Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Wizard of the Wasatch (Utah history)

Wizard of the Wasatch (Utah history)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 28, 2008

“Out of the cavernous canyons of the Wasatch, shaking off the misty mystery of centuries, in all his magic splendor and mystifying majesty, the Wizard of the Wasatch will come into the city of Salt Lake on the evening of August 9 …”

To Utah readers in the 19-teens, that newspaper announcement made perfect sense. They knew that Hatumai, the Wizard of the Wasatch, lived with Queen Sirrah in a cavern far up City Creek Canyon, attended by legions of fairies. Hatumai was the great Spirit of the state, who eons ago laid down the precious metals and conditioned the soil to bring forth fruits and flowers. He guarded the Indians and guided the pioneers and miners, and once each year he visited his capital city.

If asked how they knew that, Salt Lakers would have feigned wide-eyed surprise at your ignorance – then told you to read HATUMAI backwards.

Hatumai was the creation of Fisher Harris, a Virginian transplanted to Salt Lake in 1889. Harris devoted his life to promoting Utah as a business and tourist destination, and to bridging the social, political, and religious divides of his adopted state.

“There is more romance and beauty hidden in the history of these hills and valleys around us than in any other part of the earth,” he wrote. “That beauty and romance has lain hidden away long enough. It should now be brought out and exhibited to the world.”

Harris announced in 1908 that he had been appointed scribe to the Wizard. He transmitted Hatumai’s orders to the Commercial Club, which, during the summer carnival season, reorganized itself as the Wards of the Wizard of the Wasatch.

The three-day carnivals featured downtown parades of flower-bedecked cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Other parades focused on Utah’s people: mothers pushing baby carriages, schools and fraternal organizations marching together, and military units in formation. Salt Lake’s newsboys, organized into a junior police force with uniforms provided by the Tribune, proudly showed off their newly-acquired marching skills. Other parades were dedicated to commerce.

A favorite feature was the illuminated night-time parade to escort the Wizard and his Queen into the city. The floats in these parades were linked to the overhead electrical lines that powered the street cars; in contrast to city streets that were not yet routinely lighted, these illuminated floats were as magical as Harris could have wished. Costumed Utahns joined the royal couple at a formal ball sponsored by the governor, the mayor, chief officers from Fort Douglas, and social figures from around the state.

Citizens who preferred a more free-wheeling form of amusement repaired to the “Gulch,” an area on Second East from Third to Fourth South, fenced off and devoted to what was discretely called “the spirit of revelry.”

One year Silas Christofferson, the “Birdman of San Francisco,” brought two biplanes to town. His 15-minute flights took place morning and afternoon, thousands of people standing in the streets to watch. Another year a traveling salesman demonstrating a new fire escape leaped from the top of the Walker Building to the pavement below, time and time again, to the delighted terror of his audience. Not to be outdone by an amateur, the Salt Lake Fire Department raised its highest ladder, and firemen took turns jumping into rescue nets.

The Wizard’s carnivals enlivened Utah’s summers for several years, but Harris’s premature death robbed Salt Lake of the real genius behind the Wizard. By carnival season of 1917, the United States had entered World War I, and Utah, anxious to cement its still-shaky position as a loyal and most patriotic state, threw all her energy into patriotic displays and Red Cross work.

The world changed during the years of the war, and Utah put aside the whimsical boosting of its youth to focus instead on the serious adult business of women’s rights, child labor, and liquor control. Hatumai and Sirrah retired to their mountain caverns, their names fading from the memory of their subjects. Might they still be there, waiting for an invitation to return?



  1. Ardis-

    I’ve enjoyed the blog. Colorful and insightful. Keep the stories coming.

    You might be interested to know that in addition to a mythic “Wizard of the Wasatch,” there was also an historical one (of sorts). Oscar Eliason, alternatively called the “Mormon Wizard” and “Dante the Great,” was an illusionist who started his magical career touring LDS wardhouses. Over time, he developed an international reputation.

    For what it’s worth, I featured Eliason’s story on a short weekly radio program about Utah history that I produce for KCPW and Utah Public Radio (KUSU). You can find the audio file on Eliason here. You can also see the script on the show’s blog.

    Will Bagely published two articles on Eliason in the Tribune. They were printed respectively on September 24 and October 1, 2000.

    Comment by Brandon — May 28, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

  2. Thank you, Brandon (and I apologize for not catching your comment earlier — it was trapped in the spam filter because of the links).

    I’m very interested in Eliason. In fact, I provided material to Will (which he graciously acknowledged, as is his habit) for his Tribune two-parter. I’ll look up your radio program concerning him, too. He’s the kind of Utahn I like to remember, in part because he is so unaccountably unknown today.

    I appreciate knowing that you read the Keepapitchinin.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 29, 2008 @ 7:38 am