This Denver Agency Leaned Into Wild Conspiracy Theories During Airport Construction

Karsh Hagan behind talking gargoyles and the #DENFiles

Gargoyle at Denver International Airport has its hands on the sides of its face.
An animatronic gargoyle is part of the Denver International Airport's conspiracy theory campaign. Denver International Airport / Karsh Hagan

Denver International Airport (DIA) has an interesting, and somewhat troubling, history. Opened in 1995, there was civic controversy about building a new airport in the first place (old-timers thought Stapleton was just fine). But what was unexpected were the rampant rumors and conspiracy theories about the behemoth airport.

Some are more outlandish like that DIA was built by the New World Order (it was funded by something called the “New World Airport Commission”), Freemasons were involved in construction and that the Illuminati headquarters are underneath the airport. Also, according to some, the tunnels below house lizard people and aliens and, when the apocalypse hits, they will be used to house the world’s elite.

Type “Denver airport conspiracy theories” on YouTube and you’ll enter a genuinely bizarre wormhole. Even Stephen Colbert, some years back, got into the spirit.

The art in the airport is unique and has its own weird tales, too. The evil-looking blue horse with red eyes at DIA’s entrance (known to locals as Blucifer) killed its sculptor (kind of … a section of the huge sculpture fell on artist Luis Jimenez and fatally severed an artery in his leg). Murals in the terminals attract all kinds of odd theories (especially around the apocalypse) and two huge gargoyles stand watch over baggage claim.

To its credit, the airport hasn’t tried to beat back the conspiracy theories or its quirks but has embraced it, using an homage to the X-Files, the #DENFiles, to help add some fuel to the fire. A three-year $650 million renovation is underway and with help from Denver indie agency Karsh Hagan, DIA is keeping the schtick going.

“Instead of saying ‘pardon our dust,’ it’s all about the lizard people,” said Dave Cook, executive creative director at Karsh Hagan, referring to the construction signs dotting the airport.

Indeed, each sign makes a point, doesn’t take itself too seriously and covers every conspiracy theory in DIA’s book.

Another added touch relates to the airport’s gargoyles at baggage claim, which will be in storage until the project is completed. In the main hall, a motion-controlled, animatronic version will be in place to surprise and delight guests. To promote the installation, the agency enlisted an improv actor (imagine a version of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman) to interact with passengers and airport employees as they walked by.

“We’re making lemonade out of lemons with the construction,” said Cook. “But it’s also very Denver. We’re lucky that we have a great airport and a great client.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.