Historian Phil Goodstein Takes Readers to Riverside Cemetery and Well Beyond

By Kathryn White

Prolific Denver historian Phil Goodstein has released his first book in a three-volume series dedicated to the history of Denver cemeteries. “The Scenic History of Denver Cemeteries: From Cheesman Park to Riverside” starts readers off with a brief history of cemetery trends of the mid 1800s.

“Denver emerged at the time the romantic garden cemetery was a glowing ideal,” states the book’s back cover. “A burial ground was far more than a place for the dead, but an awe-inspiring, well-landscaped park filled with imposing monuments, flower gardens, and magnificent trees.”

The garden cemetery ideal stood in contrast to “boot hill” burial grounds, also of the 19th century. In western states into the early 20th century, “boot hill” was a common name used for the burial grounds of gunfighters or others who “died with their boots on.” 

Despite trends and investor interests of the day, water for irrigation and funds for landscaping and maintenance intervened to thwart many early cemeteries (and even today’s) from achieving the founding garden park ideal.

Book Signings and Talks

Join Goodstein to hear from or have signed
“The Scenic History of Denver Cemeteries: From Cheesman Park to Riverside” 

1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, at Castle Marne (1572 Race St.). 

6-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, at Real Eyes Studio (747 Santa Fe Dr., Suite A)

1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at Smiley Branch Library (4501 W. 46th Ave.)

Goodstein’s book recounts the ups and downs of our city’s cemeteries, inserting “capsule” biographies and intersections with other aspects of Denver history, from political and class divides to economic development, public health, migration and religion.

As with all Goodstein’s nearly 30 books, the author doesn’t shy away from turning an historian’s pen on rivalries, dubious decisions, and other factors leading to the rise and fall of significant landmarks. 

Riverside Cemetery, situated just south of York Street between the South Platte River and Brighton Boulevard, is technically not Denver’s first cemetery. Riverside was incorporated in 1876, nearly two decades after cemeteries began dotting the Denver landscape. But Riverside claims bragging rights as Denver’s oldest operating cemetery. And Goodstein, who has been leading cemetery history tours since the 1980s, knows it — and its inhabitants — quite well.

Goodstein devotes the section “A Walk Around Riverside” to a block-by-block tutorial on what can be learned about Denver’s past and its people from the vantage point of gravestones and stories, and the physical landscapes that contain them.

Volume 2 of Goodstein’s series will cover Fairmount Cemetery, founded in 1890. Fairmount, in southeast Denver, is the city’s second-oldest operating cemetery after Riverside.

Volume 3 will explore Denver’s Jewish cemeteries, Catholic Mount Olivet, Crown Hill and Fort Logan, among others.

Goodstein’s other titles include, among many others, “Denver that Is No More: The Story of the City’s Demolished Landmarks,” “In The Shadow of the Klan: When the KKK Ruled Denver 1920-1926,” “Denver from the Bottom Up: A People’s History of Early Colorado” and “From Soup Lines to the Front Lines: Denver During the Depression and World War II, 1927-1947.”

For more information about Goodstein’s tours and book talks, email him at philgoodstein@gmail.com.

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