Pioneer Day, 2012

Yesterday was Pioneer Day again in Utah.  It rolls around each year to commemorate the date in 1847 when the first Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake valley.  As usual, it was replete with parades, picnics, pow wows of the Ute Indian variety, and pyrotechnics.  We just laid low and enjoyed the day off (except for Bob who had to work).  I’ve written about rodeos and Pioneer day in previous years since my arrival in Utah, so no sense chewing my cud twice.  If you need to catch up, check the archived blog postings for this date.

Instead, I’ll share the article appearing this week in the Islander to correspond with pioneer life; I wrote on Syracuse’s historic Wilcox cabin which sits on land next to the museum.  It really underscores how tough pioneer life must have been.

Life in Close Quarters: The Historic Wilcox Cabin

One hundred plus years ago simple one- or two-room log cabins where families homesteaded would have dotted the fields of Syracuse, Layton, Kaysville, and elsewhere along the Wasatch Front.  Life was far from easy and was made even more challenging by the primitive conditions, farming on desert land, and extremes of weather.

Not many old structures like barns and cabins exist as silent sentinels of a bygone era, but those that do serve as windows into the daily lives of our forbears.  The Wilcox Cabin in Syracuse is one such survivor.  The logs are, of course, hand-hewn and the seams are packed tightly with adobe mortar.  Only a door and two windows–originally there was only one window–on the ground floor let light and summer ventilation in.  The cabin is somewhat dark, but in the winter, the more window openings there were, the draftier the living space would be.  One fireplace heats the room and is useful in cooking meals.  And upstairs loft reached by a simple ladder could be used for storage or, in a pinch, extra sleeping quarters.  In good weather, a lot of sleeping and eating necessarily took place out of doors.  A one-room cabin meant living in close quarters, especially during bad winter weather, so you’d all better get along!

Dating from about 1850, the small, one-room cabin sits tucked behind the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center on a plot of grass and has been lovingly restored and furnished to offer a peek at life in “the good old days.”  It has been determined that the Wilcox Cabin was actually built by William Kay, for whom Kay’s Creek is named and who was instrumental in founding the community known as Kaysville.  Eventually, the cabin was deeded to William H. Wilcox by his father, James Henry Wilcox.  The senior Wilcox had purchased the cabin and 160 acres in May 1885 for $1,800.00 from Christopher Layton, who had acquired it by then and had moved it to Syracuse.

Wilcox log cabin today.

Over the years, records indicate that several families have resided in the cabin. While Christopher Layton owned the cabin it is possible that one of Mr. Layton’s ten wives lived in the cabin with her children.  Prior to 1900, a family by the name of Argyle used it, and for a year in 1901 the Will Thurgood family lived there.  The James Barber family called it home from 1902 to 1905.

In 1905, William Wilcox and his wife, Emily, moved in and lived and raised their growing family in the cabin until they relocated in 1911.  Over the span of years that the cabin was used as a home, it saw the births of several children.  As childbirth was not without its risks, one story handed down in the Barber family concerned Horace Russell Barber, who was born in the cabin on May 23, 1904.  Apparently, baby Horace was not breathing and to “get him going” they carried him to the well and put cold water on his face.  If only the walls could talk!

In 1912 the cabin was moved a short distance to the farm of William’s brother Delbert where some partitions were added and it was repurposed as a granary. Fast forward to 1971 when Elmer Wilcox, a son of William’s who had lived in the cabin as a child, expressed interest in preserving the structure.

Once the cabin was relocated to its present site at the Syracuse Museum ten years ago, final stabilization took place and it was furnished to reflect the late 1800 time period.  A double bed and kitchen table and chairs are the main furnishings along with a cupboard and other creature comforts.  As part of the restoration, the second front window was added.

Today, museum visitors can stop by the Wilcox Log Cabin and have a look around.  The cabin is accessible from the outside even when the museum is closed.   The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center will be closed for July, but will reopen in August, Tues-Thurs, 2-5.  At that time we can take you inside the cabin for a closer view.

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 3:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Friday the 13th, Utah Style

I am not usually a superstitious person.  Broken mirrors, black cats, walking under ladders don’t faze me.  Even the notion of no 13th floor in a skyscraper seems odd to me.  I even generally ignore the concept of bad luck on Fridays that fall on the 13th of a month.  Well, I learned my lesson this year.

The day started out normally enough, but by the time the sun set, things had gotten pretty out of control and had me rethinking my Friday the 13th position.

