Category Archives: History

Top Baby Names in Utah 1907 Edition

It’s time to update and compare the most popular baby names, as found in birth certificates that are now public.

Girls

  1. Mary
  2. Alice
  3. Helen
  4. Edna
  5. Florence
  6. Thelma
  7. Ruth
  8. Margaret
  9. Grace
  10. Mildred

Boys

  1. John
  2. William
  3. James
  4. George
  5. Joseph
  6. Charles
  7. Arthur
  8. Thomas
  9. Clarence
  10. Robert

Portraits of the SLC Fire Department

RISING FROM THE ASHES

Salt Lake City’s first professional fire department was born in October 1883 out of the ashes of a devastating fire that occurred in the heart of the city during the summer that same year. Prior to 1883, the city had relied on volunteer fire fighting services that were organized into local brigades around the city. The first voluntary fire protection service for the city was organized in 1853 with the passage of a city ordinance that allowed for the creation of a volunteer city fire brigade. Four years later, in 1856, the Salt Lake City Volunteer Fire Department was organized and placed under the direction of Chief Engineer Jesse C. Little. This volunteer service served the city’s needs for over two decades until June 21, 1883 when a massive fire broke out at the H.B. Clawson Wagon Depot on the city block immediately south of Temple Square.

Unidentified Boy in Fire Fighter Uniform (series 23526).

Unidentified Boy in Fire Fighter Uniform (series 23526).

As the June 1883 fire raged, the resources of the city’s volunteer fire department proved unequal to the task of effectively managing it. The situation was compounded by the fact that Clawson had illegally stored a cache of gunpowder on his property. When the fire reached this powder it exploded, simultaneously spreading the fire, and breaking much of the glass in buildings surrounding the downtown area. Once the fire was effectively contained, the losses were catastrophic. Clawson’s property was a total loss, as were the neighboring Savage Art Bazaar, the Council House, and several businesses in the vicinity of Temple Square.

In response to the devastation of the June fire, the Salt Lake City Council voted and approved an ordinance in October, 1883 that established the city’s first full-time, paid fire department. George Ottinger, who had served as the Volunteer Fire Department chief since 1876, was named the first chief of the Salt Lake City Fire Department, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1890.

OTTINGER HALL

With his retirement as chief of the Salt Lake City Fire Department in 1890, George Ottinger stayed active in the local fire fighting community by moving quickly to establish the Veteran’s Volunteer Fireman Association (VVFA). This fraternal organization provided a means for veterans of the city’s former volunteer brigades to remain in contact, and fraternize with members of the city’s new professional fire department.

Portrait of Ed J. Thompson (series 23526).

Portrait of Ed J. Thompson (series 23526).

In 1904 the VVFA met for the first time in Ottinger Hall, located at 233 Canyon Road in Memory Grove, which was built for the express purpose of serving as a meeting place for the VVFA and the fire department’s Ladies Auxiliary. In addition to serving as a social space for fire fighters, the building contained one of the city’s first non-academic libraries. Over time it would also become the place where many of the artifacts and records documenting the Salt Lake City Fire Department’s history would find a home.

PRESERVING AN IMPORTANT HISTORY

Upon its completion, Ottinger Hall was donated to the Salt Lake City Corporation, and leased back to the the VVFA (and later the Fireman’s Relief Association) at the cost of $1.00 per year. As the artifacts and records documenting the Salt Lake City Fire Department’s history began accumulating in the building, important questions arose of who owned these collections, and who was responsible for ensuring their long-term preservation. Was this a role for the Fireman’s Relief Association, or state government?

In 1999, Salt Lake City took control of Ottinger Hall, and began the process of renovating the space for commercial use. At that time, prominent Utahn, Larry H. Miller (a descendant of the first volunteer fire chief, Jesse C. Little) was approached about the possibility of donating funds to construct a replica of Ottinger Hall at This Is the Place Heritage Park. The purpose of this new building was to house the historic artifacts and collections that had gathered in the original Ottinger Hall over time, effectively making the Utah Division of State Parks the permanent custodian of this history?

Because many of the collections that had found a home in Ottinger Hall were created as a function of government activity, the Utah State Archives was asked to conduct an inventory of the historic record collections in the building. This inventory led to the transfer of several record series into State Archives custody. These records include record books, reports, bulletins, and photographs that document some of the earliest activities of the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

Portrait of  W.S. Higham (series 23526).

