Salt Lake City Cemetery: Where Mormon history lives
It's a good dating stop for Mormon couples, a fun setting for LDS family home evenings and a classroom for living history.
Especially around Pioneer Day.
That's because the 120-acre Salt Lake City Cemetery a quiet, natural sanctuary in the Avenues neighborhood is home to some of Utah's and Mormonism's most notable (and notorious) dead since Brigham Young declared Deseret to be, well, the right place.
Among the sprawling cemetery's 110,000 graves: 11 Mormon prophets, from John Taylor through Gordon Hinckley (omitting only Lorenzo Snow and Ezra Taft Benson); colorful characters such as gun-slinging bodyguard Orrin Porter Rockwell and the "swearing elder" J. Golden Kimball; and well-known pioneer women, including Ellis R. Shipp, one of Utah's first female doctors, Jane Manning James, the first black Mormon pioneer woman, and Amelia Folsom Young, Brother Brigham's 25th and purportedly favorite wife.
The cemetery is the final resting place for political bosses, including a dozen Salt Lake City mayors, along with civic and business leaders, including Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller. It even features the headstone of Lester F. Wire. He invented the traffic light.
The first person buried in the 20-acre graveyard was Mary Wallace, who was interred Sept. 27, 1847, under a tree on a hill. Her father, Mormon pioneer George Wallace, became the cemetery's first sexton when the city incorporated in 1851.
"You don't have to be an expert on history to appreciate [the cemetery]. You can just Google a name and learn a lot about Utah's history," says Utah writer Michelle Powell, who did a series on the cemetery. "I feel like there are so many [interesting people] buried there that are just waiting to have their stories told."
For Mark Smith, the current sexton, strolling through the graves is like "walking into another dimension."
Smith loves having a job that connects him to the past and present.
"We are part of the living history that is being made and a caretaker over history given to us," he says. People go there looking for answers, many of which open the door to more "quests."
So of all the VIPs buried in the cemetery, who is the VIP-est?
"My great-grandfather," says Smith. "That's who's most important to me. If your great-grandfather was buried here, that's who should be most important to you."