Syracuse had a sudden–and I mean sudden, 30 second notice–windstorm rush in from the south and we watched as the new trampoline (a windstorm last summer flipped and bent the original one beyond repair) tilted on its side and then completely blew up and over the 6 foot fence into the neighbor’s yard as if it were a piece of newspaper.  Wind gusts of just under category 1 hurricane proportion, about 65 mph were to blame.  Meanwhile the metal patio table and umbrella were threatening to take sail.  Quick action of grabbing the umbrella and tucking it along the fence on the grass prevented it from opening and disappearing in the sky.  The table was flipped on its top so the wind would only blow through the legs.

Of course, the dog, Charlie wanted out when we ran outside to save what we could and he was being buffeted pretty well, but still thought we had gone to the backyard to play ball with him!  Bob and Lara ran into the neighbor’s yard and decided the only option was to take the side poles and netting off the trampoline, as they were somewhat bent from their fence crossing.  Lara returned inside for the tool kit and the neighbor finally stuck his head out the back door, saw us, said, “Oh.” and returned inside without an offer to help.  What a butthead.  He later lost his entire overhead patio shade trellis to the storm.  Instant karma.

Okay, the wind is still howling and swirling and the rain has started and Bob, Lara and another neighbor from across the street finally got the sides off the trampoline and the circular base up and back over the fence into our yard without it turning into a sail and blowing them all to the next town.  But wait, that’s not all that happened.

In the middle of all this hectic effort, the wind actually tipped over the good-sized propane grill onto its back.  Now we had a potential explosion/fire hazard about 4 feet from the backdoor.  Holy hamburgers, Batman, this was getting serious.

Of course, as soon as we got everything sorted out and the dog back in the house, the wind stopped as abruptly as it started.  I reheated the shrimp and scallops (now somewhat rubbery) and we all pretended to enjoy dinner.

The trampoline base was salvaged and Bob is going to try to see if he can fix the side poles and net walls.  The grill is upright and works, thank heavens.  This incident could have gotten expensive!

But wait, there was one more challenge: we discovered that the kitchen sink faucet had been leaking around its seating for quite a while and so, that was torn out and replaced after dinner.  Bob spent the next hour, with Lara as his patient assistant, struggling and sweating on his back under the sink.  The new faucet is spectacular, but did it all have to happen on Friday the 13th?

Published in: on July 17, 2012 at 6:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

One Down, One To Go

In Utah, July has two events involving celebratory fireworks: Independence Day and Pioneer Day on July 24th.  We’re past the first one with neighborhood fireworks bookending July 4th on several days before and after and soon we’ll have a reprise of all the noise and spectacle.

I must admit, that despite all the hand-wringing and vocal concern about the combustible mix of fireworks and dry conditions, there were no reports of new wildfires started by stray sparks from mishandling of fireworks.  Either we got incredibly lucky or people actually shot off their displays in a responsible manner.

Many communities had the usual parades and patriotic events; Syracuse had its big parade with a band, firetrucks and homemade floats the Saturday before July 4th during Syracuse Heritage Days.  The hamlet of Huntsville, just north of Ogden stirred up some controversy with a float entry in its parade.  Apparently, there was a white limo with kids walking alongside dressed as Secret Service agents.  A sign on the limo announced: “Huntsville Welcomes the Obama Farewell Tour?” (obviously, Utah is a red state).  At some point, out of the limo stepped a man dressed as Pres. Obama (wearing an Obama full-head rubber mask).  He then walked along with his arm draped around the shoulder of a sexily dressed white woman.  On the back of the limo was a sign which said: “Ask About Our Assault Gun Plan.”  I guess that was a suggestion to consider if Mitt isn’t elected.  The crowd was divided between thinking it hilarious and thinking this was insulting and bordering on terroristic threats.  As I understand it, local police are investigating the people who entered the float.

Huntsville Parade Limo and Sign

We had a lovely day in our friends’ backyard with an in-ground pool and a great BBQ to top it off.  Later, after dusk, we combined fireworks we bought (yes, we bought fireworks) with those the friends purchased on a run to Wyoming–where even grander fireworks are legal–and had a nice private display at a nearby park.  Most folks, like everyone else in the nation, had driven to the town display area earlier in the evening to find a good spot for a blanket and view of the sky.  Hauling coolers and rambunctious, sugared-up kids to a crowded area and facing a traffic jam after a 20 minute show is not my idea of fun.  We carted our bags of incendiaries and blankets 2 blocks to a deserted park and prepared to set them off.  The extra treat is that we ended up with literally a 360 degree fireworks show.

