Last week, I wrote about Russell Hunter’s paranormal experiences while renting a Denver home near Cheesman Park in the late 1960s. These experiences became the basis for a 1980 Hollywood horror film called The Changeling.
This week, it’s time to fact-check this ghost story! Using genealogy and house history tools available on DPL computers and in the Western History and Genealogy Department, we were able to track down a few surprising tidbits.
1. Did Russell Hunter, writer of The Changeling, really live in the “haunted” house at 1739 East 13th Avenue for two years in the late 1960s?
We’ll have to take Hunter’s word that he actually rented the home.
Denver city directories and telephone books cannot confirm that Hunter lived in Denver at 1739 East 13th Avenue in the late 1960s. Hunter said in interviews that he moved to Colorado from New York City in the 1960s to help his parents manage the Three Birches Lodge in Boulder. According to Boulder city directories, Pearl E. and Russell H. Ellis managed the Three Birches Lodge in the 1960s. Despite their “Ellis” surname, these were in fact Russell Hunter’s parents. “Russell Hunter” was born “Russell Ellis” and presumably made a name change for his career in show business. This name change is substantiated in the 1930 U.S. Census and the Social Security Death Index (both available in Ancestry Library Edition - available for FREE on DPL computers!).
2. In the attic of the 13th Avenue home, Russell Hunter claimed to have discovered a 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 on the third floor of the house by his parents. Later, Hunter said a séance revealed the spirit of a deceased boy lurking in the home. Did any children live in the house at 1739 East 13th Avenue at the turn of the 20th century?
At the turn of the century, a childless couple lived in the home at 1739 E. 13th Avenue.
The couple, Henry Treat Rogers, a prominent lawyer (1837-1922), and his wife Kate Rogers (1865-1931) filed a permit with the City of Denver in July 1892 to build a “brick dwelling” in the Wymans Addition of Denver. Architect Henry Ten Eyck Wendell designed the home.
Though the couple did not have children, they did have a niece and nephew who spent time living in their home.
The niece, Frances Clarke Ristine (1881-1934), came from Illinois to live with the Rogers when she was 10 years old and stayed until her marriage to George Ristine. After living in Chicago for several years, Frances and her husband returned to Denver after the death of her uncle, Henry Treat Rogers, in 1922, and lived in the 13th Avenue house with Kate (who formally adopted Frances as her daughter around 1927). Frances became the longtime secretary for Denver Orphans Home and the president of the Globeville Day Nursery while living in Denver. She inherited 1739 E. 13th Avenue and a small fortune after the death of Kate Rogers in 1931. Frances Clarke Ristine died in 1934.
The nephew, Henry Treat Rogers II (1892-1918), graduated from Yale in 1914 and came to work in his uncle’s law firm, Rogers, Ellis & Johnson, around 1916. This younger Henry Treat Rogers also lived in his uncle’s house on 13th Avenue, however, he enlisted in World War I in 1917 and never returned to the house. He died in 1918 at the age of 25.
There were conflicting reports about Henry Treat Rogers II’s death. While one obituary claimed that he died from physical exhaustion on August 18, 1918, in Cincinnati, another claimed he died in France “from the effects of nervous strain from the close application of his duties.” A memorial fund at Yale was established in his name by his uncle, Henry T. Rogers.
Despite what we've learned about the Rogers family, many other mysteries of the house at 1739 East 13th Avenue remain—and the answers may well dwell within the resources available at Denver Public Library!
This was a great read, and certainly sheds light on a story I have been fascinated with since childhood. The more facts I come across like this, the more Russell Hunter's account 'doesn't add up', specifically, the time frames don't line up with the claims. If Russell found a 'century old journal' in the 1960's, then that would mean obviously the journal would have been written in the 1860's...30+ years BEFORE the Henry T. Rogers house was built. Of course using the term "century old" may have simply been an exaggeration at the time of his quote. But if the journal was written after the house switched residents after the death of Frances Clarke Ristine in 1934, then that was only 30 years before Russell would have taken up residency (allegedly)...making the age of journal claim even more bogus.
