Christmas at Temple Square

This year over Thanksgiving weekend, the family finally got its act together and headed to downtown Salt Lake City to start the Christmas season properly by enjoying the Christmas light display at Temple Square.  Temple Square is the location of the really important Mormon buildings like the Salt Lake Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle, the first Conference Hall, and other pilgrimage sites for LDS folk everywhere and visitors in general.  Anytime of the year, if you visit Salt Lake City, this should be one of your destinations and at Christmas, the grounds–several acres of gardens, fountains, and cast bronze statues of people like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and a pioneer couple pulling a handcart with their children in it, all relating to the Mormon faith and culture–are extravagantly decorated with tiny lights.  It’s Utah’s version of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA (for those of you who have been to Longwood, you’ll know what I mean).  It’s just an outdoor display (no indoor areas) and the grounds workers start decorating in August.  They say there’s a million lights, and I believe it. 

If you’re Mormon, I suppose it’s de rigour to take the kids each year as it was mobbed with families with multiple strollers.  It’s free, so that’s a plus! 

We drove downtown, parked and walked through The Gateway, a large shopping area around the Olympic Plaza, towards the trolley to take us to Temple Square.  It may be winter, but all the water fountains and spillways at the Plaza and in Temple Square were all running and part of the display.  The Plaza also had fire pits

Fire pit

with benches and chest-high fire torches for warmth. 

Olympic Plaza tree and fire torch warmer
Ethan enjoyed the Trax trolley ride to Temple Square and although the light display isn’t quite as elaborate as Longwood’s, it was pretty–as mass colored lights are–and well worth the trip.  It really put one in the holiday mood and was a great kick-off to the holidays.  Now I can make Christmas cookies!
Here is a gallery of pictures from our evening.  Enjoy!
Lights on the original Conference Hall

Fountain and lights


Trees beyond a reflecting pool

And not to be forgotten, images of the display near the Salt Lake Temple.  Only
Mormons in good standing with their ward bishop hold temple-recommend cards and are allowed in.  The general public and lapsed Mormons are not allowed in. 
But it is pretty from the outside….

The spires of the temple


Another view of the Temple

Published in: on November 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Being Thankful for the Demise of Corsets!

Thanksgiving is again here and time for feasting and antacids!  We’re having the mandatory feast with all the trimmings.  Plus relaxation and FOOTBALL!  Lots of it!  Of course, there are parades for those who want to usher in the Christmas holidays, too.  I’m thinking of family and friends at this point in the year.

For the next issue of the Syracuse Islander I thought–since we’re mindful of eating and waistline expansion for the next month or so–it would be  fun to write a history article on corsets, of all things.  It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see the tie-in.  I’m adding loose-fitting clothes to my list of things to be thankful for. 

Corsets: Suffering for the Sake of Fashion

With all the feasting we do at Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays and with all of us wishing we wore elastic waist-banded clothes to the dinner table, what better time to ponder the topic of corsets?  Corsets, for those too young to remember (and I would wager that’s most of us), were usually worn by women and girls in training, but there were styles for men, too, who wished to cut a trim, masculine figure.  A corset’s job was to reshape and thin the wearer’s waist to often unrealistic and almost impossible proportions.  The high Victorian and Edwardian Eras’ ideal dimension for a woman was an almost unachievable 18″ “wasp waist.”

Corsets to achieve the "hour-glass" or "wasp-waist" figure

Of course, in the pursuit of fashion, comfort and health concerns were ignored.  Restrictive corsets made of heavy cotton or linen and stiffened with what was termed whale bone–actually the baleen from the whale’s mouth–were laced in place from the back, tightened by another person.  Call to mind, if you will, the scene from Gone With the Wind where Scarlett O’Hara is being laced into her corset by her maid while she’s clutching the bedpost.  Breathing and proper digestion were affected as internal organs were pushed downward, causing women, mostly, to faint or only to be able to eat small “ladylike” portions.  You can imagine how hot and uncomfortable these undergarments were.  Little girls as young as 5 or 6 started wearing somewhat less restrictive “training corsets” to get them used to the feeling of being surrounded by a snug piece of apparel that would always be a part of their wardrobe.

