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Life in 'Old Deseret' — This Is the Place Heritage Park carries on LDS pioneer traditions

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, July 20 2011 5:01 p.m. MDT

The Huntsman Hotel, a replica of a luxurious pioneer-era establishment in Fillmore, Utah, today attracts visitors for food and refreshment in the old village at This Is the Place Heritage Park.

Ray Boren

Late in the morning, a relentless mid-summer sun has begun to broil the hillside pioneer village. Nevertheless, a woman under a broad-brimmed hat tends to a small garden outside the Godbe-Pitts Drug Store. The foliage is bright with violet blossoms, so she is mindful of bees.

"Flies and bugs don't like lavender," Vicki Rich says, a hand at her brow. "Bees do." Because the plant is said to repel insects, "we hang it at doors and windows to keep them out of homes and buildings."

Rich is among the employees and volunteers, of all ages, who enliven the walkways, streets and 50 historic buildings and reconstructions assembled at 450-acre This Is the Place Heritage Park, near the mouth of Emigration Canyon above Salt Lake City, notes program director Cliff Harris.

All wear Old West attire, and most portray Mormon settlers, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They often speak with diction and phrasing reminiscent of a century and a half ago, and generally help make the Western-themed park a delightful — and eye-opening — experience.

The first Mormon pioneers wanted to establish the "State of Deseret," proposed in 1849 as the name for what became the territory, and then state, of Utah. The park's village makes it seem as if Deseret harbored a New World twin of the magical, mythical, lost-in-time Scottish village of Brigadoon.

It seems apt to ask Vicki Rich, as apothecary of what has been called "Old Deseret," about potential cures for a summertime headache.

"May I suggest you put your feet up in the shade and drink cold water?" she says, before stepping into the cooler confines of her shop.

Willow bark, she resumes, can also be effective, as are other white tree barks, such as poplar and aspen. Their ingredients are related to what we today call aspirin.

And she points to a large bottle — colored a cautionary blue — among the battalion of medicines in ranks along the shop's eastern wall. The bold label says "LAUDANUM," and Rich assumes you've heard of this opiate-derivative's pain-masking properties.

Suddenly, a well-dressed gentleman steps into the store, introduces himself as Dr. Lorenzo Quackenbush, and instantly begins hawking small notion bottles. He attended esteemed Harvard University, the man claims in an insistent braggadocio, has traveled the world, "and in South America I actually found the Fountain of Youth!"

He is, the alleged doctor says, 47 years old, but most people take him for 23 or so.

"You have the audacity to walk into my store to sell your wares?" a shocked and perturbed Vicki Rich manages to insert.

Dr. Quackenbush is unfazed. "All cures are intended to induce vomit, sweat — or out through the other end," he says. "I have cures for everything."

Something that will help one write a story, perhaps?

Without a beat, he pulls from a wrap upon his arm a bottle he says would certainly help. "Memory enhancer," it reads. "It is regularly four-ninety-eight per bottle; for you, one dollar."

"That's a week's wages!" the displeased apothecary exclaims.

Dr. Quackenbush (really J. Scott Crapo) realizes no sale is imminent, but notes he will be around town. Rich says he's headed for trouble (and in fact a trial is expected later in the day).

"I'm simply trying to improve the lives of the community," the wandering salesman says, before he heads toward the door.

The living past

Such scenes and exchanges are evocatively routine throughout the Old Deseret, or Heritage Village, compound, which is scattered with real, relocated buildings and replicas from throughout Utah, Harris says.

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