In July 1898, the Spanish-American War was raging and the people of the United States were remembering the Maine,a US ship that sank after an explosion in the Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Nevertheless, the upcoming fifty-first anniversary of the 1847 arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah was on the minds of Salt Lake City officials. This anniversary was celebrated off and on beginning in 1849; in the 1897 jubilee year, just a year earlier, the community had “pulled out all the stops.” As city officials considered what might be done in 1898, they focused their attention on a piece of ground not far from the City and County Building. The council minutes for Tuesday evening, July 12, 1898, report, “Councilman [John] Siddoway moved that a special committee of five be appointed by the Chair to take charge of dedicating the Pioneer Park Jul 25, next.” The Salt Lake Tribune provided a fuller and more detailed account of the meeting than is found in the council minutes. The report reads, “A matter that caused more talk than anything else” was the “motion that Pioneer square be dedicated with appropriate ceremonies on July 25th.”
Pioneer Square is known today as Pioneer Park—a ten-acre site where the Latter-day Saints built their first fort in August 1847.Identified as the “Plymouth rock” for the Utah commonwealth, Pioneer Park is located between 300 and 400 South and 300 and 400 West in Salt Lake City. The old fort was ordered to be torn down by April 1, 1851. By April 11, 1851, “Nathaniel H. Felt and Joseph Cain were authorized to fence and improve the Old Fort Square.” The Salt Lake Herald emphasized in July 1898 that “the historic ground which has heretofore been given over to profane uses and more than once proposed to be given for a railroad depot, was formally and appropriately set apart for the permanent use and benefit of the public.” Later events blocked the park’s development until 1903. The Deseret Evening News reported on July 24, 1903, “For the second time within the past five years historical Pioneer square was today set apart as a public park and thrown open to the public as a place of recreation for the citizens. . . . Unlike the dedication of the park on July 25, 1898, there were no special dedicatory ceremonies today.” The paper reported that between 1898 and 1903, “several times has the square been granted to railroad corporations to be used a depot site. . . . [However,] about two months ago an ordinance was passed by the city council again dedicating the square as a public park and setting today as the date for it to be thrown open.” With this final push, Pioneer Park became one of Salt Lake City’s permanent public parks.
A. Russell Mortensen, former director of the Utah Historical Society, identified the importance of the site in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune: “Here’s where it all began. The first settlement, the first houses, the first government, the first division of the city into its ecclesiastical wards, the reorganization of the First Presidency of the LDS Church, and a host of other firsts took place right here, not on the Temple Block, not on the old Eighth Ward Square, not on the old Union Square, but right here on the old Pioneer Square.”
The site’s historical significance was further recognized in 1974 when the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the US federal government’s official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance.
During the July 12, 1898, city council meeting, Mayor John Clark,who had been nominated to serve as chair of the committee, “suggested the committee could get along very well without him . . . [as] he thought no formal dedication of that character would be necessary or appropriate.” Nevertheless, the city council passed the amendment placing Clark in charge of the event with eleven members voting in favor, two voting against, and with two abstaining. The city council also approved a budget of “$50 or so much thereof as may be necessary to cover the expenses of the celebration.” Two days later, on Thursday, July 14, 1898, the citizens of Salt Lake City, like the rest of the nation, celebrated the news of the surrender of Santiago de Cuba, a major Spanish stronghold in the southeastern area of the island of Cuba, with “screeching whistles and clanging bells.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reported the following day, “The Council committees met last night and tried to transact some business, but the celebrations down town proved too enticing, and the meeting broke up early.”However, the Pioneer Square dedication special committee did release a brief notice about the upcoming celebration, which reads, “The special committee appointed to arrange a programme for the Pioneer square dedication held a short session. It was decided to meet again at the close of next Tuesday night’s Council meeting, and perfect plans for the celebration.” The dedication committee met again, as planned, on Thursday evening, July 21, 1898, to finalize the preparations for the ceremony to be held on Monday, July 25, 1898.
The committee invited “as many of the pioneers as could be reached . . . and many are expected to be on hand, as well as the general public.”The announcement concluded, “The committee hopes to make the ceremonies very interesting and well worth a trip to the square.”
The Salt Lake Herald announced a few days later, in its Sunday, July 24, 1898, edition, “In this city the [Twenty-fourth] will be fittingly commemorated by dedicating Pioneer square, the piece of land where the pioneers camped 50 years ago, as a public park. The ceremonies attending this dedication will take place tomorrow (the 25th), instead of today, today being the Sabbath.”As noted above, the dedication ceremony was held on Monday, July 25, 1898. Monday was, as Arthur Winter reported in his personal journal, “a legal holiday.” He also noted that it had been a “very warm” day. Another Salt Lake City resident, Mary L. Morris, recorded it was “very hot.” The Salt Lake Tribune provided detailed information about the temperature: “July 25, 1898. Temperature 6 a.m., 74 deg.; . . . average for the day, 82 deg. Maximum 90 deg.”
