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Markers of the past

Published October 23, 2008 2:50 pm

SLC cemeteries reinforce importance of history and family connection
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cemeteries and October seem to go hand-in-hand.

From makeshift markers on front lawns to spooky runs through the tombstones, cemeteries seem to embody what this time of year is all about. But cemeteries are so much more, as evidenced by the unique nature of three Salt Lake City cemeteries.

Richard Oman is senior curator of the Church Museum and Church Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The LDS Church owns and maintains two local cemeteries, both within walking distance of downtown Salt Lake City. The Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument, where Brigham Young is buried along with 10 others, is located at 140 E. 1st Avenue.

The Kimball-Whitney Cemetery, located down a brick walkway at 180 N. Main St., has 56 graves and is where early LDS Church leaders Heber C. Kimball and Newel K. Whitney and their families are buried.

When Oman speaks of these two local cemeteries, words such as "family," "connectiveness," "places of oasis" and "history" flow freely. He feels strongly that not studying our past and tying ourselves to it is akin to voluntarily choosing to have amnesia.

"It's my attempt to help people overcome their amnesia," he said.

While members of today's families frequently do not live, or die, near one another, family members buried in these cemeteries, "physically, literally, came together [in a cemetery]," Oman said. "These cemeteries tell something about the cohesiveness of people, something wonderful and concrete about space and pulling together. It says something about the family and how they feel about each other."

Of the 56 individuals buried in the Kimball-Whitney Cemetery, for example, half were children who died before their 6th birthday.

"It does tell you something about the past, and it tells you something about people and what they dealt with," he said. "They loved their children just as much as we love our children [and they had to] carry a pretty heavy load."

Another unique burial ground in the Salt Lake area is Fort Douglas Cemetery.

Begun in 1862 as a resting place for members of the military and their families, the cemetery contains remains of veterans from every American war from the Civil War through Vietnam.

Also interred are 21 German prisoners of war from World War I, and 20 German, 12 Italian and one Japanese prisoners of war from World War II.

While the cemetery ceased accepting reservations in the late '80s, "there are still many reservations that have not been filled," said Su Richards, senior archivist of the Fort Douglas Military Museum.

In the past two months alone, the cemetery has had three burials.

"The significance here is that it is a cemetery for veterans and their families. It is a well-visited cemetery by people from all over the world," she said. "It is a place . . . to visit, to memorialize, to express patriotism with other fallen comrades. It is also a place where people who don't know about their military ancestors can start with a question of how to find them. It is a very friendly cemetery, very comfortable to be in."

Though referring specifically to those cemeteries owned by the LDS Church, Richard Oman's comments can be applied to many burial grounds, including the one at Fort Douglas:

"These cemeteries are so . . . rich, [a] concentration of ideas beautifully expressed . . ." Oman said. A "sense of optimism and reinforcement of family connection is something you feel in these places."






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