The city lay in darkness. The blank windows of the mercantile store glinted now and then with a hint of the treasures inside. The white stars at the roof of the bandstand stood out against their red, white, and blue bunting.
When the Heritage Arts Committee began selecting displays from Heritage Arts festivals to be exhibited at June Conference, they soon realized that the work was just too good to be housed in little square booths. They called a special “atmosphere committee” that decided to create a turn-of-the-century village to house the displays in the Salt Palace convention center. They drew up plans and assigned a ward, stake, or group of stakes to put up each of the buildings.
Local stake presidents were asked to provide 40 journeymen carpenters and 40 helpers. The 80 built a whole frame city out of two-by-fours one Saturday morning, using enough lumber to have built four four-bedroom houses.
But before even one two-by-four had felt a hard-hit nail, thousands of Church members had spent months planning, researching and collecting relics of the past, not to mention learning, developing, or brushing up on age-old skills.
The red-brick grammar school seemed to slumber in the shadows. Next to the co-op, the balconied Deseret Hotel was shadowy and silent. The social hall looked awkward and lonely without its crowds of happy people.
Members of the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women of the Holladay 22nd Ward, Salt Lake City, began when the bishop’s youth committee discussed activities stressing the past that might interest young ward members. They chose as their theme “Born of Goodly Parents” in appreciation for the legacy of other generations. Class presidents met together with class members and selected projects. Together the young people worked under the supervision of their presidencies, calling on the ward service and activities committee to suggest specialists and to help coordinate. The kids sponsored a potluck banquet and invited all ward members to see their projects. They set up the displays in the ward meetinghouse and were later invited to do the same for the stake festival. The Salt Palace display was their third. This time they were to display their skills in an old-time mercantile store.
The Church steeple was gray against the blackness. The barber pole was merely a shimmer of pale white stripes.
When the frames were up, the wards and stakes assigned moved in and started fleshing out the skeletons. Although each group was given a suggested plan for the facade of its building, everyone was encouraged to make improvements, and some groups even called on architects in their stake to help create authentic and beautiful designs.
The spirit of cooperation and achievement was infectious. One man and his teenage helper started driving their pickup down the street toward their building, glancing at the work on both sides as they went. Before long they stopped the pickup and started backing out. When someone asked them what was wrong, the man replied, “Ours isn’t good enough. We’ll be back.” He went home and got a crew and more materials and came back and built a whole new storefront.
The newspaper presses were silent. There were no car sounds, no people sounds, not even dog sounds. The town was suspended in a stillness unknown to modern cities. The clocks all said 4:00 P.M.
In the Sweet Shop a retired carpenter worked alongside an Aaronic Priesthood youth. They did not work swiftly, but every small detail was finished perfectly.
At the post office a deacon, a teacher, and their nine-year-old sister painted real-looking rocks on the whole building, putting in more than 14 hours each.
An 81-year-old lady working on the grammar school climbed up and down a ladder, pasting each red cardboard brick on individually.
Soon, a gleam came from the east, and the city lights flickered on. Men and women came. Doors began to open. There was talk and laughter. Dresses and dolls and rugs and plows and saddles were set out. The barber stood ready by his chair. The potter’s wheel began to turn.
In the meetinghouse of a Salt Lake student branch a poster titled “Jobs to Be Done” hung on the wall. There were instructions under each job listed. For two days, at all hours of the day, young people would come streaming in from work or school, pull on a pair of coveralls, do the job, scratch it off the list, and be on their way.
Students from the Utah Technical College donated the labor necessary to install 10,000 feet of electrical wiring, plus light poles and lights. The poles were supported by sandbags donated by inmates at the Utah State Prison. For five days hundreds of people worked hard and loved it. Laughter was as prevalent as the banging of hammers and the rasp of saws. Finally, when the sawdust had cleared, there were 50 buildings, a bandstand, a medicine show wagon, and a tepee—an authentic little turn-of-the-century town with a few last workers walking down its streets dressed in the clothing of an age to come.
When the clocks said 5:00 P.M., the row of doors to the east swung open and hordes of people came pouring in out of the future to look and point and wonder at the way it was. A band struck up a lively tune, and Heritage Square was open for another evening of business.
In their store, the youth of the Holladay 22nd Ward talked to visitors and embroidered, hammered, and quilted. Robed Buie, first counselor in the bishopric commented, “We took it seriously when the prophet said the youth were our first and foremost responsibility.” He was there to offer help, but he made it clear that the kids were running the show and had from the start.
