It’s rare for me to give a cemetery book such a low rating, but it’s rare for a cemetery book to contain so much dry information that even my interest wanes.
I assumed, from the subtitle, that this would be a book about the West. In this case, the west is limited to the Rocky Mountain states. Since I live west of that, I struggled with my disappointment. Also from the subtitle, I assumed this would be a book about cemeteries as “sculpture gardens.” While I hoped for an accent on the garden aspect, Stott accents the sculptors rather than their works. The horticultural details gets scant attention.
The text focuses on the business aspects of the cemetery trade. I find that I am more interested in the stories recorded in stone than in the stone carvers. I wanted to spend more time in the graveyards and less time in workshops.
I read this book in advance of a trip to the Salt Lake City, hoping to glean some background that would add richness and depth to my exploration of the Salt Lake City Cemetery and the smaller Brigham Young and Kimball Family Cemeteries. Instead, the beautiful historic cemetery, which easily rates a chapter of its own, gets short shrift. Then again, no one seems to have done justice to the graveyard with a book of its own, so perhaps that information is impossibly difficult to come by? The smaller cemeteries don’t get mentioned at all.
All the same, the book has encouraged me to visit the mountain cemeteries of Colorado. Apparently, that’s where the author was based, so the area gets more of her attention.
View from Young’s grave looking toward the front of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument aka Brigham Young Family Memorial Cemetery
aka Brigham Young Cemetery
140 First Avenue
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103 Founded: 1848? Size: one acre Number of interments: 11 (although Findagrave lists 15 and other sites suggest there may be many more) Open: Daily until 8 p.m.
Not to be confused with the Brigham Young Memorial Park, which sits on the corner of First Avenue and State, the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument lies farther up First Avenue, sandwiched between apartment buildings. It helps to know that the even numbers are on the right side of the street as you walk uphill, the side of the street that’s toward town.
Near the cemetery fence stand matching monuments that remember two hymn writers of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. One of these poets was Eliza R. Snow, who wrote many of the church’s best-loved hymns and served for 21 years as president of the Relief Society, the church’s women’s organization. She had been the wife of the first “prophet,” Joseph Smith, but married the second prophet Brigham Young after Smith’s death.
The other monument is dedicated to William Clayton, author of the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints.” He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Farther into the pocket-sized park are bronze statues of a patriarch reading to young children. In fact, you have to go to the back corner of the park to find Brigham Young’s resting place. An ornate fence surrounds it, but a plain concrete slab covers his grave. A brass plaque adorned with a cow skull explained that, from 1850-56, he served simultaneously as head of the church and the territorial governor.
Born in Vermont in 1801, Brigham Young was baptized into the LDS Church in 1832. After Joseph Smith was imprisoned and killed in Illinois, Young led the LDS migration from Illinois to Salt Lake City. Mormons consider him “the American Moses.”
Brigham Young’s grave, with Mary Ann Angell and Lucy Decker beside him
Young died in 1877 of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix and was buried in a corner of his own land that had been set aside as a graveyard. The bronze marker was added in 1938 by the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations, which had been organized under Young’s direction.
Beside Young lie six of his 29 wives. Some of these wives have ornate slabs of marble covering their graves. Others have only a modern paper marker stuck into the sod. The rest are buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on the other side of town.
Of these wives, only Mary Ann Angell – whom he married after the death of his first wife – is legally recognized as his wife. Lucy Ann Decker became Young’s first plural wife in 1842, after he had a vision that God would allow Mormons to take multiple wives. She was 20. He was 41. Her 16-year-old sister Clara became his fourth wife two years later.
Originally, Mormon women were not allowed to own property in their own right, so they had a difficult time making a living after they were widowed. It was considered an act of charity for a man to marry widows and raise their children. Of course, he increased his property holdings with every widow he married.
Also in the cemetery are the remains of Young’s eldest son, his first child with his second wife, Mary Ann Angell (also buried here). The third of Brigham Young’s 56 children, Joseph Angell Young was a teenager when the family settled in Salt Lake City. As a young man, he traveled to England as an LDS missionary. Upon returning home, Joseph Angell Young served three terms as a member of the Utah Territory’s House of Representatives and six terms in the territory’s senate.
Information on the cemetery is contradictory and hard to come by, but it appears the original burial in the Brigham Young Family Cemetery was Alva Young, son of Brigham and Louisa Beeman Young, who was buried October 1, 1848. Historian Kate B. Carter wrote, “The earliest burial date [on a tombstone] in the cemetery is 1874 and the last, 1892, but there must have been burials before [the earliest date] for ten of Brigham Young’s children died in infancy to childhood. . .. It is presumed that at least some of these individuals were interred in their family burial ground.”
In 1927, Young’s descendant Richard W. Young, president of the Brigham Young Cemetery Association, signed over the deed of the cemetery property to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the condition that the burials there “shall in no manner or way be disturbed.”
The land was left pretty much alone until 1974, when church president N. Eldon Tanner dedicated the Brigham Young Family Cemetery to the memory of the 6000 Mormon pioneers who died crossing the plains trying to reach Utah between 1847 and the opening of the railroad in 1869.
The park was redesigned and restored in 2000, when the statuary and poets’ monuments were added.
Salt Lake City Cemetery
200 N Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
Telephone: (801) 596-5020
Email: email@example.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!
In March 2008, I visited Salt Lake City for the World Horror Convention. The con committee was so amazingly helpful that when I asked about visiting cemeteries, they assigned a driver to help me reach Mount Olivet Cemetery, out near the Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the 2002 Olympic Flame still burns. We had a great afternoon poking around in the graveyard.
In the 1870s, non-Mormons wanted a graveyard where they could be buried separately from Mormons. President Ulysses S. Grant signed an order in 1874 granting 20 acres of the Fort Douglas military post to be used as a non-denominational, non-profit cemetery. Opened in 1877, it is the second oldest public burial ground in Salt Lake City.
The cemetery is the final home to many congressmen, senators, mayors of Salt Lake City, Civil War generals, a Utah governor, and many Mormons as well. It’s also home to a large herd of white-tailed deer.
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