There's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons. Mormon pioneers coming to the BeThere's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons. Mormon pioneers coming to the Beehive State in 1847, setting up their polygamist kingdom, and then fighting against the U.S. government for fifty years to become a state. It wasn't until the Mormons agreed to give up polygamy in 1890 that the United States allowed them to move from being a territory to a state, which finally happened in 1896. For many people, that is the history of Utah. But it's much more than that.
Eileen Hallet Stone is a reporter and columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune. One of her ongoing columns has been Living History, revived after being dormant for some time. As a Utah History teacher, I've enjoyed the articles in the paper when I've caught them--but there have been many I've missed. Thankfully, 58 of those short stories have now been collected in Hidden History of Utah, a 2013 book published by The History Press. The 200 page book is an interesting series of snapshots into the "other history" of Utah, and it's a great resource for Utah residents or simply history buffs who want to know more about the Western United States.
Most of the stories cover the century from 1850 to 1950, and are each only two to three pages long. It's a great one to read in short batches, when you've only got a few minutes to get your history on. The articles are grouped into categories:
Early Towns, Different Stories
Western Entrepreneur's True Grit
Matters of Inequity
Rails, Wires, Wheels and Roads,
Suffragists in the West
Working the Mines
...you get the idea. There are stories from World War II, from the Great Depression, about Prostitution and Prohibition. Many of her stories are meant to bust the myths that Utah has always been dry (it hasn't, and still isn't), or that we're all a bunch of white bread Mormons (okay, I am, but there's more diversity here than people realize). The stories are entertaining, succinct, and well-written. The one caution is that Stone seems to be so interested in telling the "other stories" of Utah's History that she doesn't include the traditional Mormon stories at all. Filling in gaps is good, but if a reader picked this up expecting to cover all of Utah's History, there would be some series chunks missing.
with that caveat in mind, if you're interested in Utah History, this is a good place to start. There are other contributors to the Living History column, including longtime Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley--I'd love to see more collections in this series. Past publications by the Salt Lake Tribune have included It Happened in Utah by Gayen and Tom Wharton, and In Another Time, by the late Harold Schindler. All are worth tracking down, for the same reasons that Hidden History of Utah is. ...more
I'm something of an architecture buff. Architecture nerd. Geek. Whatever you want to call it, I pay attention to the buildings around me. More than j I'm something of an architecture buff. Architecture nerd. Geek. Whatever you want to call it, I pay attention to the buildings around me. More than just a place to get out of the elements, they're built the way they are for a reason. I don't have any professional training, and given my math skills, could never actually build anything, but I love architecture.
When I saw Images of America: Salt Lake City's Historic Architecture by Allen Dale Roberts, I knew I had to pick it up. The book is part of a long-running series from Arcadia Publishing, with hundreds of books celebrating local history across the United States. Their pattern seems to be mining photos from the archives of local/state historical societies, and then finding local experts to write about them. In this particular case, it worked perfectly.
Mr. Roberts is an award-winning architect and the president of CRSA, an architectural firm in Salt Lake City that specializes in historic preservation and restoration. So when he writes about the buildings in the book, he knows what he's talking about.
The 128-page paperback volume features hundreds of buildings, divided into nine chapters based on the function of the structure: Civic and Public Architecture, Industrial Buildings, Hotels and Apartments, Religious Architecture, etc..
Of the 220 buildings featured in the book, about a third of them have been destroyed. For some, it's understandable. The site of the building, the cost to renovate, safety concerns--all play a role in deciding if a building should stay or go. For others, it's a loss that left me genuinely sad (and sometimes angry) about the shortsightedness of previous generations. Chief among these are the Commercial Block, which was a beautiful building near my former workplace downtown, and the Dooly Block, Utah's only building designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan.
As you read the book, the names of certain architects keep coming to the fore: Richard Kletting, Frederick Hale, the firm Pope and Burton...most of the significant buildings in the late 19th and early 20th Century were designed by a handful of men and their firms. You begin to see common themes and design elements in their buildings, and I love knowing a little more about the backgrounds of the structures. Names of sponsors of the buildings also keep coming up--the Mormon/LDS Church of course is responsible for many of the buildings in Salt Lake City, but a family of four "Walker Brothers" and the silver mining magnate Thomas Kearns also served as a counterpoint, building commercial buildings to rival the economic and political hold the Mormons had on the city. It makes for an interesting study in contrasts, and a kind of time machine to look at my hometown.
The photographs are all black and white, pulled from various state archives, with a handful of modern black and white photographs that may have been taken by Roberts himself. Most buildings are featured two per page, but some significant buildings merit their own page, or even multiple pages. Roberts' captions are succinct but informative, and I enjoyed reading this book more than I expected.