Portrait of W.S. Higham (series 23526).

PORTRAITS OF A NEW PROFESSION

Among the record series transferred to the Utah State Archives during the renovation of Ottinger Hall, is a collection of photographs that provide a rich visual history of the Salt Lake Fire Department from its inception in 1883 up to 1975. This collection includes portrait photographs from the late 19th century taken by the Shipler Commercial Photography Studio that capture the images of some of the first professional fire fighters in the city’s history.

Portrait of A. Slaight (series 23526).

Portrait of A. Slaight (series 23526).

The collection also includes a photograph book that was presented to the Salt Lake City Fire Department by famed photographer C.R. Savage in 1888. Much like the Shipler photographs, these portraits provide a visual record of the first professional fire fighters to serve in the Salt Lake City Fire Department.

In an attempt to enhance the preservation of these historically fragile photographs, the Utah State Archives has digitized all of the earliest photographs from this collection. These images will soon be made available through the Utah State Digital Archives, providing a tremendous resource to anyone interested in the rich history of Salt Lake City’s Fire Department.


SOURCES

A Brief History of the Salt Lake City Fire Department. (n.d.). Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.slcfire.com/external/content/document/3687/1918878/1/Brief history.pdf

Harp, M. (2007, August 1). Salt Lake City’s Ottinger Hall Holds Important Place In Utah’s Fire Service History. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://www.slrfa.org/images/History/Backdraft/OttingerHallHarpBackdraft082007.pdf

Nichols, J. (1995, May 1). 1883 Blaze Spurred Creation of Salt Lake City’s Professional Fire Department. Retrieved January 6, 2015, from http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/mining_and_railroads/1883blazespurredcreationoffiredepartment.html

The Life and Crimes of Frank Treseder

PROTECTING UTAH’S LAW ENFORCEMENT HISTORY

There are few collections in the Utah State Archives as rich and colorful as those associated with law enforcement. Through these records the escapades of both cop and criminal play out, providing dramatic snapshots of historical moments that are often tinged with high drama, emotion, and periodic violence.

In 2011, Salt Lake Tribune columnist, Robert Kirby approached the Utah State Archives with the idea for a project that would promote the importance of historic law enforcement records to the various communities responsible for creating them. As an ex-police officer, Kirby has made countless contacts with various law enforcement professionals throughout Utah during his career, many of whom have long acted as the lone custodians over their individual agency histories. After a successful presentation on the value of law enforcement records in October 2011, phone calls began to roll in from far-flung offices asking how the Utah State Archives might help in ensuring the long-term preservation of Utah’s law enforcement history.

One such call came from the Utah Board of Pardons, asking if the Utah State Archives would be interested in taking over the permanent care of an extremely unusual artifact: an 1887 painting of the Utah Territorial Prison that once stood in modern-day Sugar House Park. This painting had hung on the office walls of the Board of Pardons for decades, before getting reconciled to an office closet. The historic importance of this object was clear at once, and it was immediately transferred into State Archives custody for safekeeping. Using the small clues available on the painting itself, Archives staff conducted research for a finding aid, which soon revealed a back story of the artist every bit as interesting as the painting itself.

1887 painting by Frank Treseder of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House.

1887 painting by Frank Treseder of the Utah Territorial Prison in Sugar House (series 27827).

A LIFE OF CRIME

Frank M. Treseder was born in 1853 in Jersey Island, England, and by the 1880s he had become well known to law enforcement officials in the Utah Territory. The first documented case of Frank Treseder running afoul of the law came in 1877 when he was brought up for trial in Salt Lake (along with Charles Howard) on the charge of robbery. According to Third District Court records, the pair had assaulted John Hepworth, robbing him of a gold watch valued at $180. Tresder was found guilty, and sentenced to three years in the Utah Territorial Penitentiary.

1877 charging document against Frank Treseder and Charles Howard (series 9802).

1877 charging document against Frank Treseder and Charles Howard (series 9802).

It wasn’t long after his release from prison before Treseder once again found himself in court, this time in  Ogden’s First District Court. According to court records, Treseder had been arrested (along with Meyer Seekel) for the November 24, 1881 theft of $1000 in gold coin and $500 in sundry checks from the home of Ambrose Greenwell. The pair was convicted on the charge of burglary on May 09, 1882, and Treseder would spend another three years in the Sugar House prison before his release on May 01, 1885.

