Notes from the Utah State Historical Society’s 56th Annual Conference, Part 1

By September 13, 2008

I had the chance yesterday to attend three of four sessions of the USHS’s Annual Conference in the Salt Lake City Library.  This was my first time attending this conference.  It was free to the public.  This was a smaller conference than any I’ve ever been to.  Each of the four sessions had a choice of three presentations.  A number of authors were in attendance including Carmon Hardy, Michael Homer, Katherine Daynes, Glen Leonard, Will Bagley, Noel Carmack, Michael Marquardt, Robert Carter, Marty Bradley, Reid Nielson, Ron Walker, and others.

Here are my notes from Reid Nielson’s presentation:

Friday September 12, 2008

9:00-10:15 am

Session 3

The Columbian Exposition and Football

Reid NeilsonFirst time in SL Library, beautiful building.

Today we’re talking about the 1893 worlds fair, Columbian exposition.  Mention how I got interested, Years ago at NC in graduate work, took a course on Asian religions in America.   Studying the efforts of the Buddhists in Japan and Chicago and got into literature on the parliament of religions, I got interested in what was going on there, and as a historian interested in Mormonism, I wondered if the Mormons got involved. Did Mormons come to Chicago? Were they involved?

The deeper I dig the more I have found. It’s turned into a book project.

“As amercian as our Neighbors…”

[That is] a theme of the book, LDS and Utah involvement in the white city.  At the end of the century the Mormons are tying to prove by their involvement that they’re just as American as anyone. Marked dramatic reengagement of Mormons with larger world. Over 7000 LDS attended the White City…many as tourists others actively participated to improve public image.  Most believed that the besieged religion would benefit from increased national profile.  Many women helped use the exposition to improve social status of their gender in their faith. The MTab choir participated. B. H. Roberts sought Mormon entrance in the parliament of religions.

Lots of back story in how they got involved and got the space for their exhibit. May 1, 1893, opened, festivities. Most exciting event Pres. Cleveland activated the White city.  Over the next 5 months millions of Americans came. Chicago worlds fair sight of many firsts, Aunt Jamaima, Chili Con Carne, long distance phone calls, the zipper, night sporting events.  [The White City provided] Inspiration for the Emerald City, lyrics to America the Beautiful. Walt Disney [was] inspired after touring.

Between May and Oct. Utah world’s fair commission sought to put its best foot forward. Can’t overstate how important this was for Utah.  How well would the Utah building be received?  Ever territory had the opportunity to get land above the fairgrounds. [One Utah correspondent, Spender] In Spencer’s mind, the buildings were a yardstick for the resources of the territory. Delighted to discover that the Utah building’s exhibits were on par with those of other states and territories.

How Utah got the prized lot…[One of the Utah representatives went out to the fair lots early in the pouring rain and sat on a log on the best lot and stayed there all night.  When it was seen he was not going to move, he got the lot.]

Scaled down replica of Eagle Gate, statue of BY, Gazebo, after eagle gate, steps, inside hall.  Two reception rooms, Utah commission’s office…hall with plush chairs to rest. Second story, balcony area.  Above reception room, private residences of commissioners.  The excitement was limited to the main level.  Center of the main room had a massive …beige carpet…handicrafts featured prominently, knitting, leather goods, etc.  Large bookcase held a sample of Utah literature, Orson Spencer, bound copies of LDS periodicals, JI, Contributor, walls with paintings…Most celebrated display in the Utah building was that of a 1500 yr old Native Am. mummy excavated from San Juan County.  Still wrapped in linen in glass case with attending artifacts.

Ancient American art and artifacts captured attention of visitors.

Josephine Spencer satisfied with building and exhibits, but thought that Utah had even more to offer.  She then suggested that more of Utah’s dainty industry may have been showcased.  Could not hold a candle to what is shown in home fairs all the time in Utah…

Between May and October, building housed official bureau of information. Directors overwhelmed with requests for official info.  Utah did not benefit of prepared pamphlets.

Ran out on a regular basis of the Utah chamber of commerce annual report

Rail Roads provided most info.  Rio Grande Western gave away an illustrated book of Utah, deemed to be the most attractive of any of the stats…Union Pacific gave…

Utah stamp…[All literature given out had to be stamped with an official stamp of the state/territory.  Utah did not have one so they hastily fashioned one in Chicago and used it].

Over 2,1500 promotional brochures and newspapers [distributed].  Staffers tracked daily visitor rates.  Reps. understood the need to account for a large expenditure of funds.  Est. 10,000 visited every day for 5 months.  Mechanical turnstiles helped make the count.  Each night at 6 pm at close, numbers.

