About Our Historic Jewish Cemetery in Lakewood, CO
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, America was ravaged by "white death." Tuberculosis was so feared that patients were sent to remote sanatoriums and, at death, were often buried separately from others.
Every day, tens of thousands of drivers pass within feet of one such plot at Golden Hill Cemetery, a historic Jewish cemetery in Lakewood, CO, at 12000 W. Colfax Ave.
Partially hidden by brush and weeds and separated from the main cemetery, roughly 200 tombstones dot a small hillside less than a stone's throw from the busy street.
"Most of the people buried on the hill were paupers," said Neal Price, executive director of Golden Hill Cemetery. "If you look at the records, there's almost 800 people actually buried there, but only a couple hundred tombstones."
The nonprofit cemetery runs almost entirely from donations, and maintained by groundskeeper Lee Rossow and his staff.
The History Behind Golden Hill
Many of the dead were Jewish immigrants with tuberculosis who fled the crowded living conditions of the East Coast to regain strength and health at one of two regional Jewish sanatoriums.
Medical practice at the time said tuberculosis could be cured with sunshine, fresh air, and rest. The Colorado climate was viewed as ideal for curing tuberculosis, and patients would often be rolled outdoors in winter to breathe in the cold air.
National Jewish Hospital opened in 1899 on East Colfax Avenue and catered largely to German reform Jews with a less severe form of tuberculosis.
Those in the advanced stages or near death ended up at the Jewish Consumptives Relief Society in the area of the shopping center that now houses Casa Bonita on West Colfax Avenue; most had fled extreme poverty in eastern Europe.
"The two hospitals both did wonderful work but had different philosophies and outcomes," said Jeanne Abrams, the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society director. "They were both free of charge, but only JCRS took patients in all stages of tuberculosis."
The Historic Site Then and Now
Many of the dead from the relief society were buried at Golden Hill with help from benevolent groups, which raised money for the treatment and burial of indigent people.
The most well-known tombstone at Golden Hill marks where the eccentric founder of the relief society, Dr. Charles Spivak, is partially buried, Abrams said.
"He was beloved by patients for doing special acts of kindness. During the terrible blizzard of 1911, he snowshoed in from Denver and brought flour because he was afraid the patients may not have bread," Abrams said. "He had his (body parts) buried there to be close to the patients."
She added the rest of his body was sent to Israel.
Price said the cemetery still has around 20 burials a year. Surrounding land owned by Golden Hill has space at that rate to last more than 100 years.
"It's probably our most impressive reminder of a Jewish presence here that dates back to the gold rush," said Tom Noel, a history professor at the University of Colorado Denver. "Jews were among the first Europeans to settle here, and when you see those thousands of graves, you're reminded of that."