with rough and tumble cowboys who piled up dead bodies in shootouts and dragged them to a graveyard east of town. So while the city leaders couldn’t do much about the violence, they could do something about where they buried the dead. They chose to replace the prairie graveyard (which was unkempt with patches of weeds) with a cemetery filled with picturesque views of the mountains and manicured grass and trees – essentially a park with headstones.
In 1876, Denver opened Riverside Cemetery – on the eastern edge of the Platte River. Denverites regularly visited Riverside on weekends, turning their excursions into a formal family outing to a park. Denver began to resemble an proper city with manners.
Unfortunately, the 21st Century years of Riverside have not been kind. Despite being the final resting place of some of Colorado’s most revered leaders including governors, senators, and Medal of Honor winners, Riverside’s owners shut it down in 2005 and cut off all irrigation to the towering oaks and emerald lawn. It’s a sad ending to what was once Denver’s crowning jewel. Now seven years deteriorated, Riverside has essentially become an unkempt graveyard of dry grass on the dusty parched prairie.