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We need to unpack the ‘diving elk’ that used to be a thing in Denver

Alamo-Placita Park off Speer used to be home to W.H. Barnes' diving elk.
Credit: Courtesy Denver Public Library
An 1899 drawing of diving elk.

DENVER — It’s throwback Thursday, so let’s take a look back at something very … strange that used to happen in Alamo-Placita Park near Downing Street and Speer Boulevard.

This story takes us back to the late 1890s, when Alamo-Placita was known as “Chutes Park.” Back then, it was an amusement park and early business venture of former Denver Mayor Robert Speer.

And here’s where things get wild. Check out this May 28, 1899 excerpt from the Rocky Mountain News that the Denver Public Library tracked down:

And last, but by no means least, the wonderful diving elks, owned, trained and exhibited by that greatest of all wild animal conquerors, W. H. Barnes. The control Mr. Barnes has over these beautiful animals is simply wonderful. At the word of command they took contentedly to the top of a specially constructed scaffold, and at a second word from their trainer, dive unhesitatingly into a tank of water, sixty feet below. No living man has ever succeeded in gaining the confidence of dumb animals to the extent that is shown by Mr. Barnes in the handling of his wonderful elks.

Wait a second … diving elk?! According to the Denver Public Library, it’s exactly what you think it is. Elk would legitimately dive into a tank of water from 60 feet in the air.

RELATED: You can watch elk try to find love in this Colorado town

But, according to the library, people quickly began to realize this isn’t really fair or good for the animals. These operations were more or less shut down by the 1900s.

To recap: For a while, elk used to dive off platforms less than a mile from the 9NEWS office off Logan and Speer.

As for the amusement park? It burned down in 1901, and was purchased by the city of Denver in 1911.

If you're looking for pictures of actual diving elk in action, check out this article from the McCracken County Public Library in Kentucky.

RELATED: Verify: Is an elephant buried under a Colorado supermarket?

For what it’s worth, this isn’t the only crazy story involving animals at a defunct Denver amusement park. For instance, legend has it that there’s an elephant buried near Sloan’s Lake.

Roger the Elephant was the Manhattan Beach Park’s star attraction, and in 1891, he stomped a boy to death. Legend has it Roger was shot and buried in Edgewater, but the 9NEWS Verify team determined it’s more likely that he was shipped off to another zoo. 

h/t to Denver Public Library for the history lesson!

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