Salt Lake, the Great

In my previous post I promised I’d explain why I chose to stay at the Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City. First, when I travel, I try to favor locally owned hotels rather than supporting the large hotel chains. (Some of you might say that I stretched that definition to stay at the Peery which is part of the Ascend Hotel Collection franchise operated by Choice Hotels. I’d describe the Peery as a moderately upscale boutique hotel that fits with the description on the Ascend website that its hotels are “part of the essential fabric of the destination, enabling guests to experience the local destination like a native.“) The Peery opened in 1910 and has been operating continuously at the same site since then. So my thought was that getting support from a chain like Choice might have simply been a necessary step to assure the hotel’s survival.

Obviously, the Peery wasn’t option available but the balance was tipped in the Peery’s favor when I happened across a photo of a marker on the outside of the hotel.

Although I have said that I view myself as genetically, culturally and circumcisionally but not religiously Jewish, I found the thought of staying on the site of Utah’s “first permanent Jewish house of worship” appealing in a smugly amusing sort of way.

Adventure is out there!

If you’ve been riding with me since I arrived in Tucson or even if you just joined the trip with the preceding entry, you know that I will happily take small detours just to take a photo of some curiosity that peaks my interest and, if it has something to do with a movie, all the better. That’s exactly how I started my morning aiming my car 20 miles south to the sprawling suburb of Herriman on Salt Lake City’s west side.

A local Utah home building company, Bangerter Homes, has this slogan on their website:

If you dream it, we can custom design & build it for your life

A bit less than 10 years ago, in what I guess was an exceptionally clever marketing strategy to prove the slogan true, the company approached the Walt Disney Company for permission to replicate a rather famous house from one of Disney’s recent animated films. Disney granted that permission. While the exterior was well known, Disney had no plans and the brothers had to base their interior designs from the few rooms that actually appear in the movie. They completed the house in 2011 and offered it for sale for an initial price of $399,000. I have no information on the sale date or price but I can tell you that it’s currently occupied by the Hamblins.

The Utah sun has faded the exterior over the years but the house from

UP! Should be immediately recognizable to those who have seen the movie. In this folder, you can see more pictures of the house including a side by side view (that I lifted off Atlas Obscura) and you can learn how I know the name of the family that lives there.

The birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Had it not been for the Interstate Highway System and a Utah restaurant owner named Pete Harman, the world might not have Kentucky Fried Chicken. Well, maybe it would but it might not be as ubiquitous and would almost certainly not be known by that name. Here’s the story:

In 1930, a fellow named Harland Sanders took over a Shell filling station on US Route 25 just outside North Corbin, Kentucky where, with only a single table, he began serving meals to travelers based on recipes for steak, country ham and, of course, fried chicken that he’d learned as a child. Four years later he bought a larger gas station on the other side of the road and expanded to six tables. After being given the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel in 1936 (which he carried proudly and ostentatiously until the end of his life), Sanders purchased another the motel across the street expanding his restaurant in the process and naming it the Sanders Court & Café. (It’s now a museum in North Corbin.)

Sanders long refused to deep fry his chicken because he believed it lowered the quality. His insistence on pan frying, however, meant long waits for his customers who ordered fried chicken. In 1939, he bought one of the first commercial pressure cookers, modified it into a pressure fryer and was pleased with the result. It took him until 1940 to finalize his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.

A year after Sanders met Salt Lake City restaurateur Pete Harman at a restaurant convention in 1951 in Chicago, he signed the first franchise deal for his chicken recipe. And it was in Salt Lake City that Kentucky Fried Chicken was born. You see, Harman wanted to create a sense of something exotic – or at least exotic for Utah – around his chicken. A fellow named Don Anderson, who worked for Harman, is said to have christened the Colonel’s recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Harman’s success got Sanders thinking about more franchising but his real effort at using that model to build the KFC brand didn’t begin until about 1955 when the route planned for Interstate 75 bypassed Corbin. Sanders saw a potentially bleak fate awaiting the Sanders Court & Café. Working in tandem, the two men developed an initial franchising plan where they licensed the recipe to restaurant owners for a fee of four cents per chicken.

