Tuesday, September 29, 2009


One of the best things about this book experience for me has been coming to know the six girls who took this trip to Zion. All of them were full of personality. John and I wish that we could have had the opportunity to meet all of them in person. There was not a boring one in the lot. In the next several posts, I will spend time sharing some of the things that we have learned about each of these remarkable women.

I will start with Anna Gaarden Widtsoe. She was the daughter of John A. Widtsoe, who was President of the University of Utah at the time of the trip to Zion. In a lot of ways, we know the most about Anne because she gave many of her scrapbooks and journals to the Utah State Historical Society. That is where I started learning about her. I was sucked into her young life by her journals which were full of boys and social occasions. In an age where there still were not a huge amount of cars on the streets of Salt Lake City, she learned how to drive and take care of cars. She often was called upon to drive friends to and from parties up at the university. In her journal, she told about being pulled over one night for reckless driving, but the officer let her go once she told him who's daughter she was. Her driving antics continued into her later years, when in her fifties she was pulled over for singing and driving. (She was changing lanes at the beginning of each new verse. Anne was then arrested because she refused to tell the officer her age.) Anne loved to play practical jokes. Her daughter told us that she once gathered up a hand full of snakes and then released them in the middle of a school dance. It was from Anne's journal that we discovered all the pranks that were going on during that week in Zion that were not reported in the newspapers. She was very popular in school. A year after the Zion trip, Anne went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the Southern States Mission for two years. Later, she married Lewis J. Wallace and had three children. Anne and Lewis later divorced, but she encouraged her children to continue to love and respect him. Anne believed in work. She worked as a librarian for the University of Utah for twenty-seven years and spent countless hours in volunteer work even into her nineties. I received the impression that Anne was not one for standing still. She had a reputation as the ultimate party giver of her time. She once said, "If I am going to get old, I might just as well get as old as I can.", and Anne did a pretty good job of that, too. She was 91 years old when she died.

Monday, September 21, 2009

John's First Presentaion

John gave his first presentation on Zion's opening day as a national park last Friday at the Utah State History Conference. The presentation was given in a meeting room at the Salt Lake Library. We came early so that we could drop off some of John's posters and our latest mock-up at the University of Utah Press's table at the conference. We also wanted to test our equipment with the library's power point projector before the presentation. It was a good thing that we did because it made it so much easier to set up for real later on. The above picture is of John just before starting his presentation.

Here is John giving his presentation. I helped him out by running all the photos. I think it help to keep the presentation flowing because he didn't have to stop his train of thought to change pictures. I think he did very well, and he was complimented by many for his presentation. One of the State History staff, who has come to many history conferences over the year, said that it was one of the best that he had ever seen. The U of U Press liked it well enough that they thought John should give it again sometime, maybe down south closer to Zion. The only disappointment of the day was that there wasn't a very large crowd at the conference. Less than twenty people came to our presentation. So all you people, who told John that you were going to be there and didn't show up, really missed out. Just because it is history, doesn't mean that it is dry and boring.

We were very pleased that Merle Casper came. Merle is a bright 95 year old lady who John interviewed for our book. She was one of Nell Creer's students at Murray High School in the 1920s. She sat right up in front so that she could get a good view of the photos, and you could tell that she was enjoying it. She told us that Nell Creer was a very popular teacher at Murray High School. Here she is looking at the page on Nell Creer while her grandson reads her quotes from the book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Utah State History Conference

For anyone interested in hearing and seeing more, John will be giving a lecture on Zion's first official tourists at the Utah State History Conference at the Salt Lake Library on Friday, September 18, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. His presentation will include a slide show of many of the photos included in our book. I think it will be the most interesting presentation at the conference, but I do admit to some prejudice. The University of Utah Press will also have a table set up with a current mock-up of our book and posters. We would love to see you there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

So What Is It About?

So, after all that rambling on for the last three posts, what is this book actually about?

Well, Zion became a national park in November 1919. At that time the park facilities for tourists were closed for the season and wouldn't open again until the following spring. Th Union Pacific Railroad saw this new national wonderland as a opportunity to get more people riding their trains. How were they going to do this? Eyre Powell, a press representative and photographer for the railroad, organized an event to celebrate the opening of the park for its first official tourist season as a park. The event would include lots of photos that could be used to promote the park and the use of the railroad to get there in newspaper across the country. What looks better in photos than pretty girls? With the help of Chauncey Parry, who ran the automobile stage from the train station in Lund, Utah, the railroad gathered up a group of six girls, mostly from the University of Utah, who were willing to spend a week in the park having fun and getting their picture taken in the grandeur of Zion Canyon. They would become Zion National Park's first official tourists as a national park.

