What’s Old is New Again: Reviving the Cemetery

Fairmount adds community programming to draw visitors

Established in 1890, Fairmount Cemetery is one of Colorado’s oldest cemeteries. When it was founded, cemeteries were more than places where people would go to grieve their deceased relatives. Instead, they were treated like parks. Visitors would spend weekend afternoons having picnics, playing games and enjoying the grounds where their loved ones had been laid to rest.

Fairmount, located at Alameda Ave. and S. Quebec St., was designed by Reinhard Schuetze, who became known as the father of Denver’s park system. His success designing Fairmount became the talk of the town and he went on to design Congress, Washington and City Parks and areas around the Capitol building. 

At one time, the Fairmount Cemetery was the largest developed parcel of land west of the Mississippi River. Thanks to Schuetze’s plan, it became home to Colorado’s most extensive arboretum, filled with numerous National Champion Trees. The grounds have one of the largest collections of Old Garden Roses (roses cultivated before 1867) in North America. The cemetery’s two original buildings, the Little Ivy Chapel and the 1890 Gate Lodge, are designated historic Denver landmarks. The Fairmount Mausoleum contains the remains of 17,000 Coloradans and has one of the largest stained glass collections in the state, crafted by local company Watkins Stained Glass, who has been in operation for 150 years.

“Back in the day, the Denver tram system traveled directly from downtown Denver to Fairmount. People would climb on board with their picnic baskets, baseballs and bats and other outdoor activities and look forward to afternoons of fun,” notes Jim Cavoto, head of the Fairmount Heritage Foundation. “The grounds were always treated with the utmost respect, but visits to the cemetery didn’t necessarily have to be a sad journey, but rather a time for happiness and sharing – and creating – fond memories.”

Today, the Fairmount is reviving this tradition, bringing numerous activities to the grounds to make it a place where people can enjoy a pleasant experience full of fun and celebration rather than mourning. The events are sponsored by the The Fairmount Heritage Foundation, who relies on memberships, donations and volunteers to support its programming.

The foundation hosts numerous tours of the grounds, starting with the rose sale and garden tour in early June. Other tour topics include learning about famous Colorado residents, headstone symbolism, and stained glass tours. The season ends with the History-Mystery tours, held in Sept. and Oct. Other programming includes movie nights on the lawn June through Aug. with refreshment from food trucks; a classic car show in July; a full moon photography workshop; and other special events hosted at the recently built Quebec Place events center.

It’s possible that this use of the cemetery and its grounds were just what Reinhold Schuetze aspired to when he designed it. If you have an interest in Colorado history and the people who lived and now rest in peace at here, a visit to Fairmount will lend a new perspective to an old place.

Paul Suter is a media consultant and freelance writer based in Denver (www.sutermediarelations.com)

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