If you're a fan of architecture, and happen to have ties to Utah or Salt Lake City, I highly recommend this book. Since I know most people reading this don't have those ties, look for the Images of America books that represent your own community. Chances are good that there are many of them, and if they're anything like this one, they'll be a good find. ...more
I'm a Mormon. Have been my whole life. Probably will be my whole life. My family goes way back in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, allI'm a Mormon. Have been my whole life. Probably will be my whole life. My family goes way back in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, all the way to 1830, when the religion was founded in New York by Joseph Smith. They stuck with the Mormons as they moved to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and then the middle of nowhere (Utah).
I try to be open and upfront with my religious beliefs, not to foist them upon others, but open enough that friends, co-workers, new acquaintances who have questions about the Mormons feel comfortable asking me. I usually do a pretty good job of it, I think...although I have startled more than one person who asks me how many wives I have by telling them "four...and we're looking at a fifth. Interested?" For the record, that's a JOKE, and Mormons haven't done the polygamy thing since 1890. Still. It's a peculiar piece of our history, and I own it. There are other oddities in our theology, some of which you undoubtedly heard about during Mitt Romney's run for the White House. Even odder than our theology is Mormon folklore--the stories and culture that have grown up around the Mormons in isolation in the Western United States. Those traditions are the topic of Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies, a 2013 book edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould.
The hefty (nearly 600 pages) paperback is a collection of writings dating from 1948 on, although most of the 28 essays and articles are from the last 25 years. The majority of the older essays still hold up over time, because they're about rural communities and the transition from pioneer times to 20th Century life.
The six sections of the book are:
Part I: Mormondom as Regional Culture: Society, Symbols, and Landscape
Part II: Making Mormons: Formative Customs and Traditions
Part III: The Sacred and the Supernatural
Part IV: Pioneers, Heroes, and the Historical Imagination
Part V: Humor
Part VI: Beyond Deseret: Mormon Folklore in an International Context
The introductions to each section, along with a long scholarly introduction about the context of the Mormons in the West, the role of folklore in researching history, and how they gathered and organized the essays, are all written by Eliason and Mould. It turns out those are the driest part of the collection, although they do a good job of establishing the rest of the book.
Some of my particular favorite essays:
The Mormon Landscape: Definition of an Image in the American West, by Richard V. Francaviglia -- there is something unique about Mormon cities and towns and their situation in relation to each other and the mountains and streams that feed them, when compared to similar sized towns in neighboring states. Francaviglia explains those differences, and gives a sort of primer to help you identify "if you're in a Mormon town or not."
Made in Heaven: Marriage Confirmation Narratives Among Mormons, by George H. Schoemaker -- Mormons have a strong belief in "personal revelation" -- that God has a vested interest in our lives, and will give us a heads-up about important things via the Holy Ghost. It can be through feelings, it can be through a voice in our head, it can be through friends or family members. Schoemaker's article is about Mormons who get some kind of revelation that their spouse-to-be is The One. As a Mormon who was single until the age of 27 (a very old man in Mormon terms), I've heard dozens of these in real life, and it was interesting to look at it from a scholarly perspective.
Nameways in Latter-Day Saint History, Custom, and Folklore, by Eric Eliason -- Mormon given names have always fascinated me, possibly because my own name (Quinn) is somewhat unusual. It defies the naming traditions described by Eliason, but when the time came for my wife and I to name our own sons, we followed some of the courses described in the essay. Eliason details several different traditions, ascribing them to times and places, and examines whether or not they're truly "Mormon" traditions, or "Western U.S." traditions. I loved this essay.
Pioneers and Recapitulation in Mormon Popular Historical Expression, by Eric Eliason -- turns out I like how this guy thinks. And writes. This looks at the idea of the Mormon exodus from eastern states to Utah, and how it's been commemorated and become its own sort of weird object of veneration. I've never quite agreed with it, but Eliason explains it well here. He also looks at how that commemoration has changed over time, and what forms it may take in the future.
Others in the collection are hit and miss; I felt like the collection and analysis of "BYU Coed Jokes" was interesting, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Same with the inclusion of "Three Nephites" stories -- similar to the "Wandering Jew" or Michael Landon's Highway to Heaven character...an angelic visitor who pops in, does some good deed, and then vanishes. That essay felt short and incomplete for a subject that's such a huge part of Mormon folklore.
One that I wanted to love, and that I was keenly interested in, was Susan Peterson's The Great and Dreadful Day: Mormon Folklore of the Apocalypse. Mormons tend to have...interesting ideas about the end of the world (the official name of the church includes the term "Latter-Day" in it, after all), and in my personal experience, the folklore related to the apocalypse goes bananas. Sadly, Peterson's article was originally published in 1976, and although it's well-written, many of the things she includes as evidence or as Mormon conventional wisdom has been changed.