Our book is about that week that those intrepid girls spent in the canyon in May 1920. The photos are the ones taken by Eyre Powell and then used by the Union Pacific Railroad to promote travel to the new national park. The stories in the book come from the newspapers of the time and some of the personal journals of the girls involved. There are daring escapes, breathtaking heights, music, dancing and camp pranks. The story is rounded out by some history of transportation and tourism surrounding the park. We also included biographies on all the girls because by the time you are done with their adventure, you will want to know what else happens to these unique ladies.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Our Book (part 3)

Why did we decide to write a book? Well, what else could we do when so much was practically given to us? This story was begging to be told, and I don't think that we could have done otherwise and felt good about it. Here was a story that anyone that we asked in Zion National Park about, had never heard about it. All the history books on Zion, that we could find, never even hinted at it. In fact very little was ever said about any park history between Zion becoming a national park at the end of 1919 and the opening of the lodge in 1925 except the dedication ceremony. Most of the wonderful photos hadn't been published since the early 1920s. Here was a chance to tell a story that hasn't been told for 90 years. How often does that happen? The closest thing that we could find was an article written by a daughter of one of our girls in 1973 for the Salt Lake Tribune. While researching the story, information kept falling into our laps like it was just waiting for someone to take a little notice. John, who has done a lot of research for his automobile histories, said that none of his other research ever came this easily. We received encouragement from all sides, and the families of the girls that we found were so thrilled to help us out. We always came away from those visits with renewed enthusiasm. John had collected related park items and maps over the past 10 years that fit perfectly with the story to fill it out visibly even more, and it helped that John is a graphic artist who could do all the design work. He created a ''mock up" version of the book to send to potential publishers including the University of Utah Press who responded quickly saying they wanted to publish it for us. What all of this means is that we wrote the book because it was a great unknown story with great photos that was practically pushing us to produce it. I just don't know that we had any other choice. For all we know, one of those six girls might have started to haunt us if we had just tucked the photo albums away in a box.

Please note that the text of the book was written by my husband John and not by me. He is much better at writing this story than I am. I am afraid that my enthusiasm gets in the way of my writing skills.

The above photo is just one of the great photos found in the photo albums. That is Dora Montague doing a flying dutchman over the cliffs in Zion. I don't think that girl was scared of heights.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Book (part 2)

Here is what we received in the mail. John was excited as I by our find. John has spent many years researching automobile history in the state of Utah, and he had been self publishing histories on the subject for several years. Whenever he buys something at an antique store or the Internet the first thing that he likes to do is to do research on the item or the people who are connected with it. These albums were no exception. He started looking for more newspaper articles on the girls and their trip. We couldn't believe how much was popping up. Outside of the trip, these six girls' names came up in the local papers quite often even though many times it was just a name in a list of girls who had attended a social gathering in Salt Lake. All the girls had very busy social lives in the capital city. I was excited to discover that Anne Widtsoe, one of the girls, had donated journals and scrapbooks to the State Historical Society. I just had to go see them. Oh, the wonderful discoveries I made that day! Included in her journal was an unfinished letter that Anne had written while in Zion National Park describing her experiences on the trip including all the pranks that they were playing on each other. Pranks were never mentioned in the newspapers. After that, we started looking for the obituaries of the girls. We wanted to know when they died, and John learned a long time ago that obituaries are a great starting point to finding relatives. John has to be one the bravest people that I know. He took the names from the obituaries and started to call people that he thought might be them. It takes guts to call strangers out of the blue and ask them if they are related to so and so who died twenty years ago. We surprised a few people, but he tracked down family from two of the girls quickly that way. One family knew about the trip, but the other didn't. Both kindly invited us to their homes to talk to them about their mother's. Later on a third daughter was tracked down, we visited her. These visits were wonderful experiences with gracious ladies who shared their love of their remarkable mothers with us and didn't even mind when we dragged our three children with us.

So, we were gathering all kinds of information on this trip to Zion and all the girls who went. What made us decide to write a book about it?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Our Book (part 1)

The first post on any blog, I think, is the hardest to write. How do you go about explaining why you felt it necessary to write publicly about anything. However, some things are just too good to keep quiet about.

This all started when I randomly came across a couple of vintage photo albums on Ebay. What caught my eye was a picture of a bearded man painting a picture in what looked like Zion National Park. All the caption said was "Fairbanks". I thought, "What is the chance that that is one of the well known artists of that family name from Utah? Isn't that cool." The seller's description said something about girls from the University of Utah and a trip to Zion in 1920. I like Zion and the 1920s. It sounded like the perfect album to try and get. I showed the albums to my husband, John, and he agreed with me. So we placed a bid and were just thrilled when we won both albums. I anxiously waited a week for them to arrive in the mail. When the box came, I quickly opened it and looked at the photos. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had to call up John right away. I was so excited. The photos were not just brownie snapshots but professionally taken photographs, and they were beautiful. The albums included newspaper articles about the trip these girls had taken to the national park. These co-eds had not just gone down to the park on their own time, but had been taken down by the Union Pacific Railroad to have their pictures in the new national park for the newspaper. There were articles from all over the country from Los Angeles to Chicago. This was so much more than I had expected. The photos gave me goosebumps, and it made me want to go on their trip, too. I couldn't wait to show them to John.