Western History & Genealogy Blog

A Denver House That Inspired A Horror Film

Residence at 1739 East 13th Avenue, between 1893 and 1910. Photo by Joseph Collier. C-117

In The Spirit of Halloween, Ghostly Tales from a Cheesman Park Residence

The 1980 film The Changeling is based on the paranormal events Russell Hunter experienced while living in an old home near Cheesman Park in the late 1960s.

Hunter had worked as a musical arranger for CBS-TV in New York City, but moved to Colorado in the mid-1960s to help his parents manage the Three Birches Lodge in Boulder. In the late 1960s, Hunter began looking for an apartment in Denver where he could live and work on his music. He rented a home at 1739 East 13th Avenue (which has since been torn down).

Hunter claimed that beginning on February 9, 1969, he started experiencing strange phenomenon in the house. First there was the “unbelievable banging and crashing” that occurred every morning at 6 a.m. (and stopped as soon as Hunter’s feet would touch the floor). Then, faucets began to turn on by themselves and doors opened and closed on their own. Walls vibrated violently, tossing paintings to the floor.

Shortly thereafter, Hunter and an architect friend uncovered a hidden staircase in the back of a closet. The stairway led to the third floor of the home where Hunter found a child’s trunk containing “a nine-year-old’s schoolbooks and journal from a century ago.” The journal detailed the life of a disabled boy who was kept in isolation. The boy wrote about his favorite toy, a red rubber ball. A few nights after discovering the trunk, a red rubber ball dropped from the top of a spiral staircase in the home.

Hunter claimed that a séance revealed the story of a sickly child who was heir to a fortune from his maternal grandfather. When the child became gravely ill, his parents worried that the boy’s inheritance would pass to a different branch of the family. When their son died, the couple secretly buried him in a field in southeast Denver and adopted a boy from a local orphanage who perfectly resembled their deceased son. They trained him to take on the identity of the deceased boy (hence, the “changeling” film title) and the boy went on to become well-educated and successful.

Hunter declared that it was the deceased child who spoke through him at the séance, revealing directions to his burial place under a house on South Dahlia Street. Hunter stated that after gaining permission to dig under that home, human remains and a gold medallion inscribed with the deceased boy’s name were found in the grave. A few days later, Hunter stated that he began to experience more violent ghostly activity in his home. He said, “glass doors blew up in my face and severed an artery in my wrist. The inner walls over the head of my bed violently imploded.”

Hunter left the house and only returned to it again to watch its demolition make way for a high-rise apartment building. He remarked of the razing, “As the walls of the wing which had contained my bedroom collapsed, they suddenly flew outward and crushed to death the man operating the bulldozer.”

As Phil Goodstein points out in his 1996 book The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill, the historical details in Hunter’s story don’t exactly check out.

What can historical records tell us about the house and people that inspired the The Changeling? Next Wednesday, we’ll consult resources readily available in the Western History & Genealogy Department to fact check this frightening ghost story!

[Want to hear more about Russell's recollection of his paranormal experiences? See "The Changeling: Denver's $8 Million Ghost" by Russell Hunter in Denver Magazine, v. 10, April 1980, p. 48 — available for research in DPL's Western History Department).

Wow it was my understanding

Wow it was my understanding that the Changeling was based on a boy in Los Angeles who was kidnapped in 1928 and the boy who was returned was not the woman's son dundunduuuun... look up the wineville chicken coop murders or even "The Road out of Hell" by anthony flacco

(Though i like it even better to know about the horrible story connecting it to Denver)

I think you are referring to

I think you are referring to the 2008 Changeling with Angelina Jolie - different movie. This story is about the 1980 version with George C. Scott.

Thanks for the clarification,

Thanks for the clarification, I WAS thinking of the wrong movie

The Changeling is my all-time

The Changeling is my all-time favorite horror movie-how delightful to discover that the story originated in Denver!

This is in the top 2 Scariest

This is in the top 2 Scariest of all time in my book. It did so much with so little. No CGI or blood and gore just a great setting, writing and acting. People that haven't seen this movie don't know what they are missing. I love this movie so much that I looked and looked for an antique wheelchair similar to the one in the movie and found one. I now have my wheelchair with the changeling movie poster above it.

I'd love to know what the

I'd love to know what the other scary movie was because I'm the same way. I took a film study class in high school and the teacher presented The Changeling as a gothic horror movie. Everyone was on the edge of their seat - if you haven't seen this movie and can handle eerie suspense, this is the best movie for feeling the creeps.

Great to hear from a fan of

Great to hear from a fan of The Changeling! Hope you enjoyed the post.