Not even a year passed before Treseder’s next brush with the law. On January 22, 1886 Treseder and County Collector N.V. Jones were arrested by Federal officials in the Utah Territory and charged with bribery. According to officials, Treseder had made an attempt to bribe U.S. Marshals into giving up information on raids that the government was planning on making on polygamists and unlawful cohabitants in the Utah Territory. With the impending 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act banning the practice of polygamy in the territory, Treseder was effectively charged with acting as an agent in gathering information that might be used to help protect LDS members who would soon fall under the legal reach of the federal government for their ongoing practice of plural marriage.

1886 demur from Frank Treseder on charges of attempted murder (series 6836).

1886 demur from Frank Treseder on charges of attempted murder (series 6836).

An interesting twist to the case came in March when Treseder (who was free on bail) was arrested again and brought before the Third District Court on charges of attempted murder. The March 02, 1886 Salt Lake Democrat reports that Treseder had approached Thomas Murray and discussed with him the potential murders of U.S. Marshal’s W.H. Dickson, E.A. Ireland, and E.A. Franks. Treseder’s attorney made a demur on this indictment, claiming that it didn’t conform to sections of the Territorial criminal code, and ultimately the charge of attempted murder against Treseder was dropped. However, on September 28, 1886 he and Jones were convicted on the original charge of bribery, and Treseder once again found himself facing a three year sentence in the state penitentiary.

THE UNEXPECTED ARTIST

It was this final stay in the Utah Territorial Prison where Treseder would turn to painting and create a series of works that have marked him as an important 19th century artist in Utah’s history. An inkling of this creative turn is described in the September 28, 1886 Salt Lake Democrat. Reporting on the bribery trial that would ultimately lead him to another stint at the Sugar House prison, the newspaper states:

“Frank Treseder spend the great part of his time while in court drawing pictures on paper. He is quite an artist in his way and seems to take as much pleasure in it as a school boy.”

This artistic talent seemingly blossomed during his three years in the state penitentiary. Another newspaper report from the April 13, 1888 Salt Lake Herald, describes the construction of a new penitentiary building on the prison grounds and states: “Frank Treseder, who has become quite an artist, has his studio [in the basement of the new penitentiary building].”

The view of the prison that is now held by the Utah State Archives is one of several that have survived to the modern day. The Springville Museum of Art is known to have two Treseder Sugar House prison paintings as well, one looking to the east, and the other looking to the west.

LIFE OUTSIDE THE SUGAR HOUSE PRISON

Frank Treseder was released from the Utah Territorial Prison in the late 1880s, and promptly married a woman named Mary Bennett, whom he had met while she was visiting the prison. Domestic bliss wouldn’t last however, as Bennett would appear before the Third District Court in 1892 asking for a decree of divorce from Treseder. According to her statement he had left her, and was last known to have been seen somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The court granted her divorce from Treseder and also sole custody over their child.

Information on Treseder after he left Utah is scant, but his story has an unhappy ending. According to a 1923 Texas death certificate, Treseder died alone on February 21, 1923 from paresis, with drug addiction listed as a contributing cause.

Whether Treseder remained an active painter after leaving Utah isn’t known either, as no other paintings attributed to him have been identified (leaving the Sugar House prison paintings the extent of his known work at this time). However, as this story demonstrates, you never know when another unexpected discovery might be made!


SOURCES

Ancestry.com. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Salt Lake Democrat, “Before the Grand Jury.” Jan. 26, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/48655/show/48637/rec/4 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Conspiracy to Murder.” Mar. 02, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/58696/show/58687/rec/11 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Local Jots.” May 02, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/16196/show/16182/rec/2 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Democrat, “Local Jots.” Sep. 28, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/sldemocrat/id/46791/show/46770/rec/30 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Herald, “Out on the Hill.” Apr. 13, 1886. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slherald18/id/78855/show/78830/rec/73 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Salt Lake Herald, “Her Romance Ended.” Apr. 30, 1892. From Utah Digital Newspapers. http://udn.lib.utah.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/slherald19/id/120218/show/120181/rec/75 (accessed Dec. 01, 2014).

Swanson, Vern G. Utah Art, Utah Artist – 150 Years Survey. Layton: Gibbs Smith, 2001. Print.

