Cemetery of the Week #54: Salt Lake City Cemetery

Tomb of John Taylor, the Living Martyr

Salt Lake City Cemetery
200 N Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
Telephone: (801) 596-5020
Email: cemetery@slcgov.com
Founded: 1847
Size: 120 acres
Number of Interments: more than 124,000
Open: Year-round from 8 a.m. to dusk

Since the Latter-day Saints are known for their genealogical research, one would expect there to be a good guidebook to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, where many Utahan pioneers lie buried. Instead, there are a handful of useful websites (linked below) and an out-of-print map called The Famous and Infamous: A Guide to the Salt Lake City Cemetery. If you can find a copy, I thought the map was extremely useful on my jaunt to the cemetery the last weekend.

The first burial in Salt Lake City Cemetery was 17-month-old Mary Wallace, buried on her father’s new land grant in September 1847, just two months after the first pioneers followed Brigham Young to the Promised Land. Her brother George was the second burial. Six months later, Young appointed three men to buy 20 acres as a burying ground for the burgeoning city. Wallace offered up his land and was appointed the cemetery’s first sexton. Salt Lake City Cemetery remains the largest city-operated cemetery in the United States.

The graves of many pioneers dot the cemetery. Small brass plaques point out their headstones. Some of them pulled handcarts from as far away as Illinois. One of the graves said that they walked so far that their feet left bloody prints in the snow.

Among the luminaries buried in the cemetery are 11 Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, starting with John Taylor, who followed in Brigham Young’s footsteps, up to and including Gordon Hinckley, who made use of the media to spread the Mormon faith. He died in 2008.

The cemetery was designed as a garden cemetery, with nine and a half miles of winding roads, but because it wasn’t irrigated until after 1900, it doesn’t have the exquisite horticultural specimens found in damper places. The trees in the Salt Lake City Cemetery tend toward pines. Although the grass, at the end of March, had only started to green up, wild violets thrived.

Another well-known permanent resident of Salt Lake City Cemetery is Lilly Gray, whose headstone claims she was “Victim of the Beast 666.” Here’s the story debunking the epitaph. We searched for a good long time without being able to locate her stone.

Elsewhere in the graveyard is buried Hiram (or Hirum) Bebee, who claimed to be Harry Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid. In 1945, at the age of 78, Bebee killed a Utah Marshall in a bar. After he was sentenced to death, he revealed that the Sundance Kid did not die in Bolivia, as reported. Instead, he snuck back across the border, married, raised a family, and change his name. Whether Bebee really was the famous train robber or not, his grave lies uphill at the back of the cemetery, near the plot for inmates who died in the Utah State Penitentiary.

Sister wives of Joseph F. Smith and Brigham Young

Also among the dead lie several men with their polygamous wives. Without their husband (who is buried downtown near Temple Square) lie at least 11of Brigham Young’s 27 wives. Some of them have unmarked graves. Several of them were widows of Joseph F. Smith, the sixth prophet of the church, the nephew of the publisher of the Book of Mormon. While it’s common in other graveyards to see widowers with serial wives, this was the first time I’d seen simultaneous wives.

Most of the monuments in the cemetery tend toward solid granite with little ornamentation. This is in reaction to the poor way the earlier marble monuments have survived the years of winter. Many of the pioneer graves have modern tombstones.

One of the most beautiful monuments in the cemetery is called the Christmas Box Angel, dedicated to all who have lost a child. The monument, unveiled on December 6, 1994, was sculpted by Ortho Fairbanks, who lost a child himself. It was inspired by an earlier angel in the cemetery, which had been destroyed in 1984. That missing angel inspired the book The Christmas Box Angel, written by Richard Paul Evans, who had a stillborn sister. The monument angel’s face was modeled on one of the author’s daughters. Grieving parents leave trinkets and food at the monument’s base.

The Christmas Box Angel

Thanks to Jessica Harmon and Nick Fowler for their informative and fun tour of the cemetery!

Useful links:

Salt Lake City Cemetery homepage

Enjoy Utah’s series of articles on the cemetery

Victim of the Beast 666 story

Map of the prophets’ graves

An alternate map

A blog about the Notables of the Salt Lake City Cemetery

My piece about visiting Salt Lake City’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.

10 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #54: Salt Lake City Cemetery

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