The 1980 film The Changeling follows a music composer who moves into a haunted mansion and uncovers a horrific crime at the center of the paranormal activity. But that chilling tale has its basis in fact, and the true story of the house that inspired The Changeling is even creepier than the movie. When you look at the facts surrounding the haunting of Russell Hunter, though, you're bound to have some questions. Hunter said he moved into a supposedly haunted mansion in Denver, Colorado, and by all accounts a lot of weird stuff happened there. But did he really live through a haunting that would go on to inspire a horror movie?
The story of The Changeling is all the more fascinating because there’s not a clear answer about what happened to Russell Hunter. The area where he lived is still rumored to be haunted, and even if some of his claims are extraordinary, there are stories and facts to back them up. This real-life version of a fictional event is incredibly strange, but did Russell Hunter barely survive his ghost-infested house, or did he just spin a great yarn?
Prior to having his life turned upside down by a ghost, Russell Hunter was a playwright and songwriter who mostly worked as a musical arranger for CBS TV. In the mid-'60s he moved from New York City to Colorado to help his parents manage the Three Birches Lodge in Boulder. But after a couple of years his artistic itch came back, and he went in search of his own home where he could write music.
Hunter must have thought he found the perfect place to shut out the world when he stumbled upon the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion in Cheesman Park, Denver, CO. The rent for the massive house at 1739 East 13th Avenue was only $200 at the time. Hunter later said that this was “because no one else wanted to live there.”
The Henry Treat Rogers mansion sat in Cheesman Park in central Denver. The area was originally home to Prospect Hill Cemetery, founded in 1858. But in 1872, the government decided the cemetery was built on federal land. Denver bought the plot back from the US government shortly thereafter, and a plan was put together to turn the area into a park.
Families were given 90 days to move their loved ones from their burial sites. After that, when construction began in 1893, workers removed any remaining bodies in an incredibly gruesome way. In order to save money, the construction workers dug up the graves, hacked the bodies into as many as three pieces, and loaded them into child-sized caskets. Anything that decomposed past the point of identification was tossed, and the graves were ravaged for personal effects.
Understandably, stories soon began circulating that Cheesman Park was haunted. Visitors complained of cold spots and uneasiness, and began finding orbs in their photos. Human remains are still being unearthed in the park.
Life got spooky for Russell Hunter on February 9, 1969. That’s the first day he claimed he felt like he wasn’t alone in the house. The haunting began with noises: Hunter heard strange sounds, faucets turning on, and an “unbelievable banging and crashing” that would happen every morning at 6 AM. Hunter said the noises would suddenly stop the moment he walked downstairs.
Strangest of all, the walls would vibrate. The shaking got so intense that Hunter's paintings would fall off the walls.
Russell Hunter decided to start looking around his house for the source of the haunting. He and an “architect friend” soon discovered a hidden staircase in the back of a closet. The staircase took them to the third floor, where they found a trunk that contained “a nine-year-old’s schoolbooks and journal from a century ago.”
According to the journal, everything in the trunk belonged to a disabled boy who wasn’t allowed to leave the house. The boy wrote about his favorite toy in the entire world, a red rubber ball. Hunter said that a few nights after he found the trunk, that same ball bounced down his spiral staircase.