What do you do when you want a little strange and creepy in your life? Yeah, you go find it. We are natives of central Colorado and pretty much grew up in Canon City (pronounced Canyon City) and Florence. For those that aren’t familiar with the area, we are a heavy prison county. There is the SuperMax federal prison outside of Florence then there is a women’s prison in Canon and what we locals like to call the prison complex that has we believe 4 state prisons out in Penrose or just east of Canon City. But the one that we are talking about is just west of downtown Canon City called Territorial or Old Max. It was the first territorial prison in the state of Colorado it was opened in 1871 before Colorado was even a state.
I don’t want to get into the whole history of this prison yet, but when prisoners died and their families didn’t claim them they had to be interred somewhere so, a portion of Greenwood Cemetery became their final resting place. It was known as Woodpecker Hill since some of the markers signs were made out of wood in the earliest days, very few had a real headstone. Many of the old wooden markers were riddled with holes and rot. Later, many of these wooden headstones were replaced by license plate type markers that simply read, “CSP Inmate”. There were a few real headstones placed for prisoners, these were purchased by others such as family or past friends. Again, some of these are pretty much unreadable since they were made of limestone and through the years, time and weather have taken a toll on them and, left us guessing at what they once said. The section of the Greenwood cemetery that was used for prisoners saw its last guest, laid to rest in 1967.
Above is a section of the prison’s cemetery section
Here are a couple of the limestone headstones, note the chain links at the top to indicate these were prisoners (at least this is what we think). Correction: Actually, the three links indicate that the person was affiliated with the Odd Fellows Order, this could mean the person was a member before, during, or after their incarceration. It could also indicate that the Odd Fellows Order had the headstone commissioned.
Some of the headstones have been replaced with granite ones like above that will stand the test of time.
There are some interesting documents that tell the history of Territorial Prison and Greenwood Cemetery, we especially found a document asking that Greenwood Cemetery become a historical landmark, an interesting read. The author of this document explains headstone styles, their significance, and/or what some of them mean. We had no idea prior to reading this document there was even a place to better understand the different styles of headstones, and now we are more curious than before. Other interesting things in this document were sections of Greenwood are specifically for Confederate and Union Civil War Veterans & Spanish American War Veterans
Decorative wrought iron fencing, like above were very aesthetically pleasing to see. The cups were intended for old oil lamps that were lit on special occasions.
Many of the family plots had borders around them with a large headstone that indicated the family name and/or the patriarchy of the plots.
Now For the Spooky Stuff:
There were some inmates that had interesting stories we would like to share. The first inmate to be put to death in the gas chamber here was William Cody Kelly in 1934. The last inmate to be put to death by lethal injection here was Luis J Monge on June 2, 1967. There was an inmate that had threatened to return after he was put to death and the warden of the time really didn’t like that idea. So, James Armstrong was buried with his cell door placed over his casket to prevent that from happening. There are also stories of an inmate that had to be hanged twice.
Lastly, there was a very sad story about an inmate named, Joe Arridy, he was put to death for killing a 13-year-old girl from Pueblo, after a coerced confession that mysteriously kept changing to match the crime as new evidence was uncovered. After his death, his family and others kept pleading with his innocence which later paid off. Joe, a developmentally disabled person, was pardoned by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter in 2011, 72 years after his death.
Of course, the Woodpecker Cemetery is reported to be haunted. With the history of the wild west and over 400 inmates buried there, how could it not, right? Some reports say there are cold spots, orbs in photos, mists, shadow figures, and disembodied voices. We didn’t encounter any of this on our visit, but we did go during the day, for better photo quality since we’re were using cell phones, just our skeptical thoughts.
Lore and Urban Legends:
We grew up hearing about Woodpecker Hill and Greenwood Cemeteries where things like, one of the graves supposedly glows at night. Another tells of an old confederate soldier being seen holding a lantern walking around or along First Street between the two cemeteries. Maybe you have heard of others we would love to hear about them.
Lastly, we are armchair explores, and by no means are we historical experts so we might get some things wrong but, we do try to be as accurate as possible. Below are some of the articles and source documents we used for our information.
Other links of interest are:
Denver Post article published by Kirk Mitchell April 6, 2011
Canon City Daily Record article William C Kelly poster June 27, 1947