Some days busier.  16,000 on Sept. 8, in town to celebrate Utah Day the following afternoon. Non Utahans very impressed.  Josephine thought it could have been better…but non members dazzled.  Usually prefaced with “You Know The Mormons are from Utah…but…”  and “Go see their monkey.” [apparently there was a monkey but Dr. Neilson didn’t talk about it].
The commission provided a book for Utah visitors to inscribe.  Many penned in the wrong alphabetical section, many LDS from other states wanted to register in the book, made a separate book for friends of the beehive state.  Some registered multiple times or none at all…about 7000 came.  List published of who went.  Not only what was happening in building, but the fair grounds were extensive. Public Relations efforts spilled into many fair buildings dedicated to specific industries. Territory’s exhibits on education well received.

Don McGuire personally staffed the exhibit pavilion displaying Utah minerals.  Diverse mining opportunities in Utah.  Best mineral exhibit…courting foreign investment.  Surprised at the foreign and domestics interest in mining in Utah.  Minerals outnumbered those from other countries and states.  That summer Utah Mine and Mining exhibits awarded 30 times.  Mineral sample exchanges made with a number of nations and states at the close of the fair.

To this day in the museum at the U many exhibits came from that world’s fair.

Utah agricultural pavilion also received many visits.

[not a lot of decoration, simplicity]  2 doz kinds of oats, dozen barley, 17 grass, variety of corns, 2 doz wheat

-soil statistices, etc.  Innovative irrigation maps

Fair commissioners gave 13 awards, worlds prize for barley.  Lost many chances to win based on insufficient information, names of wheat etc.

What does all this do for Utah?  After decades of isolation, LDS and Utahans sought to be as their neighbors.  Chance to remake their image, Utah’s world fair commission to remove prejudice.  Utahans hoped their territory would be granted statehood in the future.  Showcase of Utah’s natural resources, refined women, archaeological, and agricultural resources.

Even the wealthy and populous California had 3000 visitors from Cali.  Utah had the most visitors of all the western states [People from Utah coming to see the Utah exhibit].

Over 2 million toured the Utah building. This does not account for fair goers at the other exhibits.  No better opp. of advertizing could have been had.
Utah commissioners presented a report.  “For years there has been widespread prejudice…”

Exciting to see that they are so involved and they come back and have little local fairs to show Utah what they had done.

See also Parts 2 and 3.


  1. Jared, Thanks for these notes… Makes me wish I would have gone to listen. I really anticipate the release of Reid’s book–sounds like a great read.

    Comment by stan — September 13, 2008 @ 11:02 am

  2. Thanks, Jared. I didn’t get to any but the play this year, and am glad to read your notes.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

  3. Thanks for this, Jared.

    Comment by Christopher — September 13, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

  4. Thanks for the interesting notes.

    I was quite impressed by the guy who sat on a log in the rain all night to secure the prime location. Last night I went to a high school football game in the rain, and even with the benefit of a rain poncho it wasn’t exactly pleasant. So that recent experience really colors in my mind the sacrifice that man made.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — September 13, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  5. […] Barney: Notes from the UtahChristopher: Notes from the UtahArdis E. Parshall: Notes from the UtahElizabeth: Everything I need […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Notes from the Utah State Historical Society?s 56th Annual Conference, Part 2: Polygamy — September 13, 2008 @ 6:34 pm

  6. Thx Jared. Where is the mp3 of the rount table discussionj? Where can it be downloaded?

    Comment by BHodges — September 18, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  7. B,

    The podcast for the Mountain Meadows Massacre round table is here.

    That’s what you’re referring to I think. This thread on the USHS conference does not have an mp3 download that I know of, though I did notice that some of the sessions were being recorded and some videoed I don’t know if they are available anywhere at this time.

    Comment by Jared T — September 18, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  8. dad gum that’s the one.

    Comment by BHodges — September 18, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  9. Excellent summary, Jared. I’m excited to see Reid’s book. Some of you met Konden Smith at MHA in 2007. We’re publishing his paper on the Columbian Exhibition. He didn’t have the log story but he had the interesting factoid that people were REALLY bent out of shape that Utah got such a great lot. One state director resigned in protest.

    Comment by Lavina Fielding Anderson — September 19, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

  10. Lavina, thanks for stopping by. I neglected to mention the best part of the log story, the guy sat out there and smoked his cigarettes the whole time he was out in the rain.

    Fun fun.

    Comment by Jared T. — September 19, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

  11. […] info), so I thought I’d put in a plug for it. I was able to attend last year (see my notes: part 1, part 2), and it was a splendid little conference.  Though I truly was surprised at how small and […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Call For Papers: The 57th Annual Utah State History Conference, September 17-19, 2009 — March 2, 2009 @ 2:31 am


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