By that time Harman had already put additional familiar marketing tools in place. He had coined the phrase “It’s finger lickin’ good.” He also introduced the “bucket meal” (which originally was 14 pieces of chicken, five bread rolls and a pint of gravy in what became the company’s signature cardboard container) in 1957. By 1963, 600 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises spiced the U.S. restaurant landscape.

Harman’s original building was razed in 2004 so while a KFC exists on the site, any part of the building visible in the photo is not part of the original. This is where you can see photos of the statue of Sanders and Harman as well as an odd sign that doesn’t appear to be original either (though it could be from the fifties or sixties) if the black and white photo I took from someone’s Pinterest page is accurate.

Beehive yourself

My next stop was the state Capitol building where I wanted to see one particular statue that I’ll discuss below. If you enlarge the photo below and look at it very, very closely you can see a small mound in the distance above and behind the letter U.

Walk close to it and you see what it is:

 Although it sits on a pedestal that reads “INDUSTRY”, and a plaque describes the Beehive as “symbol of industry, the motto of the citizens Utah” I had to believe it had a deeper meaning so I set about trying to discover it.

I am not a religious person. Although I have an intellectual understanding that many people derive spiritual fulfillment and find moral guidance in their religious belief, I’m not one of them and, frankly, I am confused by the mythos of most religions. And if I find, say, the creation myth of the Hebrews or the miracles of the Christians baffling, it’s fair to say that every time I’ve tried to gain an understanding of the LDS Church (by admittedly superficial reading or conversation), the result has been only greater confusion. I think this was true of my effort to understand the beehive but I’ll share with you my synthesis of the reading I did and leave it to you to find it credulous, incredulous, or decide to look into it on your own. Or, you could treat it as one of my digressions and simply skip it altogether. (All of my resources are secondary but all reference the Book of Mormon – the actual book, not the musical.)

When the believers of the LDS Church made their final move from Nauvoo, Ill (which I visited and wrote about on my Great River Road trip) and, following Brigham Young’s declaration, settled in today’s Utah (more on that in a bit), they originally called it the State of Deseret. In fact, their initial petition for statehood in 1849 requested admission under the name Deseret.

One reason Mormons associate themselves with the word deseret is that in the book of Mormon, deseret means honeybee in the language of the Jaredites. The Jaredites were one of four groups  – the Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites are the others – whom Mormons believe settled in the ancient Americas.

As nearly as I can tell, while the Jaredites had many admirable traits, they were far from being exemplars of living together harmoniously. Quite directly, according to the Book of Mormon, Jaredites are the descendants of Jared, his brother, their immediate familes, and their friends. At the time of the Tower of Babel, Jared appealed to god to exclude his group from having their language confounded and god not only acceded to Jared’s request but also granted them a land of promise.

To reach this promised land, the Jaredites crossed a sea in a 344 day journey in sealed watertight vessels referred to in the Book of Mormon as barges. Neither the ocean they crossed nor the ultimate location of the Jaredite civilization are disclosed in the Book of Mormon. However, in the periodical Times and Seasons, published in the settlement at Nauvoo, Joseph Smith claimed that the Jaredites settled in “the lake country of America.”

Although their economy was basically agrarian, the Jaredites were a settled people, who, in some eras, also mined gold, silver, iron and copper and built many cities and buildings growing to become a civilization that exceeded two million people. All of this imbues them with the beelike qualities of industry, perseverance, thrift, stability, and self-reliance. Unfortunately, they also abetted their own destruction through persistent internecine warfare.

Thus,  because they view it as symbolic of industry and the pioneer virtues of thrift and perseverance, the beehive was chosen as the emblem for the provisional State of Deseret in 1848. It remained on the state seal when Utah was admitted to the union in 1896. The beehive became the official state emblem on March 4, 1959 and occupies a central spot on the state flag.

