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The Day the Angel Moroni Almost Lost His Horn

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 23, 2009

(This may sound familiar to a few readers; I think I linked to it a couple of years ago when it was in the newspaper.)

The Hotel Utah (now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building) was only a skeleton of iron I-beams rising over a new-laid foundation on Apr. 18, 1910, as two night watchmen waited for the silence of downtown Salt Lake to be broken by hundreds of early risers intent on catching a view of Halley’s Comet.

The silence was broken, all right, but not by sleepy stargazers. A few minutes past 3 AM, a terrific explosion, fueled by dynamite and nitroglycerin, erupted from the northeast corner of the construction site. The concussion knocked one of the watchmen to the ground, twisted part of the hotel’s iron framework beyond repair, and shattered windows in the office buildings across South Temple until, in the words of one witness, there was “not enough glass left to make a pair of spectacles.” Downtown residents covered in dust and shards of glass ran into the street, some convinced that the comet had actually struck the earth.

Miraculously, no one was injured beyond a few cuts and a bad scare.

Investigation began before daylight, with suspicion instantly falling on the ironworkers’ union which had objected to the open-shop policy of the hotel’s contractor. Suspicion had likewise fallen on the union the previous December when a similar bomb had exploded in the hotel’s foundation, but no solid evidence was found to link either crime to any culprit. Protesting his union’s innocence, Secretary John J. McNamara of the International Structural Ironworkers later offered $500 as a reward for finding the bombers.

As the sun rose on the morning of Apr. 18, someone on the street glanced up at the Mormon Temple and noted damage that had gone unseen in the darkness – while no windows there were broken, the blast had ripped the trumpet from the grasp of the statue of Moroni atop the building’s tallest eastern spire. The golden angel had not quite lost his horn, but it was knocked at least two feet out of alignment.

Soon the presiding bishop’s office put out a call for steeplejacks to climb the temple tower and repair the statue. Arthur Smith of New York City assembled a team of four experienced climbers, and they went to work late in May.

After gaining the temple roof via freight elevator, the steeplejacks hoisted their ladders – some as long as 35 feet – from the pavement by means of ropes. For three and a half days, the men worked to lash the ladders to the tower. Crowds watched from the street, especially on the fourth day when the ladders topped the third parapet where the smooth granite spire rose sharply into the sky. The weather was perfect. Not a breath of wind threatened Smith as he completed placement of the final ladder and began his climb toward the statue.

Reaching the tip of the spire, Smith eased himself away from his ladder to clear the round ball upon which the statue stood. Grasping the angel’s feet, he pulled himself up until he stood behind the statue. After placing the last ladder behind Moroni’s back and roping it in place, Smith scrambled up and seated himself on the angel’s shoulders, his legs circling the angel’s neck.

Compared to the hours necessary to reach his perch, Smith found the repair work surprisingly easy. It took him only 30 minutes to wrestle Moroni’s trumpet back to his lips and to hammer the bent trumpet straight. Then he climbed down, removing ropes and ladders as he went.

For their four days of work, the steeplejacks received the contract price they themselves had bid, amounting to $7.81 per man per day.

More than two years later, the Hotel Utah bombings were solved when three men – including McNamara, the union man who had offered a $500 reward – confessed to having set both bombs, along with dozens more around the country, one of which had killed 21 men working at the Los Angeles Times.



13 Comments »

  1. That last paragraph left me asking why and what happened to those men?

    I loved the story, though. It’s interesting to thing that such things could be repaired within hours now with machinery, but then they spent days lashing ladders . . .

    Is that still the same Moroni that sits atop the temple?

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — August 23, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  2. Same Moroni, Michelle. It’s been regilded several times, but it’s the same original statue. (The ones they put up now are mass-produced replicas, fiberglas I think.)

    Sorry, but I didn’t follow the story far enough to know what sentences the bombers received, or how much of their sentences they served.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  3. Ardis,

    Surely this unique event must have been photographed. Have you ever heard of, or seen, any photographs of this ascent to Moroni’s shoulders?

