Our Oldest Cemetery
Whaaaaaa? October already? For you folk that love summer I’m sure you’re sad that cooler weather is upon us. I’m a fan of hoodies myself and I’m happy as hell to see that the ski resorts around the capitol city got a half foot of the first dusting of snow this past weekend. When it’s cooler weather I like to explore and kick the leaves that fall off of trees. My favorite thing to do is explore cemeteries.
Our REALTORS who work full time understand that buyers often love or hate the idea of living near the dead. A national real estate firm recently blogged that they found homes had sold near the main graveyard in a town went for 13% more than homes a block away from the cemetery. Realtor.com reported recently that six in ten people would consider buying a home near a graveyard especially if there is a supposed ghost living in the house. Some people like graveyards because they are quiet and park-like green space. Others find them spooky or grew up in a culture with specific rules about death prohibiting them living near a graveyard.
Our oldest cemetery in Utah (of white people) is underneath the Palladio Apartments on 300 South and 200 West on the east side of Pioneer Park. When developers dug the foundation for those apartments they found an old pioneer burial plot with bones from the 1840’s and 1850’s. These men, women and children had been put on top of an even earlier prehistoric Indian burial mound. The deceased were removed and the pioneers went to a graveyard created at Pioneer State Park (near the zoo) while he others were returned to a Utah tribe for a proper ceremony.
If you take TRAX to the U of U from downtown you pass another historic sanctified grounds- Mount Olivet Cemetery at 1342 E. 500 South. It’s on the right as the train turns left into the station at the stadium. This is the ONLY cemetery in the U.S. that was established by an Act of Congress as a place to bury any person, of any race, creed or color. The Act was signed in 1874 by President Ulysses S. Grant and it required that a religious person/minister and one layman from each of five chosen denominations in Salt Lake serve on a Board of Trustees to oversee the land. I had always heard that it was a burial site for members of the Masons and that no Mormons were allowed to be buried there at all, but that’s an urban myth a friend fed me at a party.
Here’s a few of the notable residents buried at Mount. Olivet:
-The earliest black solder (Andrew Campbell) was buried in 1922 after serving in Utah Johnson’s Army;
-Emma McVickers, the first woman state superintendent of schools; Emily Pearson, an Episcopal missionary and the first person buried in the cemetery-two years before it opened; Alvina Penney, the wife of J.C. Penney, who died suddenly at home when her department store magnate of a husband was out of town; and Susanna Bransford, the richest woman in Utah who died in 1905 and was known as the ‘Silver Queen’ for her ownership in the Park City mine of the same name;
-a whole bunch of names of the dead you’d recognize as past movers and shakers in Utah, from the Kearns, to the Keiths and the Walkers plus governors and mayors and Civil War heros.
The cemetery fell into financial problems in the 1990’s. After years of many meetings between the Board of Trustees, the Feds and Salt Lake City Corp Mount Olivet’s Board of Trustees worked out a deal so that the cemetery could lease out some of its land as an added income source. Since then a retirement center, school buildings/grounds for the U of U and Rowland Hall have been parsed out with the promise if plots were needed again, the buildings would be torn down. The cemetery is open @8 AM until dusk seven days a week.