Reading all the facts around the claim and studying the story for years, I have came to the following conclusion. It's very possible Russell Hunter did find a journal of some sort in that house (if it's true he did live there). But it was most likely the journal of Russell Hunter II, written during the early 1900's, and probably talked about 'good times and good memories in that house' versus the dark fictional version Russell portrayed. I think finding that journal in a big dark mansion strummed up lots of great ghost story ideas for Russell, who then fictionalized the rest of the story based on that one concept. And since Hunter was a professional script writer at the time, the brilliant premise of the Changeling would have been easy to architect for someone with his background.
I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts about this, as I am sure there are other great 'Changeling' fans out there too!
What if he was forced to hide some of the truth behind this story by obfuscating and muddling up the facts?
CORRECTION: I meant to say 'journal of Henry Treat Rogers II', not 'Russell Hunter II' in my original post.Sorry for the confusion. I love reading everyone's comments, this is great stuff. Keep em coming!
When I was 9 or 10, I used to bag Mr.Hunter’s leaves. He lived down the street from my family, with his black dog “Loki”. His house was filled with antiques and a large piano, which he played well. I witnessed a few interesting situations at his home. The story he told me, was of a little boy who was killed by a coal cart, in front of the mansion. The boy’s name was “Eric”. That was the spirit that haunted the mansion and supposedly followed Mr. Hunter to his new residence, near me. Great individual. I moved in 88. Never saw him again. I believe he passed in 94?
During some of the marvelous cast meetings, rehearsals, and parties at Russell's home during production of this musical, Russell readily admitted that some of the story of the Changeling was embellished, but the tale is a WONDERFUL one, and I remember snippets of others he gifted us with as well. He was a wonderful playwright and director, and I loved being part of that show at Loretta Heights.
Thank you for sharing, DB! We'd love to hear more about the memories you have of Russell Hunter.
Fascinating. I've been trying to find information about his theatrical work (especially 'Little Boy Blue,' his Changeling inspired musical but have found nothing anywhere. Would you be willing to answer a few questions? :)
It's pretty interesting that many of the facts and fiction do line up. We've had strange and weird incidents but we're living on old Indian burial groundd and living area. Progress. If the Chessman Park area was built on a cemetery area, but it wasn't greed and avarice like moving headstones but not the bodies (Poltergeist ---S. Spielberg ), not all burial grounds are known, it's a believeable story and ever more frightening to know it really happened. I love the film. One of the classiest and scariest spook films ever made w/o the hokiness. Still scares me on my 250th viewing in complete darkness. Dad and I are gluttons for punishment. Love it and the sound/music.
Watching this film in complete darkness sounds very scary! We'll have to try it. Thanks for commenting!
I agree!! This has been one of my all time favorite horror films. And one of the best soundtrack/scores EVER. However, unfortunately watching this film in complete darkness doesnt scare me anymore (nothing much does) but I must admit it can give me the heeby jeebies. I was 7 or 8 years old, the first time I watched the film and I'm almost 40 now, I've been a spooky house kinda fan ever since and George C Scott was always my favorite actor. It's made without gore, stupid ghost faces, and the acting is superb!! Even if the inspiration for this horror classic was indeed fictionalized it still inspired a great movie, such as amityville. But, this somewhat unknown horror movie completely out ranks the amityville. Two thumbs way up for me on the movie and two thumbs way up for the score. I loved the music so much I listen to it a lot on YouTube. Bravo
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Summer! The score is definitely an integral part of the film.
Dad and I would watch for great spook fulms.....and he introduced me to this. It was always the same. "I'll make the popcorn (w/tons of real butter of course ) and you make the iced tea!!!!" We have always done this---- "Psycho," "Dr. Sardonicus," "Screaming Skull," and a whole host of other really good thriller, suspence, my try and all of the above. Anyone remember that scene in Poltergeist where the guy "gets something to eat?" His movie "Duel" car v 18 wheeler was soooo like the Chessmaster House on the run; wheels and all.
Thanks for sharing memories of your film nights with us, Bones!
The EVP scene gets me every time and the wheelchair at the top of the stairs.