If you’re wondering how Deseret became Utah, the U.S. Congress rejected the original statehood petition in 1849 in part because it came from a vast, relatively unpopulated area that was controlled exclusively by the LDS Church and, in part, because the name just seemed too Mormon. Instead, of admitting them at that time, the federal government significantly downsized the original area (which included much of present day Nevada, Arizona and southern Idaho) and created the Utah Territory, deriving the name from the resident Ute Indians meaning “People of the Mountains”.

Another crucial factor blocking Utah’s admission was their practice of plural marriage. Several federal laws and an 1879 Supreme Court decision banned the practice so the federal government also required the abolition of the practice of polygamy before they would admit Utah. In fact, Utah petitioned for statehood in 1856, 1862, 1867, 1872, and 1882. All were rejected.

An 1890 statement from church president Wilfred Woodruff disavowing the practice of plural marriage cracked open the door. However, the 1894 act that finally enabled Utah’s admission required that the state constitution ban polygamy. And so it was that two generations after their initial petition, with the name settled, polygamy disavowed and ultimately banned and a somewhat more diverse population, Utah became the 45th American state.

Oh, Philo, Come on before we go

Hey, I’m in Utah. Don’t begrudge me another Footloose reference. The reason I went to the Capitol building was to take a picture of this statue:

Why this statue? I’ll answer a question with a question. Do you now or have you ever watched television? If you answered yes, then you can thank (or curse) Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of all-electronic television and the man depicted by this statue. (Some electro-mechanical systems existed before Farnsworth’s invention.) Yes, the inventor of television is a son of Utah.

Farnsworth was born in 1906 in a log cabin (really!) built by his grandfather near Beaver, Utah. He was a precocious and prodigious inventor who, as a teenager, converted his family’s home appliances to electric power, won a national contest with his original invention of a tamper-proof lock and, at age 14, sketched out an idea for a vacuum tube that would eventually lead him to the invention of television. It’s that very tube, called the “image dissector” that he’s holding in the statue.

On September 7, 1927, in a laboratory in San Francisco, that image dissector tube transmitted its first image – a straight line – to a receiver in another room. In 1929, Farnsworth transmitted the first live human images from his system including one of his wife, Pem.

Farnsworth didn’t live an untroubled life, though. And those troubles began in 1931 when he refused to sell his patents to David Sarnoff at RCA. This began a period of more than a decade of lawsuits based in part on those pre-exisitng electromechanical systems and on some drawings made by Vladimir Zworykin (who had filed for patents as early as 1923 but who had never developed a working system from his design). The deeper pockets and influence of RCA won many of those court battles one of which overturned a 1934 U.S. Patent Office decision that had forced Sarnoff to pay royalties to Farnsworth.

But Farnsworth didn’t stop at television. Over his lifetime, he held more than 300 patents and his inventions contributed to the development of radar, infra-red night vision devices, the electron microscope, the baby incubator, the gastroscope and helped develop cold cathode ray tubes (CRT) that became widespread in televisions and computer monitors.

In 1957, Farnsworth made a fascinating appearance on the television show “I’ve Got a Secret.”

It’s fascinating not so much for stumping the panel (or for seeing a cigarette brand sponsoring the show) but for the conversation he has with Garry Moore after the game. In this segment he talks about cold fusion (and one of his inventions, the “fusor” is still used in explorations of developing cold fusion as a power source) and notions of HDTV!

(On July 2, 1864, Congress enacted a law that authorized the President

“to invite each and all the States to provide and furnish statues, in marble or bronze, not exceeding two in number for each State, of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services…”

in the U.S. Capitol.

At first, all the statues were placed in Statuary Hall as required by the statute. Over time, however, the hall became too crowded and in 1933 Congress amended the law to allow their placement throughout the Capitol. As late as 1985, Utah had only one statue in the Capitol. A group of students and teachers from Ridgemont Elementary School in Salt Lake City lobbied the state legislature to honor Farnsworth by having his statue join Brigham Young to fulfill Utah’s quota. Now, you don’t need to go to Utah to see the statue above. You can also see it in the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center.)

Though he did much of his work away from his home state, Farnsworth returned to Utah in 1967 and died four years later of complications from pneumonia. In 1999, Farnsworth was one of the 20 Scientists and Thinkers included on Time Magazine’s 100 Persons of the Century list.

O Pioneers!

The only way to make sense of the header for this section is if you know that I’m about to visit the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum (formally the Pioneer Memorial Museum) and that this blog may sometimes seem as long as a Willa Cather novel.

The concept of the pioneer is important in the Mormon world view. Without question, the LDS Church was a persecuted minority in the United States. I touched on the Mormon experience in their settlement at Nauvoo in the entry linked above. Beginning in 1846, under great pressure, most Mormons were forced to leave Nauvoo and begin what’s called in LDS history, the Trek West.

After spending the winter in Iowa (with a few advance teams having gone ahead to Nebraska), the first company left with Brigham Young as their leader, in the spring of 1847. That first group arrived in Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847 nearly 1,300 miles from Nauvoo. Between 1847 and 1869, more than 70,000 people traveling by wagon, horse and even pushing handcarts crossed the plains and mountains to get to Utah.

In leading the LDS believers to a place where they could be free from religious suspicion and persecution, the vision and determination of Brigham Young likely played a major role in the success of this migration. Consider that at this time, these travelers typically covered just 15 to 20 miles per day.

Young organized the people into companies of hundreds, fifties and tens, each with a captain. Individuals traveling alone, especially women without husbands and children without fathers were adopted into other families for the journey. One pioneer wrote, “Everyone had an assignment, everyone felt personally essential to the company’s higher purpose. Taking everything into account, the Pioneer Company was probably the best-supplied, best-armed, and most trail-experienced group to go west up till then. Even so, being led by a determined man armed with a dream probably made all the difference.” The success of their trek is self-evident.

In 1901, a woman named Annie Taylor Hyde gathered a meeting of 46 women, all descended from pioneers and laid the foundation for an organization that became the International Society Daughters Utah Pioneers (ISDUP) whose goal was

“to perpetuate the names and achievements of the men, women and children who were the pioneers in founding this commonwealth by preserving old landmarks, marking historical places, collecting artifacts and histories, establishing a library of historical matter and securing manuscripts, photographs, maps, and all such data as shall aid in perfecting a record of the Utah pioneers.” (from ISDUP website)

It is to their museum that you are now accompanying me. But first, a step back. On my way to the Capitol, at the intersection of State and South Temple Streets, I drove under this structure

that I later learned is called the Eagle Gate. At one time, a gate at or near this spot marked the entrance to Brigham Young’s estate at the mouth of City Creek Canyon and near where the pioneers homesteaded that first summer in 1847. A different gate that served as the entrance to a toll road was installed at some later date. Today, a bronze plaque nearby says Eagle Gate has come to represent both Brigham Young and the pioneer spirit. I was surprised, then, when one of the first things I saw in the DUP Museum was this:

It’s the original eagle from the Eagle Gate.

This museum’s website claims that it is

“noted as the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one particular subject, and features displays and collections of memorabilia from the time the earliest settlers entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake until the joining of the railroads at a location known as Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869.”

I can’t speak to the claims about the size of the collection but it is exceptionally eclectic. The first floor focuses primarily on Brigham Young and his first counselor, Heber C. Kimball. Elsewhere the collection includes handwork fashions, chinaware, and medicine (including a jar of extracted teeth) to go along with a display of rattles from rattlesnakes. And of course, no visit to the museum would be complete without stopping to see

 the delightful two-headed lamb.

An adjoining building displays an original pioneer wagon, surreys, sleighs, handcarts, bicycles, a blacksmith shop, and a mule drawn street car but it was the basement with its railroad display and a small case of items that belonged to Jim Bridger that drew most of my attention.

The Railroad Story

Fueled by the California Gold Rush of 1849, the idea for a transcontinental railroad took hold of the American imagination and body politic. Even from the beginning, a number of problems stood in the way of this dream.

Principal among them was the problem of finding a route through the terrain of the West, particularly the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 1860, the railroad engineer Theodore Judah uncovered a path through the Sierras using the infamous Donner Pass. (For those interested, Michael Wallis’ new book The Best Land Under Heaven provides a fascinating detailed account of the Donner Party and their descendants.) Soon thereafter, Judah formed the Central Pacific Railroad and went to the federal government seeking financing for a transcontinental link.

In 1862, Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act, which provided land and financing to the Central Pacific and a second company, the Union Pacific, to construct a Western line that would connect with the existing Eastern lines. Central Pacific began construction in Sacramento and moved east, while Union Pacific began in Council Bluffs, Iowa and moved west.

The lines met on May 10, 1869, with great ceremony at Promontory, Utah. California Governor Leland Stanford was appointed to drive the ceremonial golden spike. However, Stanford failed to hit the spike on his first attempt which apparently caused some hilarity among the railroad workers at the scene. According to some reports, the abundant and free flowing champagne intensified their mockery. Stanford found his target on the second try and for the first time in American history, railways linked together east and west.

The National Park Service maintains the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory which is about 90 miles north and west of Salt Lake City. Before I entered the DUP Museum, visiting this site remained on my day’s itinerary by a rather tenuous thread. (Remember I’d heard some news Thursday night that had me considering changing my Friday plans.) In addition to the photos, paintings and narratives about the event, the museum also had this item that unraveled it.

The Jim Bridger Story

Another display on the museum’s ground floor was a small case of items belonging to Jim Bridger. I didn’t find the items themselves particularly interesting but his name was vaguely familiar and the description of Bridger provided in the case intrigued me. Of course, I looked him up. And, it turns out, he’s quite a fascinating character.

Apparently, Bridger was well known as a trapper, scout and guide in the west through the middle third of the 19th century. Born in 1804 in Richmond, Virginia, he gained a measure of fame at a young age when, in 1824 or 1825, he became the first Euro-American to see the Great Salt Lake. It was so salty that he thought it was an arm of the Pacific Ocean.

The previous year, as part of General William Ashley’s Upper Missouri River Expedition, Bridger was one of the men involved in what became known as the Hugh Glass incident or ordeal. I won’t detail it but the event received a dramatic film treatment in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film The Revenant with Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass (with Oscars for both of them) and Will Poulter as Bridger.

However, Bridger had another skill that was unique among those generally rough men who served as scouts and guides in the west – He was a polyglot.  Not only could he converse in French and Spanish, but he also learned several Native American languages.

The latter may have served him well when in 1835 he married a woman from the Flathead Indian tribe with whom he had three children. After her death in 1846, he married the daughter of a Shoshone chief, who died in childbirth three years later. In 1850 he married Shoshone Chief Washakie’s daughter, with whom he had two more children. He sent some of children sent back east to be educated.

In 1850, while exploring for an alternative overland route to what was known as the South Pass, he found what would eventually be known as Bridger’s Pass, which shortened the Oregon Trail by 61 miles. Bridger’s Pass would eventually become the route used by Interstate 80 as it crosses southern Wyoming, Utah and northern Nevada before turning south toward its terminus in San Francisco.

There’s more to come from my day in and around  Salt Lake City so stay tuned. You can look at a few pictures while you’re waiting.







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2 Responses to Salt Lake, the Great

  1. Pat says:

    A two-headed lamb?? Eew- or should I say Ewe?.
    Seems like the museum’s scope of collections was rather broad.

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