Utah State Archives and Records Service. Board of Pardons. Utah Territorial Prison Painting. Series 27827.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (First District), Northern division civil and criminal case files, Series 1529.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (Third District), Territorial criminal case files, Series 6836.

Utah State Archives and Records Service, District Court (Third District), Case files, Series 9802.


A Monumental Controversy

In September 1996, President Bill Clinton made the controversial decision to draw on powers reserved to him by the 1906 Antiquities Act, and designate 1,880,461 aces of land in southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But did you know that sixty years earlier federal officials were pondering the designation of a similar monument that would have dwarfed the area covered by today’s Grand Staircase?

1936 Letter from Ray B. West to Governor Henry Blood (series 22028).

1936 Letter from Ray B. West to Governor Henry Blood (series 22028).

The story begins in 1936 when Utah State Planning Board Director, Ray B. West contacted assistant director of the National Park Service (NPS), A.E. Demaray about the possibility of the service building a federal park-to-park highway linking the remote southern Utah towns of Hanksville and Blanding. West’s contention was that this highway would serve a vital role in connecting Mesa Verde National Park to the proposed Wayne Wonderland area in central Utah (an area that would later become Capitol Reef National Park).

A response to West’s letter came from NPS director Arno Cammerer, who stated that the agency was considering making a recommendation to President Franklin Roosevelt to designate an enormous section of the state as a new “Escalante National Monument.” Cammerer further intimated to West that the Hanksville-to-Blanding road he had requested would face better odds of being completed if Utah government officials were willing to support the NPS proposal.

The 1936 NPS proposal was staggering in its scope, taking in 6,968 square miles of southern Utah land (approximately 8% of the state). Almost immediately the State Planning Board undertook a study, at the request of Utah Governor Henry Blood, to determine how monument designation might impact Utah’s grazing, mineral, and water rights along the Colorado River.

1936 map of the proposed Escalante National Monument.

1936 map of the proposed Escalante National Monument (series 22028).

Debate over the proposed monument became a hot topic in the state in the ensuing years. A December 1938 article in the Iron County Record spells out the concerns voiced by both sides, stating:

“The opposition maintains that the establishment of the monument would infringe on grazing rights, and would close the door to possible Colorado river developments for irrigation, flood control, and power development, etc., while those favoring the project maintain that the area has no grazing value, that irrigation would not only be impracticable, but impossible, and that the upper stretches of the Colorado and Green rivers afford much better flood control, irrigation, and power development possibilities.”

Opposition to the monument proposal grew in Utah, and in 1938 the parks service put out a second proposal for the monument, scaling dramatically back on its original size. This new monument would claim approximately 2,450 square miles of land along the Colorado River.

When the second park proposal was met with resistance from Utah officials, NPS administrators and Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, changed course. Federal agents backed off the idea of having President Roosevelt unilaterally claim the region as a national monument, and instead proposed that the U.S. Congress designate it a national recreation area. Under such a designation, the state of Utah would have maintained many of the development rights over natural resources, which had served as the greatest source of concern for state officials. Ultimately, however, the bill to create the Escalante National Recreation Area never made it out of congressional committee.

Map of the modern day Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Map of the modern day Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

This episode is played out in records held by the Utah State Archives from both the Utah Planning Board, as well as Utah Governor Henry Blood. As historian Sam Schmieding points out in his administrative history of Canyonlands National Park, “the failed Escalante proposals and conservationism’s discovery of canyon country dramatically altered the historical context and dynamics of scarcity that would influence how the National Park Service and American society classified and valued canyon country in the future.” In effect, this moment in Utah’s history reflects many of the ongoing issues between state and federal officials over federally held land in the state. It also helps us better understand the difficult nature of balancing the twin interests of preservation and resource development in Utah’s spectacular canyon country.


Highway 89 Digital Collections

THE HIGHWAY 89 DIGITAL COLLECTIONS PROJECT

The history of the American West is shaped and defined as much by its people as it is its landscapes. Nowhere is this more clear than in the winding path taken by Highway 89. On its 1,252-mile route from Mexico to Canada, Highway 89 passes through or adjacent to seven national parks, showcasing some of the most spectacular scenery in the American West.

Such distinctive landscapes make for a powerful history worth preserving and sharing. With this thought in mind, the Utah State Archives is proud to announce our participation with other cultural heritage organizations across Utah and northern Arizona to launch the Highway 89 Digital Collections Project.

Promotional artwork for the Highway 89 Digital Collections project created by John Clark.

The mission of the Highway 89 Digital Collections Project is to bring together the unique resources each member institution holds that help illuminate the history and stories of life lived along Highway 89. Digital items that have been uploaded to the site so far include photographs, postcards, and textual records.

Drawing on the latest in online exhibition technology, the Highway 89 Digital Collections website pulls together materials from a number of archival repositories and special collections including:

EXHIBITS

Exhibit pages on the Highway 89 Digital Collections website allow archivists and curators to draw on their skill and expertise in piecing together dynamic stories that illustrate the history of the road.

Image of a road sign on Highway 89 in Garfield County.

Two such exhibits from that Utah State Archives are currently accessible on the Highway 89 Digital Collections site. The first exhibit gathers together photographs that were taken by the Utah Department of Highways as part of a statewide inventory of road signs between 1965 and 1975. These simple plywood creations offer up a rich visual history of what travelers of that era would have seen as they made their way along Highway 89.

Ruins of a schoolhouse in Thistle.

A second exhibit features materials from the Utah State Archives that tell the story of the 1983 mudslide near the town of Thistle which flooded a section of the highway, destroyed the town, and created an earthen dam that fundamentally changed the landscape in Spanish Fork Canyon. For this exhibit, items from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) were identified and digitized. They provide a monthly account of work done by state and federal workers to divert water from Thistle Lake, reroute important railroad lines, and physically move the section of Highway 89 that spurs off at the Thistle junction as it makes its way south towards the Sanpete Valley.

Future contributions from the Utah State Archives to the Highway 89 Digital Collections project will focus more on textual records created by various agents of Utah State government who have played important roles in making decisions that have impacted the growth and evolution of Highway 89. As we continue to add miles of digital content to the route, we will look forward to seeing you along the digital Highway 89!


Archives Month: Ann Torrence on U.S. Highway 89

All Events for Utah Archives Month | RSVP on Facebook | Get Directions

Thursday, October 24 at Noon

Ann Torrence - Highway 89

U.S. Highway 89: The Scenic Route to Seven Western National Parks

U.S. Highway 89: The Scenic Route to Seven Western National Parks is a visual guide to seven of America’s favorite national parks, hometown events and quirky roadside attractions linked by U.S. 89. Scenic Highway 89 traces the stories of legendary trappers, missionaries and homesteaders. Widened in the Roaring Twenties to satisfy America’s motoring enthusiasts, but bypassed by modern interstates, the 1,600 mile route from Canada to Mexico retains its back-roads charm. From Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, beauty queens to working cowboys, Ann Torrence’s stunning images and engaging text capture the enduring spirit of the west.

Writer and photographer, Ann Torrence drove over 15,000 miles to research and photograph U.S. Highway 89. Her documentary style explores the interplay of the human element and landscape; transformations of culture–what is kept, lost, and reinvented; and the iconography of the American West.

Following Ann’s remarks, staff of the Utah State Archives will provide a public demonstration of the new Highway 89 Digital Collections online initiative. This project is designed to gather and document the prized historical collections from various institutions throughout the region, all of which detail the important history that has happened along Highway 89.

 


Archives Month: 25th Street Confidential by Val Holley

All Events for Utah Archives Month | RSVP on Facebook | Get Directions

Monday, October 21 at Noon

Val Holley - 25th Street

Buy the Book

25th Street Confidential traces Ogden’s transformation from quiet hamlet to chaotic transcontinental railroad junction as waves of non-Mormon fortune seekers swelled the city’s population. The street’s outsized role in Ogden annals illuminates larger themes in Utah and U.S. history. Most significantly, 25th Street was a crucible of Mormon-Gentile conflict, especially after the non-Mormon Liberal Party deprived its rival, the People’s Party, of long-standing control of Ogden’s municipal government in 1889. In the early twentieth-century the street was targeted in statewide Progressive Era reform efforts, and during Prohibition it would come to epitomize the futility of liquor abatement programs.

This first full-length treatment of Ogden’s rowdiest road spotlights larger-than-life figures whose careers were entwined with the street: Mayor Harman Ward Peery, who unabashedly filled the city treasury with fees and fines from vicious establishments; Belle London, the most successful madam in Utah history; and Rosetta Ducinnie Davie, the heiress to London’s legacy who became a celebrity on the street, in the courts, and in the press. Material from previously unexploited archives and more than one hundred historic photos enrich this narrative of a turbulent but unforgettable street.