Advertisement for children's corsets

Men joined the fashion elite and started wearing modified corsets so to cut a dashing figure in a military uniform (women loved that!) or to look good in waistcoats, often earning them the nickname “dandies.”

Men's corsets advertisement

No one is sure how the concept of corsets started, but they’ve been a documented part of women’s fashion since the 1500s when they were called “stays.”  If you were wealthy, you could have them made with thin iron supporting rods which would achieve a flattened bodice.  This was almost necessary as royal court fashion demanded no delineation of feminine body shape on the front of dresses.  Queen Elizabeth I’s garments were prime examples of this style.  Women’s corsets changed throughout the decades to accommodate shifts in fashion, but always were intended to reshape, flatten, accentuate or make the woman’s waist smaller.

Elizabeth I looking quite comfy in her "stay" (just how does one sit in this affair?)

Finally, in the roaring 20s when women’s dresses changed completely and became looser and shorter, corsets were deemed unnecessary and grateful women everywhere quickly abandoned them, switching over to girdles and other less painful undergarments.  Men soon followed suit and everyone could breathe and enjoy eating on a grand scale.  So this holiday season, be thankful corsets are a thing of the past and that someone invented elastic!

The Syracuse Museum will be open the week after Thanksgiving, Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633),  and then close for December.  We will reopen in January.  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by, visit us and check out an actual corset (probably NOT worn by a pioneer woman trekking west!).

Wedding corset and shoes at the museum

Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm  Comments (1)  

A Peek at the 6 O’Clock News

Rather than my usual offering of the news you missed items, here’s a sampling of the recent evening news.  Some of the stories will sound familiar and some really underscore that I’m in a different state.

Under the “If it bleeds it leads” category:

A student from the University of Utah was killed yesterday while base jumping from one of the higher cliffs just south of the city.  Base jumping is similar to sky diving in that the jumper relies on a parachute to open.  There the similarity ends; you don’t have a computer-activated second chute as a back-up and you fling yourself off a cliff rather than jump from a plane.  Apparently her chute didn’t open properly and she fell down a steep cliff and suffered a sudden stop. 

Also, since it’s gotten cold and the  resorts are making snow to add to what has fallen naturally from two recent storms, it’s almost ski season.  A few of the resorts are officially opening this week.  A professional dare-devil type skier from Montana (who has made back-country films of himself jumping off cliffs on skis and continuing his run) was snowboarding with friends in an off-limits area at Snowbird (where we attended the Oktoberfest a mere month ago!), before the resort opened, and personally triggered an avalanche, which swept him off a cliff to his death.  And this was the 10th avalanche of the season and we’re not at Thanksgiving yet!  Ah, those high-energy risk-takers….

And switching to something more familiar: cars and trains.

This week saw the 4th weekly accident between a Trax Frontrunner train and a vehicle or people.  It seems this is a weekly occurence here.  In most of the cases, the drivers were trying to beat the crossing lights and barriers that swing down.  One mom had her two young kids in the van with her.  They’re okay, but she has severe injuries.  An earlier accident was when a tow truck towing a car decided after several minutes that even though the lights were flashing and the barrier was down, it was merely a malfunction.  So he drove around the gate arm and, you guessed it, a train hit him.

The first train incident of the present cluster was three high school girls fooling around on the railroad tracks taking pictures of flowers and they thought it was safe, as a train had just passed, heading north.  They failed to look at the tracks heading south and were all hit.  Two were sisters who had just moved here from California.  One was killed instantly and the other two lingered in the hospital for about 2-3 days.  It was quite sad.  Lesson learned: stay away from railroad tracks!

And now on a more indoor note, a local university orchestra concert conducted by a music professor was halted twice as someone (he admitted thinking it was a child in arms, not unusual in Utah) started “howling” in the audience.  He stopped the performance and indicated that this noise was disturbing the rest of the audience and needed to somehow cease.  (Either quiet the child or remove the child.)  Turns out it was a 12-year old special needs child who couldn’t be silenced.  He’s taking a lot of heat for his actions.  (I’m not sure what the protocol is here, but surely there’s a middle ground somewhere.)  Many of his former students are coming to his defense, and others are siding with the parents who brought the 12-year old that she should be allowed to “howl” as it falls under freedom of speech.

