The small island in Washington Park’s Grasmere Lake is a favorite with snowy egrets, black-crested night herons and reputedly, a ghost.
So says an urban legend about Monkey Island, unearthed by Denver historian Phil Goodstein. In his book, “The Haunts of Washington Park,” Goodstein recorded the saga of Beatrice Haven, a Denver flower child born at Porter Hospital in 1949.
Miss B. Haven, as she called herself, spent the late 1960s partying in southern Washington Park — then a notorious hippie hangout. An odd feature of this exceedingly odd little tale has the 20-something Beatrice studying cardiac nuclear medicine. If so, she frequently traded in her patched bell bottoms and love beads for a white lab coat and headed over to the old St. Anthony’s Central Hospital to calculate the exact dosages of radiotracers used in heart scans. Hmmm. Maybe she hummed the melody, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” at work.
At some point, Beatrice vanished under mysterious circumstances. But according to the story, she returns to Monkey Island at night as a glowing specter, looking for her old counterculture friends and provoking loud squawking from resident birds.
This spooky tale seems singularly appropriate to Wash Park. While the mansion-studded Capitol Hill neighborhood is reputedly crawling with the tormented spirits of Victorian politicians, plutocrats and society hostesses, Wash Park has a hippie.
At the time, Beatrice wasn’t the only visitor to southern Washington Park who was `misbehaving.’ In the late 1960s, the entire area around Grasmere Lake acquired a raffish reputation. A walkway connected the lake’s eastern shore to the island, making it a favorite retreat for amorous teens and pot smokers.
From the island, an old time Wash Park resident fondly recalls, “you could see anyone coming.” A South High graduate remembers that bewildered freshmen who blundered into Senior Hall were punished by `walking the plank’ out to the island. Somehow these freshmen always ended up wet.
All that monkey business may well have earned the island its name. Since it shares the same moniker with Monkey Island in City Park, where the Denver Zoo’s hooded capuchins roam free during summer months, people sometimes confuse the two spots. Retired University of Denver Professor Steven R. McCarl, who grew up in Wash Park, clarifies the situation at Grasmere.
“The only monkeys on the island ever,” he said, “were some of my close friends.”
As the `youth quake’ of the late-sixties continued and hippie gatherings increased, neighborhood people began to avoid Washington Park’s southern end, fearing drug deals and other crime. According to Goodstein, undercover policemen hovered near the lake, periodically arresting each other.
During the summer of 1970, just after the tragic deaths at Kent State, an ugly confrontation erupted between the police and a rowdy group of young people in the park. According to the Washington Park East Neighborhood Association’s website, 100 police officers swept the park with batons and tear gas, routing anyone who looked anti-establishment. Shortly after, the city tore down the bridge to Monkey Island.
That put an end to the monkey business. Except, perhaps, for antics of the supernatural kind.
While Colorado’s state health officials are advising 2020 Halloween revelers to wear masks and limit gatherings to 10 people, these guidelines clearly do not apply to ghosts. Our bell-bottomed Monkey Island wraith is free to misbehave just as much as she wants.
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