Dead, gone, and long forgotten

January 23, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Dead, gone, and long forgotten

There are hundreds of them. Long forgotten, nameless prisoners laid to rest on Woodpecker Hill.

The Colorado Territorial Prison opened for business in 1871. The first prisoner would be buried in what was later known as Woodpecker Hill that same year.

Some found their way here by natural causes. Others after finding themselves at the business end of a noose, or a seat in the gas chamber, as in the case of William Cody Kelley, the first person to be executed in Colorado in this manner.

The gas chamber replaced hanging as the preferred method of execution after Edward Ives, convicted of murdering a police officer in Denver in 1930, had to be hung twice. The first effort failed due to a broken rope. The second effort took a gruesome 23 minutes to send Edward to his maker.

Woodpecker Hill is located in the Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado, not far from the prison. Original grave markers were made of wood slabs. Over time, the wooden markers began to decay, and insects took up residence, thus attracting woodpeckers. The prisoners themselves gave this section of the cemetery its name.

As the wooden markers decayed, the names written on them deteriorated as well. Due to poor record keeping, the identities of many of those laying under the markers were forgotten.

In the 1960’s, the rotted wooden markers were replaced with small metal signs made in the prison license plate plant. For those that could no longer be identified, the plates read only “CSP Inmate”, (Colorado State Penitentiary). Where the names were known, the name and date of birth/death is noted.

There are only a handful of stone markers in this section, placed there if the family had a mind to and could afford it.  In the case of Edward Ives, feeling bad about the way poor Edward met his end, fellow inmates took up a collection for a headstone.

Another stone marker, this for Joseph Arridy, a mentally disabled individual falsely imprisoned for rape and murder in 1939, and later determined to have been coerced into confessing, was placed after he was posthumously acquitted and granted a full pardon 72 years later.

The last prisoner to be buried at Woodpecker Hill was in 1971. There are those that believe not all the unfortunate souls resting under the high desert ground of Woodpecker Hill are resting easy. Cold spots, sightings of colored orbs and shadowy figures moving among the markers have been reported.

Perhaps a night visit is in order…


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