Even though we’re supposed to be in a “squeaky clean” state, drug problems are everywhere.  Police swooped down on several area high schools and busted more than a dozen students, aged 14-17, who were led away in handcuffs, for selling hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana, ecstasy, and prescription medication to other students and undercover agents.  After being arrested and booked in the school library, students were released to their parents.  (Not sure if this is a great idea….)  According to the police strike force, the drug problem is widespread and no school is drug-free.

The weather for this weekend sounds like a major snow event is headed our way.  Stay tuned….

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Cherry Blossoms: The Japanese in Syracuse

I haven’t shared a history article in a while, so here is one that appeared in the newspaper about 3 weeks ago.  Currently, high school football playoffs and local election news have been filling the columns in the last issue and will be covered in the one for next week.  So my column is on hiatus.  Syracuse has a number of Japanese families in the town and it’s interesting to see how they got here and made it through all the problems during WWII.  Also, since Veteran’s Day is Nov. 11th, this seemed appropriate for this week’s posting.

Cherry Blossoms: The Japanese in Syracuse

Tucked away in a corner display case of the Syracuse Museum’s main building is a lovely Japanese kimono hand painted and embroidered with chrysanthemum blossoms.  It and other smaller objects offer silent, graceful testimony to the long-time presence of a Japanese community within Syracuse.  A proud, hard-working people, small numbers of Japanese arrived in Utah around the turn of the last century and some finally made their way to Syracuse starting in around 1915.

Most Japanese began their journey to the continental United States from Hawaii, having gone there for work in the sugar and pineapple fields.  Most people know that the Union-Pacific Railway was built using a mainly Chinese and Irish labor force, but ethnic prejudice led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively ended the large influx of Chinese immigrants.  This, oddly enough, opened the doors for the Japanese.  With the Japanese feudal system ending, upper class disbanded samurai warriors had no livelihood.  American railroad companies beckoned with money and gainful employment by the turn of the 20th century.  Hoping to make a quick fortune and return to Japan, most fell short of that dream.  Even though it was a hardscrabble life, many found peace and opportunities for their children and stayed in America.

Within a few years, just prior to World War I, there were 13 Japanese families living in Syracuse, the men working for the railroad during the winter months and tenant farming during the summer.  These families leased between 35 and 45 acres from the John R. Barnes Company which was located approximately at 700 North and 2000 West (an outer edge of town).  Their houses were little more than wood and tar-paper shacks.

Soon families with the last names of Matsumoto, Matsui, Sahara, Baba, Akasaka, and Nakano were managing a degree of success and fitting in.  The very American sport of baseball became a favorite pastime, with teams being formed up and down the valley.  Games were held on Sundays and championship playoffs eventually became part of the season.  The Syracuse team won their championship in 1927 and again in 1940.

Then World War II started and with it the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which drew the US into the Pacific Theater of Operations against Japan.  Of course, this had life-altering effects on all Nesei (Japanese-Americans), most of whom were either naturalized citizens or second-generation native-born citizens.  Nesei  were immediately reclassified as 4-C (enemy aliens without any hearing or cause).  Nesei living along the west coast–Southern California to Washington–were particularly hard hit; they were rounded-up and relocated to internment camps scattered in remote, barren locations.  The Topaz Camp, hastily constructed near Delta, Utah, was one and so began a sorry chapter in US history.  Luckily, those Nesei living in  Syracuse, and other places in Utah, were not uprooted, but managed to stay in their communities.  With intervention by the Japanese American Citizens League, Japanese men could be reclassified for the draft, which led to the famed all-volunteer, all-Japanese 442nd Unit.  This unit provided interrogators, translators, and interpretators for the army and is credited with shortening the war in the Pacific and saving many lives.  Eventually, about 28 Japanese-American men served in the 442.

The Nesei families of Syracuse were not spared hardships and prejudices experienced by other Japanese-Americans in other parts of the country.  Random incarcerations and FBI investigations were experiences many families endured.  Even though a committee was created and worked closely with Sheriff Joseph Holbrook of Davis County.  Even though the Nesei families had to turn in their firearms and short-wave radios as a precaution, Sheriff Holbrook saw to it these items were returned to their owners upon registration.  After the Japanese surrender at the close of World War II, life slowly returned to relative normal.

