How The Denver Airport Murals Became A Hotbed For Conspiracies

Published May 15, 2024

Leo Tanguma's murals at Denver International Airport weren't supposed to be controversial — but fate had other plans.

Denver Airport Murals

H. Mark Weidman Photography/Alamy Stock PhotoOne of the murals at the Denver International Airport, which has been the subject of conspiracy theories for years.

Denver International Airport has an odd history as the source of countless conspiracy theories — though that’s not as outlandish as you might think. From the massive blue statue of a horse outside its doors (often dubbed “Blucifer”) to the unusual Denver Airport murals, it’s clear as soon as you arrive that this is no ordinary airport.

In fact, the murals themselves — and especially their titles — have provided plenty of fodder for conspiracy theories alone. The mural titled “Children of the World Dream of Peace,” for example, is accompanied by both an image of smiling, hopeful children from across the world and an image of a frightening soldier wearing a gas mask and wielding a sword and gun.

The mural “In Peace and Harmony with Nature,” meanwhile, shows both an image of a blissful nature setting and an image that depicts forests burning, animal heads mounted on wooden plaques, and other creatures trapped in glass display boxes. The symbolism isn’t difficult to dissect, and for most people, it might be clear that these artworks are meant to be a political commentary reflecting on the turbulent state of the world.

Indeed, the artist behind these two Denver Airport murals, Leo Tanguma, says that his artwork is meant to represent the tragedy of warfare and destroyed environments — and the hope for a more peaceful future and the possibility that nature could be rehabilitated and celebrated again.

To others, though, these works of art represent a darker truth about a New World Order, ties to the Nazis or the Illuminati, and warnings about future mass extinctions. The question is: Why? What is it about the Denver Airport murals that attracts these fringe theories — and is there any truth to them?

In Peace And Harmony With Nature First Half
In Peace And Harmony With Nature
Denver Airport Mural Credits
Children Of The World Dream Of Peace First Half
How The Denver Airport Murals Became A Hotbed For Conspiracies
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A Brief History Of The Denver Airport

The Denver International Airport first opened its doors on February 28, 1995. Today, it is still the largest airport in the Western Hemisphere by land area — 52.4 square miles — and the second largest in the world.

The airport opened, in part, because Denver has historically been incredibly busy as far as air traffic is concerned. By the 1960s, the former Stapleton International Airport was the sixth-busiest in the country, even though it was significantly smaller than the current Denver International Airport.

Realizing that the city would only see more and more departures and arrivals as time went on, local officials began looking into new areas to house a much larger and more expansive airport throughout the 1980s, ultimately leading to the construction of the modern Denver Airport.

Denver International Airport

Wikimedia CommonsThe Denver International Airport, as seen from above, houses many unique artworks, including its famous murals.

From the start, aesthetics were an important aspect of the airport, particularly the Jeppesen Terminal, which has a peaked roof that was designed to look like the snow-capped Colorado mountains.

It helped that Denver's public art program, established in 1988, directed that one percent of any capital improvement project over $1 million completed by the city would be set aside for the inclusion of art as part of the project. This brought numerous artists to the new airport under construction, eager to create pieces that would be seen by millions of people.

Of course, given that art is often up for interpretation, and given the large amount of people who pass through the Denver Airport each day, it's only natural that a few odd interpretations would rise to the surface.

Conspiracy Theories About The Airport

The Denver Airport itself has been fodder for conspiracy theories since before its 1995 opening, according to The Denver Post.

The relatively remote location of the airport led certain groups of people to be skeptical about the construction of the complex in the late 1980s, and throughout the early 1990s, as artists contributed their pieces that would go on display at the airport, that skepticism grew into paranoia.

For example, the 32-foot-tall fiberglass statue of a blue mustang, created by Luis Jiménez, has been given the name "Blucifer" by countless onlookers.

Conspiracy theories have linked the artwork — simply titled "Blue Mustang" by its creator — to Satan and other various forms of evil, thanks in part to its eerie red eyes and the fact that Jiménez died during its construction after a piece of the sculpture broke away and severed an artery in the artist's leg.

Blucifer

Mike Sinko/Flickr Creative Commons"Blue Mustang," colloquially known as "Blucifer."

Blucifer aside, however, the Denver Airport houses several other artworks that inspire conspiracy theories, such as strange gargoyles, which have also been linked to Satanism. Some have also claimed to have heard Native American music playing at the building at night, sparking rumors that the airport was built on top of a sacred Indigenous burial ground.

Other theories have linked the Denver International Airport to the Freemasons, the New World Order, secret underground bunkers, extraterrestrial life, reptilian humanoids, and allegations of Nazi ties.

Some of the most famous theories are linked to the Denver Airport's murals.

The Supposed "Hidden Meaning" Of Denver Airport's Murals

Leo Tanguma

Leo Tanguma/FacebookLeo Tanguma, the artist who created the Denver Airport murals.

Created by artist Leo Tanguma — with help from his daughter Leticia Darlina Tanguma — the Denver Airport murals entitled "In Peace and Harmony with Nature" and "Children of the World Dream of Peace" have attracted perhaps the most attention from conspiracy theorists visiting the airport.

In an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS, Tanguma explained his original intent with the artworks, saying, "I need to see what's wrong in society, and then reflect it in my murals. At the same time, I wanted to reflect what's beautiful in society and in my community."

"In Peace and Harmony with Nature," for example, takes clear inspiration from the social realist murals of Mexico. The first half of the mural showcases modern concerns about environmental destruction, and the second half shows humanity coming together to rehabilitate nature.

"Children of the World Dream of Peace," meanwhile, shows the tragic impact and destruction of war in the first section before moving on, in its second section, to an image of smiling children dressed in traditional folk costumes, celebrating the end of war and the prevalence of peace.

At least, that's what Leo Tanguma intended his Denver Airport murals to represent when he created them.

Before his murals were even finished, conspiracy theories about their "hidden meanings" had started to make the rounds in the early 1990s.

Denver Airport Alien Poster

EQRoy/Alamy Stock PhotoA poster at the Denver International Airport poking fun at the conspiracy theories that surround it.

"We did have a few people come in... They said, 'Don't paint this. There's a New World Order.' We had no idea what they were talking about back then," Leticia Darlina Tanguma said. "People have said things like, 'You need to destroy the art. You need to destroy the artist who did this.'"

Leo Tanguma has often spoken out against the conspiracy theorists who saw the Denver Airport murals as predictions of the apocalypse, references to secret organizations, or representations of evil forces: "I thought and I still think that these people are deranged. For example, one religious minister called the mural satanic. Others said that they saw demons."

For Tanguma and his daughter, the conspiracy theories were a slap in the face after they had poured their hearts into their work. Some theorists even went so far as to harass them and send them death threats.

Shockingly, years later, Tanguma was eventually accused of supporting the 9/11 terror attacks. And more recently, some have even claimed that the artworks foretold the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this, Tanguma and his daughter remain proud of the intended message of their artwork — and continue to create pieces that aim to bring their community together and speak about civil rights and cultural identity.

And the Denver International Airport, for what it's worth, has embraced its reputation as a hub of conspiracy theories, and lines its halls with posters referencing alien experiments and other "secrets" hidden behind the scenes.


After reading about the true story behind the Denver Airport murals, learn about some 9/11 conspiracy theories people actually think are true. Then, read about seven surprising conspiracy theories about the Titanic.

author
Austin Harvey
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
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Jaclyn Anglis
editor
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Harvey, Austin. "How The Denver Airport Murals Became A Hotbed For Conspiracies." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 15, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/denver-airport-murals. Accessed May 23, 2024.