Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Calling on Old Friends I Haven’t Yet Met

Calling on Old Friends I Haven’t Yet Met

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 07, 2009

Like many large cemeteries, the Salt Lake City Cemetery issues maps directing visitors to the graves of the cemetery’s most prominent “residents.” Salt Lake puts out two:

One is a guide to prominent LDS leaders – presidents, apostles, and wives; the back of the map includes pictures of the stones themselves, an indication of the burial places of leaders not buried in that cemetery, and even a map to the private cemetery of Brigham Young a mile away. (I’m guessing the sexton got tired of having to make hand-drawn maps for too many visitors complaining that they couldn’t find Brigham’s grave.)

The other map locates the graves of other interesting people: Marvin [i.e., Mervyn] Sharp Bennion, who won the Medal of Honor at Pearl Harbor; the cemetery’s first burial, Mary M. Wallace; Franklin C. Wire, inventor of the traffic semaphore; and even “Emo” (in reality, the grave of Salt Lake businessman Jacob Moritz; in the legend of generations of high schoolers, a haunted grave: if you walk around the stone after dark, chanting “Emo, Emo, Emo,” you’ll see Emo’s eyes glowing red through the window that holds the vandalized remains of a stone flower urn).

There wasn’t a map for the tour I wanted to take last Friday, when a friend offered to drive me around the huge cemetery to visit the graves of some of Keepa’s friends. So I checked the Utah Burials Index for the addresses of some of the graves I wanted, and we used a plain cemetery map to locate the plats and choose the best route for our visit.

One of our first stops was at the monument to John M. Bernhisel. I don’t know whether it stands over his actual grave; it is clearly a monument erected long after the fact, consisting of a quarter of a huge reddish-orangish boulder standing at a prominent intersection within the cemetery. Affixed to it is a metal plate cast with many lines listing his achievements as a physician, a trustee in Nauvoo, and Utah’s territorial delegate. Missing were the two achievements I think of most when Dr. Bernhisel comes to mind: His beyond-the-call-of-duty assembly of Utah’s first territorial library, and his generally successful mediation between the bombast of instructions received from Brigham Young and his diplomatic dealings with Washington politicians.

We called next at the grave of Julie Desaules, the French-speaking Swiss sister who managed to stay in touch with her far-flung family despite 19th century conditions. Keepa commenter Jeff Johnson had found and shown me this grave before — Julie’s nephew Henri Edouard Desaules is of particular interest to both of us. We noted that her stone was marked “Maria J. Desaules” when in fact her name was Marie, and she always went by Julie because she shared her first name with four of her sisters. Made me wonder how well she was known by whoever placed the stone. Next to her stone is the broken stub of another, made of the same material and with the same ornamentation in its one remaining corner, which is probably the stone for her husband, François Desaules, a fine and faithful pioneer.

We looked for the grave of Josephine de la Harpe Ursenbach, without finding it (we knew it was unmarked, but were looking for the marker for her husband Octave). This made me especially glad that reader Velikye Kniaz was able to find it a few weeks ago, with the help of someone in the sexton’s office (which was closed the day I was there).

While Brigham Young is buried in a private cemetery, many of his wives, children, and grandchildren lie near each other in the City Cemetery. We had no trouble locating the stone for his daughter-in-law Jane Carrington Young. It’s such a peaceful, tidy stone, giving no hint of the turmoil that must have plagued her during the years she thought a living lizard was gnawing at her stomach … from the inside. Poor Jane. She’s at rest now.

Next we paid a call to Catherine Gambrill Ford (see comment 19), the 3rd great-aunt of Keepa’ninny Anne (UK). Not surprisingly, because of her short time in the Valley and her lack of descendants, there was no monument at the designated spot. However, there was a stone for another woman of the same generation named Ford, surrounded on three sides by wide stretches of grass which must have covered several unmarked graves, so we were sure we were in the right place. By then I needed a short break from climbing around on the steep hills in the summer heat, so my friend and I sat and talked, keeping Catherine company for a while.

The stone for Charles Henry Wilcken was hard to find. It is a small, flat stone, flush with the ground, noting his militia service during the Blackhawk war but silent about his Prussian service, where he won the Iron Cross, or his service with Albert Sidney Johnston, which brought him into contact with the Mormons in 1857-58. Nor, of course, was there any indication of his long-time personal service to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff.

We next called on two young men who gave their lives in the Vietnam War, Roy Lee Richardson and Clifford Franklin Delos (“Dee”) Kangas. Each of them lies next to his parents; both have military-issue gravestones. I know these young men are remembered by living family and friends, and hope that ours wasn’t the only visit those graves will receive this year. (I recently had lunch with Russ and Suzanne Ballard — the “elder Ballard” mentioned in the post about Dee Kangas — and Russ told me all he could recall of my one-time neighbor. What strikes me most is that as much as Dee made an impression on Russ, Russ must also have made an impression on Dee — whatever Dee wrote about Russ in his letter to his father was powerful enough that Dee’s father mentioned him in his own letter to the ward.)

Our final stop was at the stone of Geertruide Lodder Zippro and her husband Willem. There is no need now for Brother Zippro to wire rubber hoses to his wife’s bicycle rims so that she could continue her wartime Relief Society work. None of the casual passers-by have any idea of the adventures they had in helping the Saints of Holland. I was glad I knew even a tiny bit.

And that’s something I was reminded of over and over during my morning in the cemetery: It’s a serene and beautiful place, filled with monuments – each monument placed in a time of great sorrow that gradually receded. Everyone buried there had a story. I know only the small fragments of a few of those stories, and I’m grateful to the friend who patiently listened as I told what fragments I knew.

And you know what? As well as a past, everyone there has a glorious future. I still have plenty of work to keep me busy here for a while. But when the time comes, I’m looking forward to meeting these men and women, and telling them how much brighter they made my world for their having been a part of it.



  1. “I’m looking forward to meeting these men and women, and telling them how much brighter they made my world for their having been a part of it.”

    A forward-looking memorial; the best kind of memorial, indeed. Thanks for this.

    Comment by Hunter — July 7, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  2. Is the list of “prominent residents” online?

    Is Caleb Baldwin included? Thanks for the post.

    Comment by Reed — July 7, 2009 @ 10:32 am

  3. I too love to wander the Salt Lake City Cemetery looking for little known stories. It is a beautiful and peaceful place.

    One small correction: it was Mervyn Sharp Bennion who received the Medal of Honor for his exemplary service aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The citation reads: “For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”

    I occassionaly give tours of the Salt Lake City Cemetery for youth groups and we always visit this grave. The story of his actions during battle is remarkable. Readers may be interested to know that Bennion was a son-in-law of J. Reuben Clark Jr.

    Comment by blueagleranch — July 7, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  4. Thanks, Hunter. I can always count on you to understand the feeling I’m trying to convey.

    Reed, if you click on the Utah Burials Index link in the post, you can search for Caleb Baldwin. He’s in the database — whether he has a stone or not (he was one of the earliest burials, wasn’t he, judging by his life dates) I have no way of knowing. If you stop at the sexton’s office during normal working hours, they can give you a map (they’re not online) and point you in the right direction.

    Thanks, blueagleranch (it would be so much easier to call you by your real name!). I should have known the name as printed on the map wasn’t quite right — I almost posted on Capt. Bennion and another LDS man at Pearl Harbor last December but ran out of time on the right day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 7, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  5. Reed: Even simpler than a visit to the sexton’s office, you might try simply calling the cemetery (tel. (801) 596-5020). I’ve had good luck locating graves that way.

    If you’re out of town, they’ll also e-mail you a scanned image of the cemetery map, including the particular plat(s) you’re looking at.

    Comment by Hunter — July 7, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  6. Also helpful is

    Look what came up, for example, for Caleb Baldwin:

    Comment by Reed — July 7, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

  7. I really am quite overwhelmed by this and don’t know what to say other than thank you so much for taking the time to visit Catherine.The fact that her grave isn’t marked somehow just fits in with the rest of the story. For someone whose life seems to have been forgotten/lost/ignored for so long, she is certainly getting some attention now!

    Comment by Anne (U.K.) — July 7, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

  8. I enjoyed your cemetery tour. I have a lot of ancestors buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery, and I often get down there on Memorial Day to put flowers on their graves. Actually I get there more often than that, as the need arises.

    One late afternoon I was driving Bill McKinnon from a MHA summer council meeting to his hotel in Salt Lake. He wanted to see the grave of Jane Richards, a plural wife of Samuel W. Richards. So, we whipped up to the Richards plot, although I knew there wasn’t a gravestone for her. We then drove around a little bit. It was becoming dark as we exited the cemetery and read a sign saying that the cemetery closed at dusk. We still laugh about how we almost got locked into the Salt Lake Cemetery that night.

    Comment by Maurine — July 7, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

  9. I’m glad you got to visit Grandfather Charles. I spent some time in the SLC cemetery a few years ago, and this was a happy reminder of those too-few hours.

    I, too, look forward to meeting many of those interred there!

    Comment by Ben Pratt — July 7, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

  10. I know it’s not the best of movies (well the 2nd half was good), but did you guys know that Mervyn S. Bennion’s story was featured in the movie Pearl Harbor? When Cuba Gooding Jr. is saluting the flag draped coffin of his fallen captain, look in the bottom right corner of the screen. The name plate says “Mervyn S. Bennion.” Pretty cool. I didn’t know he was buried in SLC.

    Comment by Meghan — July 10, 2009 @ 9:03 am

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