It is amazing how many lessons you can learn by spending a day in a cemetery! Most people use Memorial Day to decorate the graves of their loved ones, then move on to other recreational activities such as boating, camping, and swimming. If you take the time to get to know your city cemetery, it’s amazing what you can learn! Besides the amazing architecture and design of the different headstones, cemeteries tell a story about the history of your city.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was established as a day of remembrance for those who have died serving our country. Although women’s groups from the Southern states were known to decorate their soldiers’ graves before the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5th 1868 by General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. You can read the complete history of Memorial Day on the US Memorial Day website.
I remember as a kid, my mom and grandma were working on family history, and we spent the entire day at the Salt Lake City Cemetery. It was very interesting wandering around, looking at the headstones, and wondering what their lives had been like. Ever since that day, cemeteries and the history of the people laid to rest there, have fascinated me. Here are a few cemeteries worth visiting to learn about the history of Utah:
Salt Lake City Cemetery
Located in the Avenues above downtown Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake City Cemetery is full of those who helped Utah become what it is today. The first burial was on September 27th 1847; George Wallace buried his child Mary Wallace. Some notable people buried there include:
- Brigham Young (LDS church president and the person who led the pioneers to Utah)
- Thomas Battersby Child (creator of the Gilgal Sculpture Garden)
- William Clayton (inventor of the roadometer, similar to the odometer)
- Heber Manning Wells (Utah’s first governor)
- Lester Farnsworth Wire (inventor of the traffic light)
- Edward Woods (American actor)
- many LDS church apostles and leaders
- You can read through a list of famous graves to visit in the Salt Lake Cemetery, or you pick up a map at their office. They are normally closed on holidays, but will be open all weekend during Memorial Weekend, and have many resources for you. You can also check out the book “The Famous and Infamous: A Guide To The Salt Lake City Cemetery” by Linda K. Hilton. Other great maps are available on Names In Stone and the Utah State History website.
My favorite thing to see is the veterans section of the cemetery (pictured above). You can find this section of the cemetery in the NorthEast corner of the cemetery.
Another marker of note in the Salt Lake City Cemetery is the Christmas Box Angel Statue. It was introduced in the book The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans. This statue stands as a memorial for all parents who have lost a child. Many more Angel Statues have been dedicated throughout the world, but you can find the first Angel Statue in the Salt Lake City Cemetery by going past the cemetery office, turn right on Grand Avenue, then left on Center Street. After you pass two streets on your left, look for it. You can print a copy of the map HERE.
Other Utah cemeteries rich in history: