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Topaz hospital staff workers. Courtesy Topaz Collection, Utah State Historical Society.
Utah historical society creates digital Topaz photo collection
WWII » Archivist says Japanese Americans in Utah internment camp “lived their lives.”
First Published Jul 30 2012 05:12 pm • Last Updated Oct 30 2012 11:34 pm

A sad chapter in American history — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II — is told in a new online collection of photos from Topaz, the Utah relocation camp.

But the photos also tell another story, says Heidi Orchard, an archivist with the Utah Historical Society.

At a glance

Groundbreaking set for Topaz Museum

The ground-breaking for the Topaz Museum and Education Center will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Delta City Park between 100 West and 200 West on Delta’s Main Street.

Luncheon » Tickets will be sold beginning at 9 a.m., also in the City Park.

Entertainment » Taiko drummers will perform.

Tours » Visitors can see Topaz’s restored recreation hall, which was moved to Delta.

Art show » The library will have an art show featuring the works of those who were interned.

Want to visit the former camp? » Buses will take those who want to tour Topaz, 16 miles northwest of Delta, after the groundbreaking.

A look into the past » Visitors also will be able to see a glimpse of what the camp looked like via a 3-D digital reconstruction model at Delta City Hall.

Online » Find out more about museum. > topazmuseum.org

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"We forget these people didn’t go and … just mope for three years. They lived their lives," said Orchard, who helped bring the society’s collection to fruition. "There is such a dignity in the way they lived their lives through that time."

The Topaz collection, comprised of photos that KUED collected for a 1987 documentary on Topaz, is the 17th online collection for the historical society.

It has 220 images, showing everything from schoolchildren saying the Pledge of Allegiance to a New Year’s Eve party to agricultural work crews.

The collection debuts as the 70th anniversary of Topaz’s opening nears and as construction is about to begin for the new Topaz Museum and Education Center.

Ground will be broken at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Delta City Park on Main Street, between 100 W. and 200 W. The museum will be across the street, and a few shovels of dirt will be turned there, said Jane Beckwith, president of the volunteer museum board.

The camp 16 miles northwest of Delta opened in September 1942 to receive Japanese Americans from the west coast, mostly the Bay Area. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government feared an attack on the west coast, and ordered all Japanese Americans living along the coast into one of 10 relocation camps.

Nearly 11,000 people spent time in Topaz during the three years it was open.

These aren’t the first Topaz photos to go online. The Topaz Museum’s website has links to other collections, such the Utah State University digital archive.

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Orchard said one of her favorite collections is the yearbooks from Topaz High School, which also tell a story of the hopeful, hard-working attitude of those Japanese Americans sent to the camps. Those yearbooks are part of the USU digital archive.

Beckwith said she especially likes volumes of "Trek," a quarterly literary magazine produced at Topaz. Those, too, are part of the USU digital archive, linked form the museum website.

Besides a literary magazine, residents of Topaz created artwork, and some of it will be on display Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. in the Delta City Library, also in the city park.

That collection will be part of the museum when it is completed.


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