Saturday, April 18, 2015

Visiting the Salt Lake City Cemetery

Spring at the Salt Lake City Cemetery

I love cemeteries. I always have. I know some people don't love them, but when I visit a cemetery it calls to mind all the Memorial Day trips with my parents and grandparents. As children, my siblings and I were especially partial to cemeteries with headstones of all sizes and shapes. It was amazing to see stones taller than me. Some monuments begged to be climbed on, although my parents informed us it was not allowed in cemetery etiquette.

Rolling terrain of the Salt Lake City Cemetery

Cemeteries say a lot about who we are. A Shoshone cemetery in the Wind River area in Wyoming is different from the ones I visit on Memorial Day weekend. And I love them both. Each culture has its own burial traditions.  I have been to the sobering fields of Arlington and I have visited the artistic tombs of Pere Lachaise in France.Someday I really want to visit Highgate cemetery in London.

I have been to Charles Lindburgh's grave on Maui, and stopped at small family cemeteries on road trips. I have visited a Catholic cemetery and a Protestant cemetery in a small mining community in southern Utah, each with its own unique style. The Chinese cemetery was no longer there; a wealthy Chinese businessman paid to relocate it to China so that the remains of the Chinese immigrants could be buried in their ancestral homeland.

Sentiment on a headstone.

I love the poignancy of the human experience recorded in granite and sandstone: an infant buried near its parents, a family together in repose, a woman of ripe old age. I love the sculptures. The epitaphs range from humorous to profound.  I like history, too. Once on a family vacation we stopped by the grave of Wild Bill Hickok. I am forever grateful to a woman I will never meet who many years ago transcribed the headstone information in the Old Abercorn Cemetery in Quebec. I gleaned so many names, dates, and other important information about ancestors from her painstaking work of recording what was carved into fading headstones.

Apparently a relative of "The" Daniel Boone rests here.

On this visit to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, though, I had specific goals. First, a pair of great horned owls has been nesting in the cemetery for the past six years. I wanted to see an owl for my bird list. They nest in the cemetery in April, and it is easy to see why. The area has ample trees, wide open spaces for hunting squirrels and small rodents, and it is peaceful.  We tromped around for quite awhile before a cemetery employee pointed us to the trees the owls prefer this year. Sure enough, we found a great horned owl resting on a branch.

Great Horned Owl

It was impossible to get a great photograph, but you get the idea. We also saw an abundance of magpies, and one brown creeper. Brown creepers are on my short list of favorite birds, so that was fun.

Several years ago, I visited the Salt Lake City Cemetery looking for the marker of my husband's ancestor, William Lewis. We were unsuccessful in locating it that day, so armed with a map and location information, I set out to try again.

William Lewis marker, Salt Lake City Cemetery

It is pretty big. And prominent. I am not sure how we missed this the first time! However, it is also worn and faded, and I think the horizontal slab with detailed names and dates on the west side of this sandstone monument is new.

Surely we would have noticed this if it had been there before.

But, there he is, William Lewis. This marker calls him the "Poet Laureate of Wales." Who knew? 

Another great epitaph.

The Salt Lake City Cemetery has its share of stories. One is that a ghost will appear at Emo's grave if you go perform the proper ritual. "Emo's Grave" is really the grave of Jacob E. Moritz. (I hear cemetery security discourages people from attempting to summon the ghost. Bear in mind the cemetery closes at dusk). There are also tales of Jean Baptiste, who infamously robbed graves during his tenure as a gravedigger. He was eventually exiled to Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake. One grave I wanted to visit is that of Lilly E. Gray. 

Grave of Lilly E. Gray in the Salt Lake City Cemetery

For some unknown reason, her gravestone is carved "Victim of the Beast 666." Lilly lived a pretty long life. The best information I came across in reading about her headstone is that her husband (who survived her) was considered to be a little bit crazy. So maybe he had this put on her marker because he was insane. I couldn't help but feel a little bit sorry for Lilly.

Sculpture in the Salt Lake City Cemetery

Overall, I thought my visit to the Salt Lake City Cemetery was a resounding success. Besides accomplishing my goals of seeing an owl and finding William Lewis' grave, I had a good walk, enjoyed great weather, soaked in the peace and solitude of the cemetery, and read several wonderful epitaphs. Also, the cemetery employees and caretakers we encountered were very nice and helpful.

Military section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery

If you visit the Salt Lake City Cemetery, you can pre-print a map showing the grave locations of prominent Utahns, many of them past presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Have an ancestor buried in the cemetery? I suggest a search of the online database or a visit to the cemetery office to find the grave location before heading out into the grounds. As the cemetery covers 250 acres, it is a good idea to know where you are going! The cemetery streets are laid out in a grid, so with a map, it is pretty easy to find your way around. Some of the "streets" are very narrow, so park on the wider roads and be prepared to do a little walking.

A request from one of the cemetery's residents!

This cemetery is a wonderful place to visit for all ages. It is beautiful, well-maintained,  and contains wonderful parts of our local history. You just might see some great birds as well!