The celebration began at ten o’clock in the morning with dignitaries and honored guests seated on “a large improvised, [American] flag-covered stand on the eastside part of the block”(fig. 1). The Salt Lake Tribune provided a more precise location for the temporary platform: “a short distance below the intersection of Third [later Fourth] South and Second [later Third] West streets.” Patriotism was a theme in decorating, celebrating, and interpreting the event. The Salt Lake Herald, for example, noted in its story headlines, “Dedication of Pioneer Square. Appropriate Exercises Mark the Observance of the Twenty-fourth. . . . A Patriotic and Inspiring Scene There Yesterday.” Reverend T. C. Iliff of the Methodist Episcopal Church included a reference to this in his prayer at the beginning of the ceremony: “the soulful music reminds us of home, our country and God.”
LDS leaders had been concerned as war clouds gathered on the horizon, and a few of them opposed Church members’ direct participation in the upcoming conflict. However, as the US Congress declared war on Spain in support of the Cuban War of Independence, LDS president Wilford Woodruffbelieved “Utah should stand by the government in the present crisis and that our young men should be ready to serve their country when called upon.” In his personal diary, Woodruff noted, “I expressed my feelings in regard to Bro. B. Youngs remarks at the Tabernacle yesterday as being unwise, as we are now a State & must take part either in peace or war and requested John Q Cannon to write a piece for publication in the Deseret News expressing my feelings, which he did.”
LDS historian Matthew Grow argues, “Embrace of American patriotism—evident in the enthusiastic participation in military service by Latter-day Saints, beginning in the Spanish-American War and continuing throughout the twentieth century—also became a key component of identity for Saints in the United States.”Thomas G. Alexander, Woodruff’s biographer, opined, “In order to prove Latter-day Saint patriotism, [Woodruff] proposed to offer the ultimate sacrifice—the blood of Mormon youth—to the nation.” Another Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn, argues this decision to support the war signaled the end of Latter-day Saint “selective pacifism.” Not surprisingly, given this larger context of the nation at war and the Saints’ desire to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States, especially after gaining statehood in 1896, the dedication ceremony was imbued with American symbols such as several large American flags as a backdrop to the celebration.
The special guests seated on the stand included President Woodruff, President George Q. Cannon,Congressman William H. King, Judge C. C. Goodwin, Judge George W. Bartch, Zina D. H. Young, Emmeline B. Wells, Reverend T. C. Iliff, William C. A. Smoot, and “other prominent citizens and representatives of pioneer times.”
The city council placed a “large number of chairs” in front, facing the platform.Two local newspapers provided line-drawing illustrations of the participants, including Woodruff, Cannon, Goodwin, King, Iliff, and Clark. The Salt Lake Tribune observed, “The attendance was large, and upon the platform and out in the throng in front many gray-haired men and women could be seen who had lived in Utah for a half century.” The Salt Lake Herald estimated the crowd to have numbered “5,000 people.” The ceremony attracted attention from people all over Salt Lake City, but some of those attending lived in the neighborhood. Mary L. Morris recorded in her daybook, “Today, our neighborhood Block was dedicated by the first Presidency and City officials as Pioneer Park. Mayor John Clark opening address. Prest. Willford Woodruff Pioneer address. And George Q. Cannon dedicatory prayer.”
Woodruff, Cannon, Young, Smoot, and Wells represented the Latter-day Saint community. Clark, King, Goodwin, and Bartch represented local and state government officers. Additionally, Smoot and Woodruff specifically represented the 143 men, three women, and two children of the original Pioneer Vanguard Company who entered the valley in July 1847.The Salt Lake Tribune observed, “Out of the 148 who entered the valley on July 24, 1847, only two were present—Wilford Woodruff, the aged president of the Mormon church, and W. C. A. Smoot of Provo.” An advance party entered the valley on July 22, followed by others from Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company during the next two days. Young himself arrived on July 24. Smoot made his way into the valley before the end of the day and was the “the last man to come in.” Within a month of their arrival to the Salt Lake Valley, the pioneers had planted eighty-four acres of beans, buckwheat, corn, potatoes, and turnips; surveyed a town site and laid out streets running east and west, north and south; prepared an irrigation system; harvested 125 bushels of salt; reserved several ten-acre blocks for special uses, including one for a temple and one, Pioneer Park, for a fort large enough to accommodate about 106 families.