    Also, if my memory serves me correctly, isn’t the original Moroni a copper or bronze statue? If so, I would think that it would take much more than just wrestling the trumpet back to Moroni’s lips in order for it to withstand some of the high winds of the valley. I would think that the trumpet would have had to be either soldered or perhaps even welded back into place to be sure that it stayed put.

    Fascinating story. By the by, did they ever catch the bomber who placed a bomb in front of the eastern doors of the Salt Lake Temple? (In the mid to late 50’s, I believe.) I understood that the explosion shattered the doors but they did not open. The present pair (SE corner, if memory serves me) are replacements.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — August 23, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  4. Velikiye, one of the SLC newspapers (I don’t now remember which one) had a great picture of the center tower of the temple running for much of the page, showing the steeplejacks’ climb and emphasizing the great height. I couldn’t get a decent enough print from the microfilm to scan and use as an illustration here, though.

    I’ve gone according to the contemporary newspaper accounts as to the “wrestling” part. I even wondered, but no one I asked knew for certain, if the trumpet was actually cast as a separate piece.

    The bombing of the Temple doors took place early on 14 November 1962. I don’t know what happened to the bombers, but this interesting report is recorded in David O. McKay’s office diary:

    As I left the Hotel to take a morning’s walk, I learned of the explosion which occurred on the outside of the east door of the Salt Lake Temple at 1:30 a.m. by a bomb planted by someone unknown. I immediately went over to see what damage had been done. The explosive, which was probably attached to the right hand doorknob of the large, double oak doors, blasted a five-inch hole through the righthand entrance door. Flying fragments of metal and debris were shot through glass panels into a set of interior doors several feet behind the large entrance doors. Nine exterior windows were shattered. Fortunately, the heavy oak doors can be repaired, and the windows replaced. I was dismayed to learn that there is no watchman on duty between the hours of 12 o’clock midnight and 6 o’clock in the morning.

    I directed that all “crank letters” which have been received during the past year be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation officials. I also called Bishop Victor L. Brown of the Presiding Bishopric’s office and told him that I was surprised to learn that the Temple grounds were unguarded between the hours of midnight and 6 o’clock in the morning; that that must not be – that someone should be on guard every minute and especially during the night and early morning hours.

    Bishop Brown said that he is holding a meeting of all the outside attendants and workers this morning and that he would report to me later. I said that the men of the FBI and local Police Department had [been] instructed to keep in touch with me about their findings in this case.

    Fun times.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

  5. Weird–last month I actually just read a book called American Lightning by Howard Blum which is all about the LA Times bombing and the McNamaras involvement in it (J.J. also had a brother who was involved). The book was really fascinating because it dealt with a time in our history that I knew nothing about, and it was interesting to note some parallels to our time as well. Right now issues of labor and unions are hardly ever ‘on the radar’ but it was so interesting to read about a time when they were so important that they were the impetus for domestic terrorism across the country. I didn’t know that Salt Lake had been affected too.

    Comment by FoxyJ — August 23, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

  6. Fantastic, FoxyJ! Some of the best moments for me in research are when I recognize a link between two stories, or realize that a Mormon I know from Nauvoo is the same man who turns up at another event in Logan. It’s a reminder that nothing happens in a vacuum, that everything is connected to everything else, if we could only step back far enough to see how.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 23, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

  7. All these bombings in SLC and all before Mark Hoffmann.

    Comment by Steve C. — August 23, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

  8. Great story, Ardis. I always enjoy reading gems like these on your blog. I think I will have to re-tweet this one on Twtitter. :-)

    Comment by Brian Duffin — August 23, 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  9. Interesting story. Thanks!

    Comment by Hunter — August 23, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

  10. When I first read this, I thought of the infamous 1905 bombing here in Idaho that killed then-Governor Steunenberg — a plot also hatched by several union members.

    Comment by Hunter — August 24, 2009 @ 10:55 am

  11. And don’t forget the ax-weilding mad man that tried to hack his way through the doors of the St. George Temple in the late ’80s…

    Comment by Clark — August 26, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  12. Ah, yes, Brother Mackelprang. (I can always remember his name because it is the same as one of the missionaries beloved of my southern ancestors a century ago.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 26, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

  13. yea…awesome I love to learn about church history.

    Comment by ofia onwuka great — December 9, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

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