Agree with everything you wrote above, "Bones" - thank you for admitting how many times you've watched this movie - you may have me beat!! Whenever my sister visits from Australia it's a must watch - and I the music is phenomenal. I bought the CD which is rare - was pretty hard to find. We love George C. Scott and the entire cast. I even visited Cheesman Park when in Denver 2 years ago - spent a half a day there plotting out where the house stood and everything! The story is undoubtedly embellished, but that park is truly haunted.
Correctly known as, "Cheesman Park" and pronounced like "cheese," it was great fun to look up the address of where the house used to be when I visited Denver, CO, in summer of 2016. I spent a few hours hanging out and reading a book while lying on a blanket on the great lawn of the huge park. Knowing that there are still about 2,000 bodies still buried under the place which used to be a cemetery is pretty spooky indeed. And the story about the con artist to whom they gave the job to move the approximate 5000 bodies is nothing short of horrifying. "The Changeling" will always be my favorite scary haunted house film.
It's been awhile since you wrote your comment, but I hope you'll see this. I should start by saying that I had a bit of difficulty in trying to figure out Mr. Hunter's timeline of events, as well. I think you're probably correct in assuming Mr. Hunter penned what became a very good haunted house film. The 'long forgotten journal', the 'spooky old house' (which in the 1960's, I'm sure it was so considered) are just perfect for a ghost story. It's long been one of my favorite movies, and I never would have imagined a ball rolling down a flight of stairs could frighten me so. :) It is beautifully shot, well-scored, and the sets are fantastic. And, of course, it has George C. Scott in the lead - one of our finest actors. It's also a movie that depends more on atmosphere and character than it does jump scares or blood-letting. The tragedies of both the past and the present make the haunting and the haunted so believable.
I loved the movie Changeling so much but always wrongly assumed this was a clever screen play. I'm pleased to know I will next be going to ebay to find a copy to read. Books add so much more detail. I suspect some portion of the story is true. Perhaps the surroundings inspired the author. I've owned several large Victorian mansions and actually had an encounter while refinishing book cabinets in the library, of one. It was the owner that stood staring at me in white shirt, narrow, short, black, 1950 tie, black suit. I'd been to the Kansas City Museum a few days prior to the encounter and found a book listing the homes of my neighborhood. A photo of 320 Benton Blvd from 1890 and Mr Fredrich Heim, owner. It was the same man in the same clothes in my library. Scared the crap out me! I felt I'd been in a deep freeze and was covered in goose bumps. I immediately left the house. I went to my other home in the neighborhood and went back the following day. I never saw Mr Heim again or had anything unusual go in that house. I think was just making sure I was taking care of his house.
Thanks for your comments, Chris. Looking forward to hearing from more 'Changeling' fans--especially as Halloween approaches!
I had originally read this story when it was published as an article on the old ' Denver Magazine' back in the late 70's ( the old Denver Magazine not to be confused with a more recent version with the same name). The account that I read in this article said that the house was on the east side of the park- over nearest to what was a cemetery ( Now the Denver Botanic Gardens ). Anyhow, the premise of the story was pretty much the same, only this account had the 'changeling' being sent away to Europe right before WW I , presumably to convalesce.
The war intervened and he returned home after the conflict and assumed his place in the family. Upon the fathers seat, he inherited the family fortune and went on to become a state senator. Believe it or not, the magazine went as far to disclose the family names as " Phipps" ( yes THOSE Denver Phipps ! ). According to the article, when Hunter published the book, the family took all worst of action to stifle and squelch the book and story. Hunter had claimed that a 'hit' was even put out on him. The article follows more the story of the movie. I have made attempts at researching were the Phipps family had lived at the time ( there was one large mansion on Colfax Ave., and another account of a house at Cheesman Park- but nothing more specific). I have not been able to locate any copies of the article and there seem to be no more copies available of the book itself ( out of print, and non over the internet ). Hunter had claimed that the family made every attempt to see to it that all accounts of this version of the story 'disappear'. If this account is true- then they were successful.
Thanks for reading, Dave! I have not been able to track down any copies of Russell Hunter's book or the script to his musical "Little Boy Blue." But there is some good news! The article you mentioned from Denver Magazine is available here in DPL's Western History and Genealogy Department: "The Changeling: Denver's $8 Million Ghost" by Russell Hunter, Denver Magazine, v. 10, April 1980, p. 48.
Stop on by and see us!
Katie, I would like to get in contact with you. My boss was a friend of Russell Hunter, and invested in some of his work. Long story short, my boss passed away a few years ago, and he left a box of original manuscripts that he got from Mr. Hunter. I now have them and don't know what to do with them. Little Boy Blue is not among them, but The Changeling is. There are several. Anyway, I would like to hear back from you about these. Thanks.
Thank you so much for reaching out, Cat! These manuscripts sound very interesting! Please take a look at our Donor Packet, which outlines the donation process and also gives the contact information for our Acquisitions Archivist, Jamie Seemiller: https://history.denverlibrary.org/sites/history/files/SCA-Donor-Packet… Thanks again for contacting us!
Do you still have those manuscripts by Russell Hunter ?
i have written several books on local (denver/boulder) ghost stories, most notably the croke-patterson mansion... i would love to hear more about these manuscripts. the changeling is near and dear to my heart—grew up watching it in boulder, and now i love in seattle (with a degree from UW).
I have copies of some books Russ wrote. He was my husband’s cousin and we spent many hours together. They are some of my most prized possessions.
I would be interested to know who the man in the picture is as it is not Russell Ellis Hunter.
I read the same article. I remember Russell said the last night in that house was horrifying. I thought I read it in "Parade" part of the Rocky Mountain News. I wish we could find the article.
Well, isn't this fascinating! I happened upon this article by sheer chance, and glad I did! Like others who have commented, I too fell in love with this movie when I first saw it via VHS in 1990. It scared the daylights out of me and to this day, I consider it one of the best ghost movies and story that has ever been made. It is truly a masterpiece. In fact, like others on this comment board, I too was so captivated by the story that I also have done research on Treat, Hunter, the home, Chessman Park, etc. albeit on a limited resource basis. I do not know if Hunter's personal experience is true or not, but I will say that I find it VERY interesting that there seems to be little documentation on the home, and those who have lived there, other than what it mentioned in this article. Also, Hunter's book seems to be impossible to find. So, this too is fascinating to me. Little seems to exist in fact about Treat and his wife as well in terms of financial interests, professional documents, etc. I did find a speech that Henry gave to a Yale Alumni dinner once, but that's about it.
In any case, like any good writer would likely do, embellishment and keeping the story alive is part of their job. Shoot, here we are 40+ years later talking about it! And loving it! Ha! I'd say that Russell Hunter certainly achieved his goal in this sense. As to his personal experiences with the story, well, I have legitimate paranormal experience myself and I have to say that his experiences are very similar to mine, so I personally believe most of his story - whether they were obtained at the Treat home or not. I believe he did experience these things at some point as they are too real, and too similar, to my own for me to cast doubt on them.
To Russell Hunter - Thank you for such a great story! Your story lives on!
Thanks so much for commenting, John! You bring up a great point. Russell Hunter did indeed succeed at producing a compelling story that gets us talking even today. Cheers to Mr. Hunter!
I agree an believe that they are real enough to be true I also fill the same of haunting s an have had similar things happen I also remember a story of a Dr Bradley an I believe the physic he refers to is Lorraine Warren I got this information from the DPL artificial from Denver Magazine 1980 at DPL please tell me of anything else that might be remembered I have lived in Colorado most of my life an the 70s were times that people were talking about ghost experiences i was in my teens then now I am 60
Katie, Would you be interested in coming on the Good Living by Design internet radio program to tell a little about this house and Russell Hunter's story? It is very interesting to see how writers and researchers can track down such factual tidbits that may change how the history of an event is perceived. If this is something you would be interested in, please let me know! October 31st is available, we are located in Highlands Ranch.
I look forward to hearing from you..