The participants in the ceremonies were split along a religious divide, with the two sides, Latter-day Saints and non-Latter-day Saints, often at conflict with each other within the state. Reverend Iliff and Judge Goodwin were influential antagonists in the political, economic, and religious battles being played out in Utah. They took the conflict to the nation during this period as vocal critics of the Church and its leaders. For example, less than two months after the dedication ceremonies in July 1898, LDS leader B. H. Robertswon the Democratic Party’s nomination for a US congressional seat. Opposition to Roberts’s nomination increased when he was elected to the 56th Congress in November. Iliff and other Salt Lake City ministers immediately “formally requested that Roberts be refused his seat in Congress.” Iliff and Goodwin produced some of the most vitriolic attacks on the Church and its leaders during this period. Iliff was famous for his later talk “Mormonism, a Menace to the Nation,” which he delivered coast to coast. On the Church’s side, in addition to Church leaders, Latter-day Saints in the ceremonies included Mayor Clark and Congressman King. Despite the past and current battles in Utah, the ceremony was amiable—focusing on the sacrifice and dedication of the original pioneers and those that followed them in building communities in Utah.
Reverend Iliff set the tone, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, in his opening prayer by asking “God to bless the pioneers and especially President Woodruff, his aged servant, who had passed the four score years and ten.”Both newspapers, the Deseret Evening News and the Salt Lake Tribune, who each represented one of the two groups, published glowing reports of the dedication services as noted in the quotes found in this article. The Salt Lake Herald highlighted Congressman King’s statement: “Today, regardless of faith, we meet to testify to the virtues, to the integrity, to the sublime heroic faith of the fathers of this commonwealth. Mormon and non-believer, Gentile and Jew, Methodist and Presbyterian, all meet unitedly upon this platform.”
The Church Historian’s Office journal provides a brief outline of the program with some additional insight to the weather: “July 25, 1898. General holiday. Hot day. Thunder and showers about daybreak. At 10 a.m. Dedicatory Services at Pioneer Square, 6th ward. Mayor Clark presiding. Dr. Iliff prayed. Mayor Clark read history of Square. Prest. W. Woodruff, Judge [ ], King, and Judge C. C. Goodwin spoke. G. Q. Cannon made dedicatory prayer.”Professor Anton Pedersen directed the Knights of Pythias Band in a number of tunes. As noted above, the opening prayer was then offered by Reverend Iliff. He prayed that it would “become a resting spot for the weary, even as it had been used by the pioneers” —an interesting note, given the current usage of the park as a gathering place for the homeless. This was followed by a male quartet: Joseph Poll, Robert H. Siddoway, Victor Christopherson, and Thomas G. Gill, all Latter-day Saints. The quartet sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” a song that served as one of the de facto national anthems of the United States before the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the official US anthem in 1931. Again, the theme of patriotism was evoked as the quartet sang “in a manner that rekindled the patriotic impulses of the large audience.”
Mayor Clark addressed the company by giving a detailed history of the events of 1847 and 1848. In conclusion he said, “I therefore congratulate you, my friends and fellow citizens, on this joyful event, and hope that this piece of public property will be made a beautiful and pleasant retreat where you and your children may enjoy the fresh air, the beautiful foliage and the lovely flowers which bloom and shed their fragrance on this hallowed spot. . . . Hail to the Pioneers of ’47, joy and peace to their posterity and to all the dwellers in the pleasant vales of Utah!”
President Woodruff was then introduced as the next speaker and as he “approached the front of the platform, he was greeted with cheers from the throng of people before him.”Woodruff, like the speakers before him, told the story of the first pioneers from his perspective. The Journal History noted, “The venerable Pioneer President created considerable merriment in his narration of early incidents connected with the settlement of Salt Lake Valley.” This moment, as Woodruff addressed those who had gathered to witnesses the dedication, was captured in a remarkable and historic outdoor photograph taken by Charles Ellis Johnson, a well-known Salt Lake photographer.
The photographs featured in figures 1 and 3 are generated from Johnson’s stereo glass-plate negatives (figs. 2, 4). Many well-known nineteenth-century Mormon photographs published in articles and books are actually only one of two images taken from a stereo-view negative.
Stereographs . . . are a format and not a technical process. . . . Regardless of the process used, stereographs were formed of two images placed side by side. These were most commonly produced with cameras that had two lenses side by side, 2½“ apart, so that the two exposures were made simultaneously. The lenses were spaced to approximate the view a person would have, with each eye receiving a slightly different image. When properly viewed, stereographs give a remarkable sense of three dimensions. Card stereographs were viewed on a stereoscope, the most popular being a hand-held model developed by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861.