Surrounding neighborhood displays lit the sky in every direction along with the official community fireworks from several neighboring towns, and then there were our goodies.  And the best part is that we had the park to ourselves: no crowds, traffic jams, or crying babies.  For about an hour we watched in delight as aerial rockets went off directly above our heads in showers of orange, purple and red.  And there was no fear of sparks catching fire to dry grass, as the park sprinkler system went off on schedule to water the grass, so it was wet.

The rounds of fireworks continued until Saturday night when, by law no more can be set off until the Pioneer Days celebrations, and then we all have to wait until New Year’s Eve for another chance.  The fireworks tents and shacks remain in the parking lots and on corners, devoid of their wares, but will return by mid-month, so Utahns can restock their arsenals.  So, one down, one to go for the summer season.

Published in: on July 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Western Inferno: An Epilogue of Sorts

A week later and the west is still burning.  In Colorado, they’ve got the fire in Colorado Springs about 75% contained, but over 300 houses burned.  As one fire gets put down, more will start; this is just the beginning of the fire season.

Starting the night of July 1st the first window of time this month opened and the neighborhood fireworks started.  It’s legal to set off fireworks in the street from July 1st to July 6th and then again the days surrounding Pioneer Day on July 24th.  Despite the fire danger, folks were going crazy.  Last night we were treated to what sounded like mortar shells in a war zone across the street until a little after 11:00.

Mortar shell fireworks

Don’t get me wrong, as a kid, I loved fireworks displays that we eagerly waited for all year long on Independence Day.  In Pennsylvania in the 1950s and 60s there were no fireworks on New Year’s Eve or after baseball games.  Once a year we drove to nearby Sharon Hill to the football field, spread the blanket, fought off mosquitos and watched as, one at a time in 30 second intervals, the aerial rockets were set off by some shadowy figure running from fuse to fuse with a lit flare.  These were interspersed with the ground works consisting of whirling spinners on tall poles and strung wires that created a waterfall effect.  Then there was the American flag display that burned in the appropriate colors.  I prefered the aerials and the louder the concussive boom, the better.  I still appreciate a good fireworks display and have seen several set to a music score.

Corner shacks and tents are springing up everywhere selling fireworks, including aerial incendiaries.  There’s Crazy Al’s one block from us and a little farther east on Antelope Drive there’s the local Phantom Fireworks agent who has a two-storey inflated patriotic American eagle to call attention to his wares.  These sellers will fold up after the 6th and reappear just in time for the Pioneer Day festivities.  Some fireworks dealers are complaining that sales are down this year.  Gee, I wonder why.

But they’re not banned.  Our governor still refuses to take a stand.  He even called a press conference yesterday just to announce he wasn’t doing anything now and it was up to the local municipalities to ban them.  Target practice is still allowed, but no steel-tipped bullets.

But too much is too much.  With every boom at night, I am now fearing the start of a wildfire near us.  In fact, just this morning, there was a fast-moving grass fire in the mouth of Ogden Canyon.

Fire in Ogden Canyon

That’s only about 20 minutes north of us–a little too close for comfort.  Firefighters had it out in about 2 hours, thank heavens, but it was intentionally set, people.  ARSON!  What sick person would do this?

Because it hasn’t rained for 2 months, the word “drought” is creeping into news reports and though the reservoirs as still pretty full, each wildfire (not to mention other house fires which still occur) consumes a lot of water.  Each fire can also cost upwards of $1 million per day to fight, depending on the size and location.  Add to that the entire C-130 aircraft fleet (8 planes) is now grounded due to a deadly crash in South Dakota.  A tanker plane went down while fighting a wildfire there near the Black Hills killing one and injuring others.  So no more water and fire-retardant drops from the air for a while.

Then there’s the rattlesnakes.  The fires, which are not thick forest fires, but rather more like prairie brush fires up steep hills, are driving the rattlesnakes out of their usual territory into housing subdivisions.  One woman living near a wildfire reported seeing–well she lost count after 12–rattlers behind her garage.  We have a few garden snakes who live under our mint and sage plants, but I think I’d freak out if I heard or saw a rattlesnake!

There are now 10 wildfires and counting burning across Utah alone and all anyone in power can say is: “Be careful with fire!”

Published in: on July 3, 2012 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment