Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Episode 1: This Is The Place Heritage Park
Greetings and welcome to the first episode of Strange and Unexplained: Utah.
I know this first one was a long time coming and I can’t thank you enough for your patience, support, and understanding.
As I started the search for the perfect location for our very first episode I sorted through dozens of options. Train stations, hotels, memorials, stretches of highway and even long abandoned buildings. Utah has a such a rich and diverse history that the number of viable options for episode one began to number in the twenties, and then the thirties, and it just continued to climb from there.
Feeling bereft I began to wonder if the perfect place for this inaugural episode existed. Maybe one location was just as good a starting place as any other. I even wondered if maybe putting the episode off while I searched for this mythical perfect location was just a new form of procrastination.
Then, as I was scrolling through the list of preliminary locations I hit on the This Is The Place Heritage Park. It had come up in early searches on account of the number of original and historic buildings the park now boasted as well as the Pioneer cemetery, one of the oldest such locations in Utah. As I read about the park and learned about the significance of its location, the light bulb when off and I knew.
This Is The Place, was true to its name.
So, without further ado, I give you Strange & Unexplained: Utah Episode: One This Is the Place Heritage Park.:
June 27th, 1844 dawned cloudy and full of rain in the city of Carthage Illinois. Awaiting trial in the small-town jail, Joseph Smith, founder and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and his brother Hyrum Smith, Assistant President of the Church, stood, watching the rain fall from their second story cell. Now, I don’t know if it was cold day or if the summer sun had strength enough to penetrate the cloud cover, or even what they did to pass the time, but I do know that they were not alone. Occupying the only other cell was Willard Richards, a local physician and early leader in the church, and John Taylor an Englishman who would later become the churches 3rd and only non-American president.
Together the four men waited, their fates unknown.
They had a visitor, some wine for their sacrament, and a dinner that would ultimately, become their last meal. As the late summer sun set through the dark and cloudy sky; men, with gun powder painted faces and murder in their hearts, marched on the Carthage jail.
Seeing the attackers marching their way, the four men gathered in one room and did their best to bar the door. Threats were exchanged from both sides and shots were fired. Hyrum was the first to be struck down, a shot coming through the door and striking him to the left of his nose ended his struggle that night. John Taylor, while attempting to escape through the window nearly fell through it down to what might have been his doom, he was then shot three times as he hid himself under the bed nearby. Joseph Smith, having witnessed his brother’s assassination, ran to window to escape. He was shot twice in the back while perched on the seal and then shot a third time from outside the window by another member of the mob. He plummeted down the side of the building and landed on the hard and unforgiving street below.
History gets a little fuzzy here. Taylor and Richards, having survived the attack on the Jail later when on to say that the prophet was dead when he hit the ground. However, an eyewitness to the attack claimed that Smith was alive when he hit the ground and the mob sat him up on well, organized themselves into a haphazard firing squad, and opened fire before fleeing into the night.
While the motives of each individual man of the mob can never be known, their main goal was plain. They hoped that by killing Joseph Smith, his religion would die with him.
That was not, however, what fate had in mind for the early LDS Church.
Two years after the assassination of their founder, and still reeling from that loss and the turmoil it created amongst its followers, Brigham Young, the de facto leader of the church, decide that the only way to keep his people safe was to head west. As far away as they could get from the people that persecuted them so endlessly. After making a deal with local and state officials to create a kind of ceasefire until they could make their escape the leaders of the church created and set in motion plans to take their followers far west to the Utah Territory. To a place where few people had been and even fewer had lived.
On February 4th, 1846 a group of nearly 300 Mormon pioneers set out from Nauvoo Illinois with the hope of freedom in their hearts and Zion on their minds.
Unfortunately, the weather was much worse than Brigham Young could have anticipated, what he had hoped would only take a month and a half of traveling took nearly sixteen weeks. It became obvious very quickly that there was no way they were going to make the journey in one go. They would have to camp out for the winter and try again when the snow and frost had cleared.
So, the pioneers set themselves up in Winter Quarters in what is now Omaha, Nebraska and when the weather cleared and they were able, a smaller vanguard company was dispatched to continue the way west. 143 men, 73 wagons, animals, supplies and even a few children, (two to be precise.), set out on April 5th 1847.
Now even with a smaller group, this party faced many hardships and touch choices. What path to follow, how to handle the rugged terrain, and dealing with what they called “mountain fever” Brigham Young himself contracted this fever from a tick and was forced to ride behind the main party in the sick wagon.
On July 24th 1847 that same wagon came rumbling down through what we now call Emigration Canyon, as they droved Brigham Young looked out from the back of wagon and declared, “This is the right place, drive on.”
Over the course of the next few weeks and months more than 2,000 Mormon made their way to their new home in Utah, still a part of Mexico at this time. If you stop and consider the nature of this feat. To travel nearly 1,300 miles with nothing but a covered wagon and a handful of supplies, driven by the need to survive and the incredible strength of their faith, they walked, demonstrating one of the greatest literal leaps of faith the country had ever seen. Finally finding the Zion they had been promised by Joseph Smith so many years before.
It is understandable then, given all these amazing pioneers did, that the state of Utah would want to commemorate them somehow. To put down some marker to honor their sacrifice. In 1947, commemorating their journey and the 100 year anniversary, Utah did just that. A magnificent stone obelisk with statues, inscriptions, and the story of how they made it so far with so little greet all visitors to the This Is The Place Heritage Park.
Over the next several decades, as this monument grew to become the park we know today, several original buildings were purchased by or loaned to the church. Slowly the little town of Old Deseret took shape.
While I would love to sit and tell you about every building they have, from the Replica of the original BYU, to the Z.C.M.I shop that is still a functioning gift shop, to the replicated Heber C. Kimball home. There’s simply too many to discuss each here today.
So, lets talk about the main reason we are calling the park part of Utah’s Strange and Unexplained tapestry.
Brigham Young’s Forest Farm House.
Originally built in 1863 by Brigham Young, it was built on a 600 acre farm located near 7th east and 23rd south. Now the farm was not his main residence, that was The Lion or Beehive House depending on his title at the time.
No, the farm house was something special. It was, at its base, an experimental farm where they tested crops that they weren’t sure would survive the harsher Utah climates. Things like alfalfa, sugar beets, and even mulberry’s were tested there. It was also a very prosperous dairy farm where Young family produced their milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
Brigham young designed the house with Truman O’Angell and A.J. Downing. Young named it Forest Farm due to the large number of trees on the property, some planted himself.
History splits again here.
A lot of official sources I’ve read tell me that Young used the house mainly as a hoisting place for visiting dignitaries, dinner parties, square dances, and a place for his children to practice their music. It was, as many accounts state, a house filled with music, laughter, and light.
However, a few reports I’ve found suggest that the house was used for something less picturesque. In her 2009 book Specters in Doorways Revisited, Linda Dunning suggests that the Farmhouse was used as a kind of home for ill behaved wives. The most famous of those being Ann Eliza. A woman, they claim, is still there today.
There are a lot of different opinions about Ann Eliza Young, and several theories as to the kind of woman she was. I won’t go into too much detail about that, as our focus here is on what makes this Park Strange and Unexplained. I will say that she was one of only two wives to ever divorce Brigham Young, during a time when woman initiating divorce was still very unheard of. Afterward she wrote a book longly titled “Wife No. 19: The Story of a Life in Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy” Despite her outspoken criticisms of the church she was raised in, and the man who built the lovely pink farmhouse, hers is one of the ghosts most commonly sighted.
Second only to Brigham Young himself.
Prophet Young, in fact, has been a very vocal and present spirit in the Farm house.
After his death in 1877 the farm house was purchased by George Mousley Cannon who converted the house and the land into the Forest Dale Church. Which is what it was used for from 1896 to 1903 when the construction on the forest dale chapel was completed.
In 1950 the house was purchased by Frank and Gwen Wilcox, completely unaware of the home’s origins or history. Gwen, as fate would have it, was a very gifted psychic who had done a lot of work with the local police. So, it was no surprise when she awoke one morning and found an elderly man sitting in her front room. She described him as being around seventy-five years old, kind, sitting with his leg up on a stool and a cane in his hand.
It didn’t take long for the Wilcox family to figure out who this man was, or the historical significance of their newly purchased home. Brigham Young visited Gwen many times over the years helping her and her husband restore the home it its original glory. Everything from wallpaper to flooring, Brigham had ideas about all of it. And in 1968, after the restoration was complete, the Wilcox family gave it the church at which point it was relocated to its new home at the Heritage Park.
Since it’s move there the ghost of Brigham Young has been much less present, but several people have reported the apparition of Ann Eliza Young as well as Sarah Decker, Young’s second wife, and John A. Young, Brigham’s favorite son. There are more spirits that have been seen or report to the staff there, but not everyone can be named. The house has repeatedly been named one the most haunted places in Utah, and for good reason.
Now I’d like to tell you about one more location before we sign off for tonight.
The pioneer cemetery.
It was a sunny summer day in Salt Lake City on July 6th, 1986. The temperature in town was around 75 degrees and a light breeze was blowing in from the south. Banners and posters still hung around town announcing the various Independence Day celebrations from the previous two days.
A week prior to this, the block of downtown from 2nd west between 3rd and 4th south and been thoroughly searched for any early pioneer artifacts as the block was prepared for the building of a new apartment complex. It had been thought that somewhere near this area the original pioneer cemetery had been lost to time. But after a week of unsuccessful searching, crews moved on and began to prepare the site for construction.
An antique collector, hoping to find a score of old bottles, picked through the preconstruction ruble. What he found, instead, was a coffin.
This set of a frenzy of excavations, and after two long weeks, the skeletal remains of 32 pioneers were discovered, unearthed, and set to a special lab in Wyoming for testing.
On Monday May 25th , 1987, memorial day, the 32 were laid to rest at the top of the hill in what is now the Pioneer Cemetery. At the highest point of the park, overlooking the entire Salt Lake Valley, they were interred, with the headstones they were previously denied. Given the poor records of the time, it is almost impossible to know who these nine adults and 23 infants and children were. Their graves are marked with simple stones, the larger ones for the adults and the smaller ones for the children.
It’s a very quiet place, and peaceful as the wind blows through the canyon and shakes the trees that have been planted there. Most people don’t ever venture that far up the hill and those that do usually think the cemetery isn’t a real. A reconstruction like several of the building in the small town. There aren’t any reports about sightings that I can find. But I can tell you that standing there, amongst those stones, you feel something there.
They’re home now, resting near the top of the valley the settled, overlooking the ever-expanding city of Salt Lake. Maybe these 32 are even watching over their descendants as their line continues to inhabit the valley they fought so hard to reach and the home they loved even for a short while.
Thank you all for coming with me today on our journey to the mouth of emigration canyon, and the This Is The Place Heritage Park. I hope you’ve enjoyed this first little foray into Utah's strange and unexplained world. If you enjoyed our trip be sure to subscribe on apple podcast and google play. And be sure to check out our website or YouTube page in the next couple of days for the follow up video.
Until next time guys, keep it strange.
Check out the video from episode one!