By then, some Japanese-American businesses were opened and more sprang up.  The Miya Garage was an early enterprise, as was the Miya Soy Bean Cake Company.  Then came the Kano and Sons Garage (which is still operating) and the Kano Brothers Nursery.

Syracuse residents of Japanese ancestry are an integral part of the community and have contributed much to the town.  For almost 100 years they have been exemplary citizens: honest, law-abiding, friendly, and hard-working.

Japanese kimono at the museum

Our winter hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5pm and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by, visit us and see the lovely array of Japanese items on display!

Published in: on November 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Halloween Brings Some Boos…..

Well, it’s the day after all the little goblins have collected their treats and the candy is shelved for another year.  Rainy slush set in during the night and we awoke to fog and messy streets.  As I write this later in the morning, the clouds are thinning and the mountains are white.  We had over 100 trick or treaters ring our bell last night!  (Remember, I’m in Utah where the families are large.) 

Towards the end of the evening, when the kids’ ages were creeping up towards teenaged, I asked a few what their “trick” was if I refused a treat.  They hadn’t a clue as to what I was referring to.  Am I just getting old or of a much earlier generation that planned tricks and gags if necessary?  I recall neighbors actually trying to guess who we were in our costumes; that was part of the fun.  Now, it’s just ring the bell, hold open your bag for a candy, throw a hasty “Thank you!” over your shoulder, and be on your way to the next door.  And Mischief Night!  Folks out here don’t even know what that is.  No car soaping (thank heavens), toilet paper streamers in the trees–well, there are no trees to speak of, so I guess that’s not an option, no pranks of any sort.  These activities wouldn’t wash well in the LDS culture.  A kid would probably be in hot water with his (or her) ward bishop if caught doing something amiss.

Several area churches (mine included) had weekend Halloween parties for the kids which included “Trunk or Treat” activities.  You clean out your trunk, decorate it, and at the party, hand out treats from the back of your car.  Has this spread east yet?  I don’t recall this happening back in Pennsylvania.  Part of the rational for LDS ward members’ parties is to congregate in the church parking lot and hand out candy in a controlled atmosphere.  No masks allowed, for safety reasons.

At several LDS churches where these parties were held,  the bishops went a step further and banned cross-gender costumes.  That means no little girl could dress as Harry Potter or Batman, and no boy could come as ________, well, you fill in the blank.  According to the newspaper article, the bishop defended his position by saying it is church policy.  Actually, it isn’t.  The church’s handbook (they have a handbook for holiday rules and regulations????!) discourages masks for security and safety reasons (I can see that), but it says nothing else about costumes.  The bishop explained that “we thought it was a church policy” and added “I’ll defend the church and anybody who doesn’t like it, doesn’t have to come.”  Friendly, huh?  Things are getting ugly and it sort of turns Halloween into Holloween.

My daughter thinks it may be an effort to circumvent 6th and 7th grade boys from dressing as buxom cheerleaders.  She may have a point, but it also stifles creativity.  If you come as a dog or a butterfly, do you have to reveal gender?

In fact, a neighbor’s son who is in 8th grade, came to our door wearing a long dark wig, jeans, and a Hooters strapper undershirt, amply filled out.  It was the funniest outfit of the evening and he pulled off the cross-gendering well.  We gave him some candy and he played along by stuffing the bars down the front of his costume.  We were howling.  Obviously, the family isn’t Mormon.

Ethan dressed as a Ninja (what a surprise, with his karate lessons as inspiration), and could have been a boy or girl, sort of a unisex martial arts costume.  He collected just a small bag of loot; apparently the thrifty neighbors were only handing out one tiny candy bar per child (we handed out 4 goodies each til we ran low).  Charlie, our dog, spent most of the evening shut in a back room as he barked every time the bell rang or there was a knock.  We weren’t worried he’d snap at a kid; we didn’t want him running out the door in an attempt to follow the kids trick or treating.  After all, Charlie had already donned his hot dog costume from last year and gone out with Bob and Lara walking the rounds with Ethan.  (And, no, no one gave him a doggie treat for his efforts.)

On to Thanksgiving…..

Published in: on November 1, 2011 at 5:26 pm  Comments (1)