The first-year Beehives made patriotic pillows for their rooms. Large and small, tufted, machine-stitched, embroidered, appliquéd, and creweled, the pillows displayed original as well as traditional designs, many taken from past American flags and Naval symbols.
The second-year Beehives discovered Pennsylvania Dutch designs. Seeing the distinctive heart, tulip, angel, and fruit patterns on bedspreads, furniture, birth certificates, and needlework, they duplicated the authentic designs on wall plaques, dish towels, pillow cases, table runners, and cutting boards.
The Mia Maids took advantage of the experience of a ward member and a blue-ribbon recipe for honey wheat bread to learn and demonstrate the art of bread making.
Thinking of their hope chests, the Laurels took up quilting, embroidery, and cross stitching. “People are really interested in taking up the older handicrafts,” said Mary Robinson. “The older women all say they’re glad the old skills aren’t dying out. We’re making a stitch quilt in activity night, and it’s really made me appreciate the time people used to take in doing a beautiful job.” The group donated three of their quilts to the Primary Children’s Medical Center.
The Holladay 22nd Ward Aaronic Priesthood wasn’t about to be outdone. The deacons earned the pioneer merit badge and worked on their Heritage Arts project at the same time. With dowels and balsa wood they built spans, trusses, monkey, suspension, and pier bridges.
Teachers quorum members chose pioneer photography. They studied early cameras and inventors and also photographed other classes at work on their projects.
The priests learned leather tooling from quorum members Richard Larson and Craig Hanson and then made sheepskin vests, belts, hats, wallets, moccasins, and even purses.
Visitors to the mercantile store were delighted as the young people stitched and pounded and demonstrated. The onlookers repeatedly asked, “How long does it take?”, “Where did you learn this?”, and “Is it hard?”
Throughout the square people learned from each other. A Laurel worked alongside an 85-year-old woman, explaining a new needlepoint stitch to her, and the sister taught the Laurel the practically lost art of tatting. Becky Cutler, 18, worked on a circular shag rug across from Ada Jensen, 79, who used 40 years of experience in making hidden-crocheted rugs.
The festival committee told participants that some 20,000 people might visit Heritage Square. No one was surprised, however, when the word got out and more than 100,000 showed up. The display was extended an extra day. Salt Palace executives tried unsuccessfully to extend it even further, but the volunteers who manned the displays were unable to give more time.
Everything on the 1900 Main Street teased memories. There were Dutch almond pastry, apple butter on wheat bread, and sour dough pancakes to taste. There were Indian dancers, flappers, brass bands, barber shop quartets, and marimba players to see and hear. There was even a lady who played the spoons and comb. The grammar school was complete with girls in pigtails, ink wells, dunce cap, pot-belly stove, and a portrait of George Washington. The Centerville Utah Co-op bragged that it was “the store that sells striped paint.” Modeled after the town’s old general store, the co-op featured lace-up ladies boots, black-boa wide-brimmed hats, the legendary cracker barrel and pickle jar, sasperilla, ginger snaps, shelves of mason jars, and yellow “bridal pajamas” trimmed with black lace. The Dressmaker, with its elegant collection of ecru vintage clothing, brought back the parasol, hats with plumes, long christening dresses, and the top hat. Everyone overlooked the frayed hems, worn velvet, and clumped feathers and marveled at the Japanese silk, delicate lace edgings, and tiny shoes. At the Missionary Church, a black-coated preacher exhorted, “There are places still on the front row,” and a young girl answered knowingly, “Aren’t there always?”
There were young people churning butter, dipping candles, throwing pots, pulling taffy, and spinning wool. Across from them their friends were weaving cloth, caning ladder-back chairs, stringing snowshoes, splitting stones, tying trout flies, and making rope.
This was a time-spanning occasion for all as evidenced by the equal numbers of “What’s that, Dad?” and “Hey, look over there. That’s what we used to chop ice.” Or “… warm the bed … reap wheat … pump water … and … harness the team.”
The grandmothers left feeling their quilting skills were not lost, and fathers left knowing that the five-foot saw with one-and-a-half-inch teeth was as big as they’d remembered. Mothers decided that making wheat bread must not be as hard as they remembered, while their daughters learned there’s more to embroider than jeans. For those who had spent months preparing, it was a time to excite and explain. But for most it was a motive to go home and search the attic, library, and family tree for old skills and heirlooms in an attempt to “remember the past, to better the future.”