Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have revamped and rededicated the final resting place of pioneer-prophet Brigham Young and several members of his vast family.
After almost a year of renovation work at the Brigham Young Family Cemetery, church leaders held a ceremony Saturday at the 150-year-old landmark tucked in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City.
Kevin W. Pearson, the Utah Area president for the faith, presided at the gathering, according to a news release, and offered praise for the sacrifices of Latter-day Saint pioneers who settled the region while Young served as the church’s second president.
“It would be impossible to overstate his impact on the state of Utah and the ‘pioneer corridor,’” Pearson said. “It has been said that ‘history is the fulfillment of prophecy.’ Nowhere is that truer than in the times and lives of the early pioneer Saints who came to the Great Salt Lake Valley.”
Along with a white stone grave marker for Young and a prominent bust of the famous polygamist, the cemetery holds the graves of many of his wives, including Mary Ann Angell, Lucy Ann Decker, Emmeline Free, Mary Van Cott and Eliza R. Snow, along with children Joseph Angell Young and Alice Young Clawson. The Utah-based church officially abandoned plural marriage in 1890.
A portion of the small cemetery, according to the church’s release, has also been dedicated to the legacies of early pioneers such as Snow and William Clayton, whose poems were adopted as popular Latter-day Saint hymns.
Burial site for Young’s extensive family
Emily Utt, a curator and historic preservation expert for the church, told city officials in late 2021 that ground-penetrating radar imaging conducted at the cemetery in advance of renovation work had detected as many as “40-plus” graves, while only 11 previously were marked.
A retired church historian, Randy Dixon, who has studied the relics of Utah’s pioneer past, said nearly 48 graves are documented in burial lists and death records related to the family cemetery located at 140 E. First Ave., including wives, children, grandchildren and a few of Young’s neighbors.
Though now dwarfed by the adjacent Brigham Apartments on South Temple, the grassy spot once offered a commanding view southward over the Salt Lake Valley. The church leader, nicknamed the “American Moses,” was said to be interred in a corner of the parcel a few feet from his strawberry patch.
In 1974, the cemetery was dedicated as the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument and a statue in the park memorialized the Latter-day Saint pioneers who lost their lives while trekking to Utah.
A need for more security
Church historians also revealed in 2021 that the cemetery had been plagued for more than two years by a spate of trespassing, vandalism and littering, prompting stepped-up guard patrols and new lighting.
Latter-day Saint officials also petitioned the city’s Historic Landmark Commission for permission to add height to an original and distinct wrought-iron fence around the cemetery’s perimeter to better protect it from intruders. After their requests were denied by the commission, sometime around Thanksgiving 2021, a crew working for the church removed the fence around Young’s white grave marker and took it to an undisclosed location, in violation of a city order.
Church officials later confirmed the historic wrought-iron fence “was carefully removed” and had been temporarily stored off-site “for safekeeping” — pending reinstallation as part of restoration project.
According to the release about the rededication, special care was taken in restoring and reinforcing the site’s original artisanship, including the 32-inch fence and sandstone wall on the graveyard’s perimeter.
Church officials said the cemetery’s renovation started in April 2020, with multiple departments ensuring “meticulous care to preserve the historical integrity of the site.”
Contractors with Salt Lake City-based Jacobsen Construction conducted all digging by hand, the release said, which posed challenges after two layers of concrete about 10 inches thick were found under the cemetery’s sandstone-paved walkway.
The overhaul also restored the cemetery’s stone paths and walls, removed a few aging trees, improved lighting and upgraded the site’s irrigation system.
“We have tried to create an open, inviting, peaceful atmosphere where the spirit can be felt,” project manager Greg Green said. “Also, a place to reflect on the past, and help inspire us as we move forward with our lives.”