Holiday Closure: Thanksgiving

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!

The Research Center will be closed Thursday, November 22, 2012 for Thanksgiving. Normal hours will resume Friday, November 23, 2012.


21st Amendment Ratification Records Online

Did you know that Utah was the state that fulfilled the constitutional requirement to ratify the 21st amendment to end prohibition? This amendment is also the only one thus far ratified by state conventions rather than state legislatures [Wikipedia]. The records of the Convention to Ratify the 21st Amendment for Utah are now online.

The 72nd Congress of the United States proposed the 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution, repealing the 18th amendment and once again legalizing the manufacture and use of liquor. On October 10, 1933, Governor Henry H. Blood called for the election of delegates to a constitutional convention for the purpose of ratifying or rejecting the 21st amendment. The election was held on November 7, and the elected delegates met December 5. The amendment became effective with the ratification of 36 states; Utah was the 36th state to ratify. These records document the activities of the convention.

Convention to Ratify the 21st Amendment (1933)


Evidence From A Transatlantic Friendship

A Thank-You Gift from France

In 1949 a small boxcar arrived in Salt Lake City, a gift from the people of France.  Just after the end of World War II a train had traveled across America, collecting donations for war-devastated Europe.  Several years later, as a token of appreciation for the American assistance, a collection of boxcars known as the “Merci Train” arrived from France, filled with gifts.  The 49 boxcars had been used in World War I and were known as “Forty and Eights” because they could be used to transport 40 men or 8 horses.  One boxcar was to be sent to each of the 48 states and the remaining car was to be divided between the District of Columbia and the Territory of Hawaii.

Union Station in Ogden.

When Utah’s boxcar arrived, Governor J. Bracken Lee formally accepted the gift on behalf of the people of Utah.  The varied contents, including dolls, folk costumes, embroidery work, wine, books, crystal, and artwork, were placed on display for the public to see.  Today, a small collection of gifts from the boxcar is held by the Utah State Archives. 

Most of these items are currently on display at the Utah State Railroad Museum in the Ogden Union Station.  The items include a number of books relating the history, scenery, and culture of France.  The collection also includes medals, artwork, and a number of felt stars embroidered with the names of French and American cities.

What Happened to Utah’s Merci Train Boxcar?

After the Utah boxcar was emptied of its treasures, it ended up on display in Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove.  Over the years exposure to the elements took its toll.  In order to protect the car, it was repainted, but the original colorful detailing was covered over.  As part of the restoration of Memory Grove following the tornado that tore through the area in 1999, the Merci Train boxcar was removed from the park.  In 2006 volunteers completed a restoration of the boxcar and it was placed on the grounds of the Ogden Union Station, where it can be seen today.

The restored Merci Train boxcar.

The Mystery of the Remaining Merci Train Gifts.

The committee appointed by Governor Lee to oversee the contents of the Merci boxcar decided that after the initial public display in Salt Lake, the gifts would be divided up and dispersed among the state’s 29 counties so that more people would be able to see them.  The final fate of these dispersed gifts is unknown.  The gifts sent to the counties were presumably displayed for a time, but have been lost since then.  Perhaps some ended up in the collections of local museums or were distributed to residents.  Furthermore, the records of the Merci Train Committee have been lost as well, so there is no known inventory of the contents of the boxcar or any documentation of how the items were dispersed.  The only Merci Train gifts known to survive in Utah are in a the collection held by the Utah State Archives, but the most significant and expensive of the gifts are not among them.  Undoubtedly, many of the finest gifts are still out there, perhaps unidentified or in private hands.

Do You Know Anything About the Lost Merci Train Gifts?

Have you ever seen anything in some scattered corner of the state that might have come from the Merci Train?  If you have, we would love to hear about it.

More Information

For more information about the Merci Train and the gifts that have survived, you can visit the exhibit at the Utah State Railroad Museum, peruse the inventory of items held by the Utah State Archives at http://archives.utah.gov/research/inventories/20732.html , and read an article about Utah’s Merci Train boxcar in Beehive History 23 at http://utah.ptfs.com/awweb/main.jsp?flag=browse&smd=1&awdid=1 .


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