Our family, the Richard L. Fenton Family, lived in this home for about 3 years, from 1959 through 1962. We belonged to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral and we all went to the Cathedral elementary or high school, located a few blocks north of the Cathedral (the school closed down shortly after we moved). I am the youngest of 7 children who lived at the home. I loved this beautiful home while we lived there and have a few photos of the home during that time frame. My sister had her wedding reception in this home and my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary here, so I also have photos of the dining and living rooms where family photos were taken. Anyway, we did not have any hauntings during our period at the home. I do recall being told that the owners had some of their belongings stored in the attic and we were not to go up there. I don't believe we ever did. The owners also left a baby black grand piano in the front foyer area. There was black and white octagon tile in that area and it looked stunning there. My mother loved playing that piano, although she also had her own upright piano in the living room. The Smiths owned the home behind us on Williams St. Mrs. Smith used to host bridge games at her home and I used to play with her son, Lincoln, until he started school. I remember driving by the home about 9 years later and it was in total disrepair. I was heartbroken at how much the home had deteriorated and it looked like they were renting rooms out. What a shame that this historic home was later torn down to be a parking lot for a high rise building. I believe that any spirits that entered the home later were conjured up by the occupant. We didn't know anything about these hauntings or the movie that was made about the home until about 3 years ago when my sister did an online search of the address.
I now live at Summerhouse where the house used to stand. Is there any way you could possiblely email me some of your pics. we are showing the movie Thurs night the 22. Some pics would be wonderful. if you reply with your email or phone I will get back to you.
Hi Parker, Below are links to the photos (downloadable) in our Digital Collections. Have a great viewing party! Portrait of Henry Treat Rogers http://cdm16079.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/70822/rec/1 Residence at 1739 East 13th Avenue, Denver http://cdm16079.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15330coll22/id/74340/rec/1
Sorry, I just now saw your posting! I have two pics of the exterior of the home. We have a few photos of the fireplace in the living room (my sister's wedding party) and one of the dining room (during my parents' 25th wedding celebration) and one of my brother, sister and I sitting on the staircase. I just now saw this posting. If you can give me your email address, I can send them to you. Maybe you can have them the next time you show the movie. -Kathy
Oh I would love the pictures if you still have them too. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org thank you so much
Be sure to check out our two other posts on The Changeling:
Thank you Katie A. (Fenton). I lived in an old house near Colfax when my sisters and I went to Cathedral too!!! We have great memories. I never did like to do the laundry in the basement....
I'm curious about the demolition. He claims a workman was killed when the building was demolished. Has this been verified? Looked like a lovely house. Such a shame it was torn down.
Thanks for commenting, Jane! Great question. We haven't been able to find evidence in our newspaper indexes that a worker was killed when the building was demolished. We have been trying to pin down an exact date on the building's razing, and we believe it occurred either in the spring of 1971 or 1972.
Just watched the movie and loved it. Enjoyed reading everyone's comments.
Thanks for sharing, Bobby!
I was just watching this film. It has been one of my favorite horror movies since I was a child. I recalled it was supposedly based on a true story so I went online and was so pleased to read these articles and comments looking into the past!
Thanks for reading, Blue!
Hi, I was at a screening of the film at the Egyptian in Hollywood, CA last night. Peter Medak was there after the film and took some Q&A. I was the last person to ask, "What is the true story of the Changeling?" There was a quick chuckle by the interviewer, then Medak said that there was a murder, and a changeling, and that the wife of one of the producers had researched the story,Diana Maddox. He then went on to talk about another film altogether. Well, at least I tried ; D
How cool that you asked Peter Medak that question, Coneja! Wish he had more to tell:) Thanks for sharing!
Just saw the film again after many years, and it's a masterpiece. This background information is fascinating, and i'm going to read further...wish I lived in CO!
Always a great film to revisit, Selma! Even though you may not live in Colorado, you can still do research--check out all of our digitized resources at digital.denverlibrary.org!
I saw this movie when it first came out . I saw it again several years later. I was surprised to learn the house was a set and that the interior shots were all on a set. Martin Scorcese named it in his top 10 list of scariest movies of all time. The seance scene was really scary. I don't think this story is all that implausible . There are a lot of people with money and power that feel they live by separate rules or no rules greed, and self entitlement . I'm sure there are plenty of untold stories out there. Probably stories that would shock the hell out of people. I'm very surprised the house was demolished. How did that happen? Such a waste. George C. Scott was great in this film as was Melvyn Douglas. When they dug up that well in that house, I had chills for days. You just never know what's lurking below!!!
Scorcese is right on! Thanks for commenting, Kay!