Overall, it's a collection of scholarly essays that look at Mormon folklore. If you're a fan of American folklore or cultural studies, it's a solid read. Each essay provides enough of a background about what you need to know about the religion for that particular essay, so you aren't ever out of your depth in understanding where the authors are going. If you're interested in the subject, but want something a little shorter, I also recommend Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore....more
My wife is in a book club. It's with a bunch of ladies from the neighborhood, and the way she describes it is "we talk about the book we all read forMy wife is in a book club. It's with a bunch of ladies from the neighborhood, and the way she describes it is "we talk about the book we all read for about ten minutes, and the rest of the time we're talking about everything and everybody else." Which to me, sounds like...well, just a bunch of gossip. Which is cool. We all do it, why not organize?
Last month they read a book that my wife thought I'd enjoy, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. The 2010 novel takes place in the antebellum South, on plantations in Virginia. My wife knows I like historic fiction, and even though this is centered on women, she figured I'd like it. She was right.
The story is of course about the interactions between the slaves and the whites who own and run the plantation. Most elements are things we've seen before in similar books and movies. The curveball that Grissom throws us is in the person of Lavinia, an Irish immigrant who arrives in the United States in the late 1700s. She's just a child of six when we meet her, and both of her parents died on the voyage over from Ireland. She had a brother, but she was separated from him when they were both taken to be indentured servants.
While there are many stories about slaves and slavery (and there should be), I'm not aware of many about indentured servitude. The idea was that the indentured would live with a family for a period of time (seven years was the standard), where they'd work off the price of their voyage to the United States, their upkeep, etc. Lavinia ends up in this situation, which, although she's white, essentially confers upon her the status of a slave. She lives with the slaves who work in the "kitchen house," which would be the most upper class of the slaves for this particular plantation. She's taken in by them as family, and calls the heads of household Momma and Papa. As she grows older, she comes to understand the hierarchy of the plantation, the social fabric of the larger community, and what her role in it might be.
The resulting book is more complicated than I expected, with doses of joy, but a lot of tragedy. There are many heroes, but the villains have such power over all of the lives around them that it can become oppressive. Each character is carefully drawn, and we get insights in every side of the complicated institutions of slavery, agriculture, and Southern society.
If you're a fan of the time period, this book covers approximately 1790-1820, which is earlier than most of these stories. The Civil War is still a few generations away, and emancipation isn't on the horizon. Despite that, there's some hope in The Kitchen House. ...more
I've been a fan of popular historian Simon Winchester for several yars now. His Krakatoa, and The Professor and the Madman, and A Crack in the Edge ofI've been a fan of popular historian Simon Winchester for several yars now. His Krakatoa, and The Professor and the Madman, and A Crack in the Edge of the World all pretty much guaranteed that I'd read whatever he writes. He has a gifted way of writing about historic events that creates suspense and intrigue, without going overboard with too many details, or too many asides. Kind of the opposite of how I generally write. So when I saw that he had written a kind of survey of American History, I was all for it. The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible may be the longest title I've ever written a review on. But it's a great read.
The 463-page hardcover was published last year, and examines the process of connecting the United States. Not just getting the land, but really looking at the connective tissue that ties the country together. Winchester groups these connections into five parts:
Part I When America's Story was Dominated by Wood, 1785-1805
Part II When America's Story Went Beneath the Earth, 1809-1901
Part III When the American Story Traveled by Water, 1803-1900
Part IV When the American Story was Fanned by Fire, 1811-1956
Part V: When the American Story was Told Through Metal, 1835-Tomorrow
As a British expatriate who recently became an American citizen, Winchester seems to be writing this book as a sort of homage to his adopted homeland. He demonstrates a love for the United States and our history that stays away from American exceptionalism, but does point out American remarkablism (I think that's a new word that I just made up).
In his lengthy subtitle, Winchester points out the kinds of men (and women, but mostly men) he'll be writing about: explorers, inventors, etc...and how their efforts united such a geographically diverse and distant group of people into one nation. He begins with Thomas Jefferson's obsession with the West, recruiting Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery to make it to the Pacific, and Winchester does a good job of succinctly retelling their story, threading routes that would be followed by hundreds of thousands later. He follows their story with seemingly unrelated tales of American geologists, which turn into an explanation of America's vast natural resources and the birth of industry, but also a celebration of the great natural beauties of the United States, and our National Park system.
Much of the book is about the transportation and communication networks which served to unite the states; the railroad, the canals, the interstates, telegraph, telephones, and eventually television, radio and the internet. It's a remarkable overview of the last 200 years, and a reminder of just how interconnected the United States has become. I might like to think that we could function without say, Texas in the union, but they're a part of us. A part of me (hey, I was born there)(a long time ago).
