Pardon us if we Utahns are unavailable this weekend while we're out celebrating. It's time for our annual Pioneer Days holiday — aka Days of '47, whatever — the second time in one month we have an excuse to light fireworks.
A pioneer holiday?
Well, 164 years ago, the Mormons were chased out of the Midwest by mobs and turned into pioneers, arriving in Utah on July 24, 1847, after a journey that didn't include TSA pat-downs, long lines at security, middle seats, $4 gas and drivers with cellphones, but was actually a little worse and more inconvenient.
The rest is history. Before there was Temple Square, Lagoon, the Utah Jazz, State Street, Larry Miller, John Stockton, Snowbird, Sundance, the Salt Palace, Utes and Cougars, Brigham Young University and Jimmer — there were pioneers who did the dirty work that enabled all of the above to happen. They came at great sacrifice to pave the way for the rest of us to be here.
We're pretty happy about that.
There are celebrations of various types all over the state this weekend. One of them will consist of a small ceremony Friday evening in American Fork City Park. It will include the unveiling of a statue commemorating the life of a man who left a dream job and a dream house to travel thousands of miles from England to Utah by land and sea to live in crowded one-room shacks in Utah and scratch a living out of the wilderness.
His name was Edward Robinson.
It's not every day someone erects a statue honoring your great-great-great-great grandfather.
For many of us, the Pioneer Days celebration is more personal.
Edwards' story is just one of thousands that paint a picture of hardship, sacrifice, and back-breaking work. Born in 1807 in Chesire, England, he served as footman in his youth, caring for race horses and hounds for the noble class. At 21, he married Mary Smith, who was serving as tutor on the same manor. They would have nine children together, including John, who — to get Biblical on you — begat William Jarvis Robinson, who begat Brigham H. Robinson, who begat Richard Osmond Robinson, who begat me.
Later, Edward, according to the story told by his granddaughter, Myrtle Robinson Seastrand, would be hired as the first conductor of a locomotive known as The Rocket, the most advanced steam engine of that day. It traveled from Manchester to Liverpool in a break-neck top speed of 26 miles per hour, which is a little slower than the speed Jamaica's Usain Bolt achieved while winning the 100-meter dash in the 2009 World Track and Field Championships. For Edward, it was a prestigious job and afforded him a good lifestyle.
Ten years later, in 1840, Mormonism reached England from its birthplace in America. Mary was interested in the new religion. When her one-year-old child William took ill, she sent for the missionaries. One of those missionaries was none other than Brigham Young, who blessed William that he not only would be made well, but would live a long life (86 years, it turned out). The Robinsons joined the church. A year or so later, Mary convinced Edward to quit his job and leave his homeland to join the Mormons in Illinois. They traveled nine weeks on the Atlantic with six children, then rode another boat up the Mississippi to Nauvoo. Thinking the family would settle there permanently, Edward used his savings to build a beautiful two-story brick home.
In 1844, the dream unraveled. The mobs murdered Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and Mary died in childbirth. Edward employed Ann Wooton, a widow with four children, to take care of the household (a total of 10 children). They eventually married.
The mobs forced another move. Edward traded his brick house for a team of horses and moved his family to Iowa. They saved their money for four years and in the spring of 1849 they traveled in the Ezra T. Benson Company to Salt Lake Valley, arriving in October.
They rented the John Taylor farm, and this family of 13 spent their first winter crammed into a one-room house. Another move was coming. Church authorities asked families to settle other valleys. The Robinsons headed to what is known as Utah Valley and liked it so well that they settled into another one-room house. Three generations of Robinsons would live on the property before it was turned into American Fork City Park.
Edward built a large six-room house. He planted trees and grass and shrubs and lilacs from England and rows of roses outlining the gravel walk to the door of the house, along with large beds of other flowers. The back corner of the house contained roses of all colors. The town called it Robinsons's Rose Corner.
Ann died and Edward eventually remarried again, this time to Margaret Govsvene.
But Edward, the former footman and conductor, was now a land owner able to live and worship free of lawless mobs, as America had originally promised, and he prospered the rest of his life. He died in 1896.
He was buried in the American Fork Cemetery. His tombstone features a drawing of "The Rocket." It's engraved, "Edward Robinson, the First Railroad Conductor in the World."
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