24 Hours in Salt Lake City
· 17 min. read
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I recently had 24 hours in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I really wish I had had more time. For those unfamiliar, Salt Lake City is the heart of Mormon country, and with this comes a lot of religion, history and lore. In fact, the Mormons ? officially followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ? have a major impact on all things Utahan. It's nearly impossible to walk around the city and not see some connection to Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, or Brigham Young, the man who lead the Mormons eastward from Carthage, Illinois.
Although I didn't have much time to explore the city, I noticed there was an overarching Mormon theme everywhere I went. This list only touches on a few of the places of interest I visited, so if you know of any more, please let me know about them in the comments below.
1. Utah State Capitol
Towering over Salt Lake City is the Utah State Capitol. It was constructed between 1912 and ended in 1916. If those years seem like a strange time to be building a massive structure, keep in mind that the United States didn't enter the First World War until 1917. From 1912 ? 1916 they had the resources and men to build something this impressive while the rest of the world did not.
From the outside, the Utah State Capitol looks like almost any other early Twentieth Century government building. It has marble walls, towering columns, and a massive dome. It has a similar appearance to many of the cathedrals in the Old World. These massive architectural feats symbolize the "Manifest Destiny" many European settlers had. The new establishment of their government, their religion and their beliefs was personified and punctuated by these buildings.
While the outside of the building is impressive, it's a generic capitol building. The only real difference is the vast courtyard behind the building, something the Canadian counterparts don't normally have. However, once you go inside you find yourself in a long, low-ceiling room full of display cases. These display cases talk about the natural flora and fauna of the state of Utah, as well as the various symbols, resources and industries in the area.
But don't let this first floor deceive you. The most impressive part of the building is on the second floor, and it pays homage to the many cathedrals around the world. The Heracleum-sized archways lead to a mosaic-covered rotunda, unlike any other I've seen before. Similar to how cathedrals in Venice or Florence have scenes of Jesus and his Disciples on their walls, this building has scenes of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
Although this building is not on the top of most people's list of places to see in Salt Lake City, I found the Utah State Capitol very interesting, and I spent far more time exploring it than I should have.
2. McCune and McCarthy Mansion
After Brigham Young brought the Mormons to Salt Lake City, the McCune and McCarthy quickly families became some of the wealthiest. Although their mansions are 1.2 miles apart from each other, the two families are intermingled, with memorials to the late McCarthy's on the McCune property.
The McCune Mansion is especially interesting because it is one of the most haunted places in Salt Lake City -- if not America. The reason for the haunting is unknown, as there is no record of anybody dying in the building, or of anything tragic occurring there. However, it is said that the spirit of a little girl haunts the halls and walks in and out of mirrors in the hallways.
Construction on the McCune Mansion began in 1898 at a cost of one million dollars ($31 million USD today, or $42.5 million CAD). It was completed in 1901 when the McCunes moved into it. Almost a century later, in 1999, it was purchased and restored by the McCarthy family.
The McCune Mansion is used today as a performance and event venue. The inside is filled with period artifacts, paintings and furniture, with the walls, rails and ceiling all made of dark brown wood. The wood might be oak, but as oak is not native to this part of the country and this was constructed before the railroad, it's probably stained pine ? or as the locals call it, Mormon Oak.
Unfortunately, tours can only be arranged during the weekdays and I visited it on a Saturday. When open, the building hosts weddings, corporate events, retreats, birthdays, movie screenings and just about any other occasion.
A little over a mile away, the McCarthy Mansion is also used as an event venue, but unlike the McCune Mansion, I couldn't find much about the history of it. This mansion was built in 1900 but has since been converted into office space and an event venue. It took a three-year restoration project, but as of 2003, it was restored to its former glory.
Both buildings can be toured by the contacting Preservation Utah, at 801-533-0858 ext. 104.
If you manage to walk the 1.2 miles between the two buildings, you will also notice a lot of Victoria Era inspired architecture. Due to much of this area being established by arriving Mormons, much of the architecture was inspired by what they saw on the Eastern side of the country.
3. The Beehive House
The structurally sound beehive is Utah's state symbol and originates back to before the state was established in 1896. When Brigham Young arrived in the then Utah Territory, he became the first governor, as well as the second president of the Mormon Church. The house where he slept, ate, worked and entertained guests was named The Beehive House because of its importance in the early community.
Mormonism is a polygamist religion, and Young was an avid polygamist. In total, he would have 55 wives, of which he would have 56 children with only 16 of them. The wives, and his children, would live in the smaller Lion House next door.
After Young died, John Taylor would move into the Beehive House and operate it until he passed away seven years later in 1887.
The Beehive House would pass hands after that, at one point being sold off and being used as a dormitory for women. Our guide said that much of the wallpaper miraculously survived through this, and probably wouldn't have if it was used by men.
The building would later be repurchased by the church and restored to being a historical site. However, many of the artifacts within the building are not original, except for the wallpaper and bannisters and a few additional objects. Fortunately, most pieces in the building are authentic to the time period and would be something either Young or Taylor would have used.
Tours of the Beehive House and the Lion House are free and are hosted by members of the Mormon Church. It is an excellent way to learn about the religion from a subjective point of view, as well as learn about early Salt Lake City history.
4. The Salt Lake Temple
There was a time where you could see the Salt Lake Temple from any spot in the city. These days the skyline blocks much of it, but it is nevertheless massive and relatively easy to find. This temple is the center of the city and the center of the Mormon Church. To followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this temple is as holy as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Israel.
When construction of the church first began, sandstone blocks were brought in to build the base. However, only a few months after the stones were laid, the United States military began advancements on Utah and declared the "Utah War". To conceal their plans for the church, the Mormons buried the base and made to look like a plowed field.
Once the military retreated the following year, and the borders of the state of Utah were redrawn, the church's base was unearthed. However, because sandstone isn't very strong, the base had cracked and splintered. The church members then tore up the base and hauled in quartz monzonite from 20 miles (32km) away and started over from scratch.
The temple took exactly forty years to build, from April 6, 1853 to April 6, 1893. It is not accessible to the public, but the grounds around it are. The temple was damaged twice from bombings ? once in 1910 and another in 1962 ? and was damaged in the 1999 Salt Lake City tornado and the 2020 Salt Lake City earthquake.
The grounds of the temple are currently under renovation and will be for about four years.
While in the area, you might as well visit the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which is right next to the temple, and the Family History Library, which is located right behind it.
5. Salt Lake City Cemetery
Cemeteries are a fantastic place to learn about local history, as well as educate visitors on how the city was formed. If you want to do a tour of the cemetery, you can contact Preservation Utah, but keep in mind that they only do tours in the summer.
While there are probably plenty of incredible stories within the cemetery, it is thanks to Jennifer Jones of The Dead History that I learned about these two famous graves.
The first grave is in the Jewish Section of the Salt Lake Cemetery. This grave is a mausoleum and is only a few yards from the fence line. It's a lot thinner than I was expecting, so if you go there looking for a large mausoleum you will probably walk past it (like I did, more than once).
This mausoleum is the final resting place of Jacob Moritz. I will leave the story of his life to The Dead History to tell, but Moritz got sick and went to Germany to spend some time in the mineral springs in hopes of curing himself. Instead, he succumbed to lung and stomach cancer in 1910 at the age of 61. His remains were sent back to Salt Lake City and placed in the mausoleum.
His wife would later remarry and move to California, where she died in 1959. It is said Moritz's remains were taken from the mausoleum and sent there as well.
So, is the mausoleum empty? Not really. There was a vase inside, but it was broken sometime during the 1970s. There is also a picture of Moritz hanging in the mausoleum. Although there's nothing sinister about the grave or the person within it, it has long been reported as haunted. Legends say that the face of a man will peer at you if you look through the mausoleum door's bars.
Others claim you can summon the ghost by walking around the mausoleum three times, chanting "Emo" on each rotation. After you're done, you're supposed to look through the bars and see a face peering back at you. In the 1970s, however, you were only supposed to put a match inside the bars, and you would see the face. Strange how these things change.
However, some time since 2013, the bars of the mausoleum were sealed up and nobody can peer inside. Although Moritz isn't buried there anymore, whatever might be in there can now finally rest in peace.
The other grave The Dead History told me to check out is that of Lilly Gray. Her grave is famous not for what she did in life, but the inscription on her stone. Unlike other graves that ask for the person to rest in peace, this one says, "Victim of The Beast 666".
Jones' has done plenty of research into this grave, and the grave of Lilly's third husband, Elmer Gray. She was able to uncover that Elmer had lived a hard life of crime, especially theft, and was even placed in a penitentiary. He often operated under different aliases and would make up stories to try and weasel out of trouble.
Lilly married Elmer in 1952, at the ages of 71 and 72 respectfully. Their marriage was seemingly happy, with no crimes or charges on record. Six years later Lilly died of pulmonary embolism and kidney failure. Six years after that, Elmer died of a stroke.
So, why does the grave say "Victim of the Beast 666" on it? Some people say Lilly was a follower of the occultist Aleister Crowley, the "Wickedest Man in the World", and that she was part of a cult. Jennifer Jones of The Dead History has another theory instead, and it involves mental illness and politics. I won't ruin her research, so if you're curious to go take a look at her article.
While I didn't have much time in Salt Lake City, I really enjoyed my stay. I loved the mysticism, the history, religion and a side of history I don't often hear of in Canada.
Have you ever been to Salt Lake City? What did you see while you were there? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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Categories: Dark Tourism, Paranormal, Travel Tips, USA, Utah