Sunday, April 28, 2013

Urban Myth 3: Gilgal Garden and the Joseph Smith Sphinx

For my third and final urban myth, I wanted to focus on an often circulation story about a sculpture in Salt Lake City that is a sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.  Unlike the previous urban myths, this is not a myth at all; it is actually a real place.  The sphinx of Joseph Smith is located in what I would argue is the most quirky sculpture garden in Utah: Gilgal Gardens.

The history of the Garden on Wikipedia reads: "Thomas Child, a masonry contractor and Bishop of the 10th Salt Lake LDS ward, conceived of a symbolic sculpture garden that would be a retreat from the world and a tribute to his most cherished religious and personal beliefs.  He began building the garden in the back yard of his family home in 1947, when he was 57 years old, and continued to pour his time and money into the work until his death in 1963.  Child named the garden Gilgal after the Biblical location where Joshua ordered the Israelistes to place twelve stones as a memorial.  The name 'Gilgal' is sometimes translate to mean 'circle of standing stones,' an appropriate appellation for a sculpture garden.  Gilgal is also the name of a city and a valley in The Book of Mormon, a sacred scripture in Mormonism.

"Many of the sculptures and quotations found at Gilgal refer to LDS themes: the restoration of the Priesthood, the great Mormon migration west, and the many similarities Child saw between the ancient Israelists and his LDS forefathers.

"Although Child was not a classically trained artist, he went to great lengths to obtain and shape the perfect stones for his beloved garden.  He created a complete workshop in his yard for handling and cutting the stones, proudly stating that all the finish work for his statues was completed on the site.  

"The finished statues are likewise unconventional, even eccentric: a sacrificial altar, a shrine to Child's beloved wife Bertha, even a sphinx with the face of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.  Child, who shared the garden with thousands of visitors over his lifetime, knew that not everyone would appreciate his particular vision.  His primary concern, however, was the the garden would succeed in marking people think: 'You don't have to agree with me,' he said.  'You may think I am a nut, but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity.'

"Until 2000, the Garden was owned by the late Grant Fetzer family.  Fetzer was a neighbor who bought the property after Child's death in 1963.  Only open on Sundays, the garden was visited and often vandalized by late night trespassers.  The family, tired of keeping up the garden considered making it the centerpiece of an apartment development.  Later a plan was floated by a Canadian company to teach down the garden and put in condominiums.

"Instead, a group of citizens called the Friends of Gilgal Garden, headed by Hortense Child Smith, the widow of Child's son, purchased an option to buy the property provided they could raise funds by January 10, 2000.  The group arranged a $400,000 commitment from Salt Lake County and $100,000 each from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, covering the lion's share of the purchase price.  However these commitments were conditioned on the garden becoming a city park, which Salt Lake City Council was reluctant to take because of a budget crunch.  The property was eventually purchased for $679,000 and turned over to the city.  On October 21, 2000, Gilgal Garden reopened as a city park.  At a ceremony celebrating the occasion, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson called the Garden 'an absolute jewel.'"

Gilgal Garden, the only visionary art environment in Utah, is located at 749 E 500 S in Salt Lake City.  It is sandwiched between two houses and is incredibly easy to miss if you don't know its there.  In fact, I have talked with several locals that did not even know that it exists.  The Garden is open from 8 AM to 8 PM from April to September and from 9 AM to 5 PM from October to March.

My favorite art piece at the Garden is one of Child himself.  Child created a statue of himself with brick pants.  He pieced all the bricks together before firing to make sure the statue would look correct, he disassembled the bricks, and numbered each one.  However, during the firing, the numbers ran off.  Child had to reassemble the brick pants much like a jig-saw puzzle in order to put the statue back together.

Below are several pictures of the Garden.  Immediately below is the location of the garden, between the two houses on the north side of the road.  As I said earlier, it can be easy to pass by.

Similar to Hobbitville, there are several stones throughout the Garden with sayings carved into them.  Most of the sayings are scriptures from the Mormon Canon (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price)

Photo courtesy of 

The piece below is a representation of a sacrificial altar.

The famous brick pants.

Courtesty of

An archway with a very large keystone and four books representing the Mormon canon.

At the Gardens are a couple of really cool bird houses.

Gilgal's wife.  Yes, it does look as spooky in real life.

A representation of Daniel 2

Gilgal Garden is one of my favorite place in Salt Lake, simply because of it one-of-a-kind quirkiness.  It is a beautiful area and a fun place to visit.  If you would like more information about the Gilgal Garden or would like to make a tax deductible donation, please visit the Friends of the Gilgal Garden website.

While researching Gilgal Gardens, I came across some really cool artwork by Ryan Perkins.  I wanted to include his piece entitled "The Man Child (in Gilgal)" which is an image of the statue of Child wearing the brick pants.

Courtesy of

LOST IN HISTORY:  Thomas Child was the bishop of the ward that met at the 10th Ward Meeting House.  This building still stands.  Where in Salt Lake is it located?  As an additional help, there is an image of the building behind the statue of Child wearing the brick pants.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Urban Myth 2: Salt Lake City Cemetery (Ghost of Emo, Lilly Gray, and the 666 beast)

This past Halloween I was disappointed when I realized that I had class at the University of Utah the same night.  Not having any time to participate in night time revelries, my roommate and I decided to go on another adventure fitting for Halloween: explore a few of the urban myths located at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

According to Wikipedia, "The Salt Lake City Cemtery is in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah.  Approximately 120,000 persons are buried in the cemetery.  Many religious leaders and politicians, particularly many leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) lie in the cemetery.  It encompasses over 250 acres and contains 9 1/2 miles of roads.  It is the largest city-operated cemetery in the United States. 

"The first burial occurred on September 27, 1847, when George Wallace buried his child, Mary Wallace.  The burial was two months after the Mormon pioneers had settled the Salt Lake Valley.  In 1849, George Wallace, Daniel H. Wells, and Joseph Heywood surveyed 20 acres at the same site for the area's burial grounds.  In 1851, Salt Lake City was incorporated and the 20 acres officially became the Salt Lake City Cemetery with George Wallace as its first sexton.

"As of mid 2012, only 1,000 cemetery plots remain unsold.  Cemetery officials predict that the cemetery will be completely sold out in 10 years."

Below is the entrance to the Cemetery at the corner of 4th Ave and N and the Sexton's house which is located behind the arch.

One of the most often cited urban myths in Salt Lake is that of the "Grave of Emo."  According to, "Urban legend tells us that if you light a candle and walk backwards around the grave three times, when you peer into the crypt you will see the face of Emo the Ghost.  Every person you talk to in Salt Lake City 'knows somebody who knows somebody' who has tried this ritual, and has seen Emo."

The grave at the center of the legend is that of Jacob E. Moritz, a prominent politician in early Utah history and founder of the Salt Lake Brewery, one of the largest breweries outside of Wisconsin in its day.  In 1910, Moritz grew ill and returned to Germany where he died.  Due to his connection to Utah and its history, his ashes were shipped back to Utah and placed in an urn inside the crypt bearing his name in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Because of all of the visitors to his gravesite, the urn with his ashes was eventually removed and replaced with an empty bottle.  No one really knows where or when the legend regarding the ghost of Emo got started.  The only thing that I have read that relates Moritz to the fabricated ghost of Emo, who supposedly was a serial killer or a child molester, is that Jacob E. Moritz name spelt out includes "EMO" (jacobEMOritz).

On Halloween when I went to the cemetery to test out the legend, I was not sneaky enough and was quickly caught by security.  They politely told me to leave the cemetery, so I have yet to actually try to the legend.  If you would like to give it a try, the crypt is located in the Jewish section of the cemetery, and the exact location of the gravesite can be found by clicking here.

Below are pictures of the crypt, the replacement urn, and the M on the front of the crypt.  If you look close enough at the 'M' you can see that someone has engraved 'EMO.'

The reason that I first went to the Salt Lake City Cemetery was the rumor that someone buried there had "taken by the beast 666" inscribed on her gravestone.  This myth is true and is the gravestone of Lilly E. Gray.  When looking for the grave, the grounds keeper who directed me where to go pointed out very clearly that the grave is located in the Mormon section of the cemetery and not the Catholic side.

The only thing in inscribed on Gray's tombstone, beside her name, date of birth, and date of death, is "Taken by the beast 666."  The most surprising thing to me upon finding the location is that she died in 1958; I was expecting her to have died in the late 19th century.  Little is known about Lilly.  She moved to Salt Lake around 1950, around the same time that she married Elmer Gray, who is also buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery but far away from Lilly.

The most common assumption is that Lilly's husband, Elmer, suffered from some severe mental problems.  Since he was the only surviving relative of Lilly, it was his responsibility to plan all of the funeral arrangements, including the headstone.  The best example of Elmer's insanity can be found in Elmer's request to the Utah State Board of Parols for parol.  In it, Elmer states that he was held for 10 years by "Democrat kidnappers and their friends" and that his parents died of grief after the kidnappers murdered his wife.  Although the request was written 3 years before marrying Lilly, it can be assumed that his erratic and crazy behavior continued for several years, resulting in the odd tombstone.

Lilly's grave (which is located in the X1 section of the Cemetery) can be a little difficult to find.  The easiest way to find it is by going to the Catholic area (Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemeter), which is the most eastern part of the Cemetery.  The hill is somewhat steep, and at the top of the slope is a section of tall pine trees in a row.  Go to the third tall pine from the east (not counting the little tiny one furthest east) and continue up the cemetery in a straight line north from that tree.  The tombstone is pretty small and lies on the ground so keep an eye out.  I have always seen things left at the site (flowers, pennies, cigarettes, candles) and people often visit.  Below is a picture looking south with Lilly Gray's tombstone in the foreground and the large pines in the background.

The Salt Lake City Cemetery is an incredibly interesting place full of history.  The site has several stories about the Cemetery.  For example, the site discuses the potential burial site of the Sundance Kid (of Butch Casidy and the Sundance Kid fame), the Christmas Box Angel monument, the location of the burial sites of several Mormon prophets and leaders, a scavenger hunt, and the story of Jean Baptiste, a early cemetery worker who stole clothes from the bodies of hundreds of people that he buried; Baptiste was later banished to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake as a result.  It is kind of a crazy story, and interestingly BYU just came out with a movie about Jean Baptiste, which you can find below.

LOST IN HISTORY: It is interesting that with all of the LDS prophets that are buried in the Cemetery, the prophet that established Salt Lake City, Brigham Young, is not.  Brigham Young is buried in a different part of Salt Lake.  The Lost in History question for this post is where in Salt Lake was Brigham Young buried?