Winchester does point out our flaws along the way, and his outsider's perspective comes in handy when he's discussing the treatement of the Native Americans at the hands of Other Americans. He lets tragedies seep into the book, but they don't ever dominate his overall vision of the United States as the place he wanted to end up, a country with a rich past and a hopeful future.
If it's been a while since you've picked up an American History book, this is a very readable text. I devoured it in the space of a few hours, but it would be pleasurable to read a few chapters at a time, remembering some of what we've forgotten since our high school days. I love Winchester's way with words, and he uses them to tell great stories. I'm glad I read The Men Who United the States. ...more
I've loved libraries since I was a wee lad. My parents, being intellectual hippie-types, taught me to read by the age of three, and by four I was checI've loved libraries since I was a wee lad. My parents, being intellectual hippie-types, taught me to read by the age of three, and by four I was checking out stacks of library books. Sure, they were mostly Dr. Seuss, but it was something. Had I been born 100 years earlier, I never would have been able to go into a library. In the 19th Century, most libraries were off-limits to children. A new picture book explains how all that changed: Miss More Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children, by Jan Pinborough, and illustrated by Debby Atwell.
Anne Moore was raised with fairly progressive parents, who taught her to read and encouraged her reading. This was at a time when female literacy was still on the back burner for most families, preferring instead to prepare their daughters to run households. Embroidery, cooking, those were respectable pastimes. Teaching their girls to read was a waste of time.
Well, as the book's title explains, "Miss Moore thought otherwise." After leaving home, she graduated from library school, and got her first job at a library that had something unique--a section of the library dedicated to children. She loved the idea, and set up programs and activities for kids. Her fame spread, and soon she was in charge of children's sections in all of Boston's libraries.
Her crowning achievement came with a move to New York City, where they were building a new central public library--one of the most famous in the world. She was asked to design the children's reading room, and she planned out every detail.
The book does a good job of describing Moore's philosophy about reading and children, and explains the programs she established for children's librarians across the country. My sister is a children's librarian, and this book gave me some insights into her job and the history of her career. The colorful illustrations help tell the story, and give personality and life to Pinborough's words.
If you're a bibliophile--and if you're reading this, you probably are--this is a fun book that will make you look at libraries differently. Thank goodness for Miss Moore. ...more
Part of my job this year has been reading and evaluating children's and young adult books and seeing if they're appropriate to teach students historyPart of my job this year has been reading and evaluating children's and young adult books and seeing if they're appropriate to teach students history and other social studies concepts. One of the books I received was an "Easy Reader" style picture book from Random House, one of their Step Into Reading publications. The book, by Jane Kohuth with illustrations by Elizabeth Sayles, is Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree.
The title alone raised about twenty-three red flags. A picture book about Anne Frank? Teaching little kids about the Holocaust? And specifically Anne Frank? Most kids read Anne Frank's story at some point in middle school, and there's an undeniable power in reading her own words in her diary format. So I opened the book with some trepidation.
Intended for grades 1-3, the book has short chapters and an easy-to-follow plot. The text is simple, with short sentences and a large enough font to read, but it does retell Anne Frank's story in a way that is both respectful of the original material and of history, but softens some of the harshest edges.
The book is divided into sections: In the Attic, The Secret Annex, and Anne's Chestnut Tree. The first sets up her story, the second is the bulk of her biography, and the last section is the aftermath and a sort of tribute to Anne and her writing.
Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree does a good job of introducing young readers to complicated topics, like war, antisemitism, and even the idea of concentration camps. Through it all, the authors use the window from the Annex where Anne can see her chestnut tree as a sort of escape, as hope, as her proof that God was still there and loved her. Towards the end of the book, instead of saying something like "Anne died in the concentration camp," Kohuth uses more passive language which feels safer for young readers: "Anne did not survive the war." It's a small difference, but a significant one.
The author is able to end Anne's story on a hopeful note, which can be difficult with stories set during the Holocaust. End notes cite the Anne Frank House, linking to their website at http://www.annefrank.org, but it's not clear if the book is officially endorsed by them or not.
The illustrations are dark pastels, fitting to the story being told, with splashes of color here and there, like I imagine Anne's life was. The characterization of Anne and her family in particular looks as they do in photographs, and I appreciated the efforts of illustrator Elizabeth Sayles in softening the edges without making the family or other characters seem cartoonish.
Can such an elementary reader tell Anne's story effectively? Yes, I think this does. If you're looking for something that's an introduction to some of the horrors, but also heroism, of the 20th Century, it's worth checking out....more