As noted, Johnson had become well known for his portrait photographs taken in the controlled environment of his modern studio, so this outdoor scene is particularly remarkable.
The stereo glass-plate negatives (figs. 2, 4, and 5) were discovered in 2013 among a large collection of 624 glass-plate negatives taken by Johnson between 1892 and 1912.The date of the event is routinely incorrectly identified as July 24, 1898, in published and online sources, including the application to place the park on the National Register of Historic Places. Interestingly, Johnson himself incorrectly identified the date on the glass-plate negatives as July 24, 1898 (see figs. 1, 2, 4, and 5).
Emmeline B. Wells recorded in her diary on Monday, July 25, 1898, “The pioneer square where the [forts] formerly stood was today publically dedicated for a public park.”She continued, “Prest. Woodruff who is ninety one years old was present and spoke so everyone around him and all the people could hear him.” A local reporter provided a synopsis of Woodruff’s address, “It was fifty-one years ago yesterday, a little before 11 o’clock a. m., that he drove President Young in his carriage on to the spot where the Knutsford hotel now stands. On his arrival in the valley, the speaker had, he said, one bushel and half of potatoes in his possession. He had covenanted with the Lord that he would neither eat nor drink until they were planted, and he kept his promise.” Woodruff added, “Others of the pioneers also had potatoes with them. They, too, promptly attended to the work of planting.” The crowd responded with laughter when Woodruff noted, “And they were planted in the earth, not in the moon (dark or light) as brother Orson Pratt objected to that.” The Deseret Evening News reported that following Woodruff’s talk a quartet sang, “When the Swallows Homeward Fly.”
Utah Congressman King, who was identified as the “main speaker” at the dedication, followed President Woodruff with a speech.He noted, “Nothing which we can say upon this occasion will more fully dedicate this spot. The act of consecration occurred 51 years ago, when the pioneers ended their memorable and perilous journey, and determined that here a city should be builded.”
The closing address was made by Judge Goodwin. In his final comments, he invited the crowd to consider what they could do to honor the pioneers: “Today as we read the shining list of their names . . . as we meet to rededicate this spot made sacred by their first consecration of it; we can render to their memories no higher honor, we can do nothing higher for ourselves, than to resolve to adopt the course which they adopted—to perform each our daily duties, under such lights as may be given us, and to leave the rest to God.”His remarks were followed by the dedicatory prayer, offered by George Q. Cannon. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Cannon “thanked God for all the blessings that had come to Utah through the labors of the pioneers, and hoped that the historic spot of ground which had been dedicated to the public as a park would be improved and beautified to the end that all who entered it might reflect upon the past.” “At high noon,” the Salt Lake Herald reported, “the Pythian band played a patriotic piece” and on the suggestion of one of the city councilmen, “three cheers were given in honor of the pioneers, and in appreciation cheers from the pioneers present went up for the city council, which had by ordinance set apart the square for the intended park.” At this point, “the ceremonies were then declared at an end.”
Interestingly, Cannon failed to mention the event in his journal.th This is observed as a General holaday. I staid at home.” This entry is in the handwriting of L. John Nuttall, Woodruff’s secretary. Nuttall helped Woodruff update his journals, sometimes lapsing as long as four weeks, during this period and, apparently, in the process, the event was forgotten.Woodruff’s journal noted, “Mon July 25
Among the recently discovered glass-plate negatives is another view taken on July 25, 1898, at the dedication of Pioneer Square, a stereo view of a group of young girls with the crowd and stand behind them (fig. 3). Although it is impossible to know exactly when on that day the photograph of the young girls was taken without additional primary source information, it seems reasonable to assume, since the carriages and crowd of people are stationary in the background, it was taken before the program began. If it had been taken after the program ended, there likely would have been more movement as people left the ceremony.
On the following day, July 26, 1898, the Salt Lake Tribune suggested that “when the weather cools at the beginning of September, a benefit performance be advertised for the purpose of giving an entertainment, the proceeds of which to be devoted to fencing Pioneer park, trimming the trees, leveling and seeding the ground, laying out walks, etc.”Eventually, city officials again turned their attention to the site, and in 1912 a large playground and swimming pool opened to the public.
The two stereo views of the Pioneer Square dedication are important sources, augmenting the written primary sources of this historic event. Additionally, Johnson’s photograph of Wilford Woodruff preserves the last known photograph of the Church president in a public setting.Woodruff departed Salt Lake City in a small company of friends and associates nineteen days later on August 13, 1898, to visit San Francisco, California. Unfortunately, he died there on September 2, 1898.