Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A little bit of Iceland in Utah

As I was searching through photos of Spanish Fork, I came across one of the most unusual photos that I have seen.  Here it is and what the location looks like today:

Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

The older photo is a picture of an Icelandic family standing next to some common Americana figures, such as Uncle Sam, dedicating the Icelandic Monument at 400 South 800 East on August 2nd, 1938.  The plaque on the monument says, "Leif Eiriksson, an Icelander, discovered America in 1000 A.D.  Eight centuries later, 1855-1860, sixteen pioneers from Iceland established in Spanish Fork the first permanent Icelandic settlement in the United States."

Icelandic pioneers settling Spanish Fork led me to be pretty confused.  I always thought that Spanish Fork was obviously named after the Spanish, not the Icelandic, otherwise it would be called Icelandic Fork.  If it was named after the icelandic people, it probably would have a really cool looking name that no one could pronounce like Reykjavík, Kjósarhreppur, or Hafnarfjörður. 

I figured out a little bit of history from the Spanish Fork Wikipedia article.  Spanish Fork was named after the two Spanish friars, Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez, who traveled down Spanish Fork Canyon in search of a new route to California from New Mexico (they must have been a little crazy because Spanish Fork is not on the way from New Mexico to the missions in California).  Later the area was settled by Mormon pioneers and eventually people from Iceland.  However, they named it Spanish Fork in memory of Escalante and Dominguez.  One other interesting fact about Spanish Fork: the city is also known for the 1965 Treaty of Spanish Fork in which the Ute Indians were forced by Lincoln's executive order to relocate to the Uintah Basin.

The monument has done a very good job of documenting the Icelanders trek to Utah as Mormon pioneers.  The first Icelanders were converted to Mormonism while in Copenhagen, Denmark and returned to Iceland to tell others about Mormonism.  There is a place in Iceland where several individuals were baptized which is now known as Mormon Pond.  A rock was taken from the pond and now stands at the monument.  It took around 300 days to travel from Iceland to Utah via England, then New Orleans, up the Mississippi River, and eventually to Utah by wagon or handcart.  Around 400 individuals made the trip.  While in Utah, some Icelanders converted to Lutheranism, and both the Lutheran and Mormon churches had services in Icelandic and English due to several individuals having trouble learning English.  It was said that the individuals from Iceland held onto their culture better than any other group of people in Utah.

Spanish Fork still holds an annual Icelandic Days Festival.  They are held on the fourth Saturday in June.  The event is sponsored by the Icelandic Association of Utah which was founded in 1897.  They chose June because Iceland's Independence Day is June 17th.  I believe that there is usually a fair held at the park at 100 South Main in Spanish Fork.  Last year, part of the fair included a project which intended to restore the Puffin to its natural habitat in Maine.  Seems like a good cause, even though it does sound a little random.  There is also an annual Viking feast in Spanish fork that happens in February called Þorrablót.  The meal includes shark, dried fish, sheep, sweetened rutabagas and Scandinavian cake.  Here is the link to the Deseret News article about it from 2010 and a link to the 2011 feast.

For any additional questions about the Icelanders that settled in Utah, contact David A. Ashby at DAA@q.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment