It was the morning of January 6, 1896. Ten-year-old Emma Jean was awakened from a deep sleep by ringing bells and cries of joy and exultation. She peeped out from under her warm blanket. It was still the winter she had said goodnight to just last evening. But a new deep snow had covered the yard and bent the tree limbs until some of them almost touched the ground.
Emma Jean rubbed her eyes, wondering about the jubilant sounds outside. She finally threw back the covers and moved softly toward the window just to see. As the little girl reached the window, she could hear even more clearly the joyous sounds that had wakened her. What can they mean? she thought.
Emma Jean put on her blue flannel robe, tiptoed to the door of her room, and opened it noiselessly. She did not want to awaken her parents if they were still asleep. But they were not asleep. They were in the hall, laughing and hugging each other.
“So you’re awake, too, darling!” her father greeted her. “I knew you couldn’t sleep through all that cheering.”
“But what is it all for, Papa?” Emma Jean asked.
Papa picked her up and whirled her around. “We’re a state at last!” he announced, beaming. “Just think, Emma Jean! We have always felt that we were part of the country. Now we really are!”
Then Emma Jean’s mother added, “Darling, our home has always been in the United States—but in a territory. Day before yesterday, President Cleveland declared we could be a state—like Idaho and Colorado.”
Emma Jean nodded. When her cousin, Lottie, had visited last fall, she had boasted that she lived in a state and that Idaho had a special flag, not just the Stars and Stripes, but an official Idaho flag. Lottie had also bragged, “Our teacher says we can have a state bird and flower too.”
Emma Jean loved Utah. She could not bear that only her cousin’s state had such special distinctions. She remembered the stories about the pioneers. “We have pioneers!” she defended.
“Oh, so do we!” Lottie had replied haughtily.
“We have a special bird, too, the seagull. It helped save the pioneers their first year in the valley. And we have a special flower—the sego lily. Do you know about them?”
“Of course I do!” Lottie replied. “But still, Utah isn’t a state.”
Emma Jean did not like to argue with her cousin, so she did not pursue the subject. She had meant to ask her parents why Idaho was a state and Utah wasn’t, but somehow she had never gotten around to it.
Her father’s voice brought her back to the present. As if he knew her thoughts, he said, “We have always known that someday we would become a state, Emma Jean, but the requirements for each territory are different. Listen to those bells! After we get dressed, we’ll go to the Tabernacle, where there is to be a special birthday program. I heard that Professor Evan Stephens has composed a song especially for the occasion. Its title is ‘Utah, We Love Thee,’ and a children’s chorus has been trained to sing it today.”
“Oh!” Emma Jean cried, her eyes shining, “I wish I had known about the new song! I don’t think Idaho has a special song like that.”
“Don’t waste time feeling superior to our neighbor state,” Emma Jean’s father admonished. “Just hurry and get dressed. It’s already past eight and a parade begins at nine o’clock.”
“A parade! Oh, I’ll be ready!” Emma Jean cried as she ran to her room and began to scramble into her long black stockings. She decided to wear her new Christmas shoes with the gold stars embroidered on the cloth uppers. And around her long brown braids she fastened red, white, and blue ribbons.
The family could still hear the bells ringing all through their hasty breakfast. Afterward they wrapped themselves in warm coats, scarves, and caps. Gaily they started uptown with the neighbors who were hurrying along. As Emma Jean skipped down the snowy sidewalk, she was glad that she had put bright ribbons in her hair. Many of her friends also wore patriotic colored ribbons.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of marching music. The parade had started. Emma Jean and her parents rushed with the other onlookers to the curb. In the distance they could see the procession moving toward them. As the marchers neared, she saw General Robert T. Burton, the parade marshal, in his blue cavalry uniform astride his horse. He was followed by the troops and band from Fort Douglas. The stirring music added to the excitement of the occasion. She was sure the new governor, Heber Wells, waved to her as he passed in his open horse-drawn carriage. Eagerly she watched the passing floats that represented the various trades and industries of the new state.
After the parade the family continued its walk to the Tabernacle. Emma Jean was certain that nothing could surpass the spectacle of marching men and bands that she had just seen. Not even ZCMI with red, white, and blue bunting fanned across the storefront and the large five-pointed star with the number “45” atop the building could erase the image of the parade from her mind. But when they entered the Tabernacle she gasped in wonderment. Stretched across the ceiling was the largest American flag she had ever seen. In the field of forty-four stars a forty-fifth one had been cut out to represent the new state. Through this hole gleamed a bright light from ingeniously arranged electric bulbs.
Her father lifted Emma Jean up so that she could see better. “That’s the largest flag in the United States,” he said. “Each one of the stripes is six feet wide. Workers at the ZCMI overall factory made it and it required eight strong men to carry it over here.”
Emma Jean’s mother said, “Look at all the beautiful red, white, and blue streamers running from the flag to the gallery.”
Emma Jean nodded. Then she saw the huge eagle on the top of the organ pipes and the electrically lit “Utah” sign just below the national emblem.
She listened quietly to the governor and other important speakers, but what she liked best was the children’s chorus.
Later Emma Jean’s father turned to her mother. “Are you worn out, Louise?” he asked. “Or do you want to go to the grand inaugural ball? I think it will be worth seeing.”
“Oh, I would love to go!” Emma Jean’s mother answered with spirit. “How about you, Emma Jean?”
“Oh yes, please, Mama!” Emma Jean cried enthusiastically. Then she added hopefully, “I’m not at all tired.”
Her mother smiled knowingly. “We’ll see …” She turned to her husband. “Why don’t you go down to the City and County Building to hear the legislature while Emma Jean and I go home. She can take a nap. Then when you come home, we can go to the ball.”
That evening, as Emma Jean and her parents walked back uptown, Father told them about the legislature. A proclamation by Governor Wells was read by James T. Hammond, the new secretary of state. Then Governor Wells read his inaugural address, in which he singled out the women of the state for compliments.
At last they reached the Salt Lake Theatre where the grand ball was to be held. Emma Jean grew excited when she heard the strains of music coming from the building. She was happy to see her father purchase three seventy-five-cent tickets for the loges because they would be able to see better than from the gallery.
All the seats on the first floor had been covered over with smooth flooring right up to the stage so there was lots of room for dancing. Emma Jean saw flags draped everywhere and the large electric one over the archway of the stage. She watched Governor Wells escort his mother to the gubernatorial box and then, with his wife on his arm, lead the grand march.
“Oh, Mama, look at all the elegant dresses the beautiful women are wearing. Where did they all come from?”
Her mother smiled, “I suppose most of the ladies had a feeling statehood was not far away. Many of their husbands are politicians, and they knew statehood would soon be granted. I think they were prepared. Just seeing such lovely things is a treat, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Father agreed, “we can enjoy beautiful things without owning them. Isn’t that so, Emma Jean?”
Emma Jean agreed. “And just think what I can tell Lottie.”
“But no state flag,” her father teased.
Emma Jean shook her head, “There will be someday. But today I am seeing our state born!”
As the family made its way home, the moonlight sparkled on the glistening snow. Emma Jean was grateful that she had been old enough to see the flags and lights and beautiful gowns and to hear the bells and cheers and the special music that welcomed the newborn state. This was something she could tell her children and grandchildren!