Pioneer personas: Couple enjoys bringing Brigham Young, Mary Ann Angell Young to life

Published: Sunday, July 24 2011 4:09 p.m. MDT

Michael Barnard, portraying Brigham Young, talks with visitors outside the Church History Museum, where he and his wife, Mary Ann, serve as docents twice a week.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Brigham Young was one of the most remarkable men of his age — or any age, for that matter. As pioneer, colonizer, government leader, family man and spiritual giant known as the "Lion of the Lord" (and that only begins to cover his resume), he is one of the most famous figures in Utah history.

And there's still a lot we can learn from him, says Michael Barnard, who, with his wife, Mary Ann, has spent the last decade or so re-creating the personas of Brigham and Mary Ann Angell Young.

For a number of years, they made regular appearances at This Is the Place Heritage Park. "I started out there as a banker and a barber. Then, one day, they asked me to go to the Brigham Young house, and that's all it took," says Michael.

They have since retired from full-time volunteering at the park and now work as docents at the Church History Museum two days a week. But they still make appearances at parades, conventions, youth conferences, treks, family reunions, church meetings and more: walking, talking, living, loving and looking like the Youngs.

Michael not only shares a similarity in appearance, over the years he has also developed a broad knowledge of Brigham's writings and discourses. "My library contains about 50 books on or by him. If you give me pretty much any subject, I can tell you what Brigham had to say about it."

Family, for example. "Brigham was very much into family life. He adored his children."

One example of family life occurred when what were called the Big 10 Sisters got older and wanted to invite gentlemen callers to their home, says Michael. Brigham only had one rule: They could use the library, but the light had to stay on at all times. One time, Brigham noticed that the library seemed awfully quiet. "He went in and found that the girls had stacked piles of books all around the light, so only a little was shining at the top. That put an end to that."

Another example of Young family life came from an article Michael read in an old Deseret News. "It told of Brigham walking down the street, taking five of his children to the dentist. To take them to the dentist himself, that says a lot about his concern."

Brigham was a plain talker, says Michael.

"For example, a lot of people thought he didn't like the federal government. That wasn't true. He used to say, 'I dearly love the federal government. I just hate the ... rascals that are running it.'

"He would also get wound up on the subject of the railroad." Brigham could rail with the best of them, "but he would also tell you exactly what the Lord wanted you to do with your life."

Mary Ann Angell is an equally interesting person, says Mary Ann. "I adopted her because our names are the same. But I love to tell her story. Not enough is told about pioneer women. She spent a lot of time alone because her husband was gone so much. Just think how difficult that would be. But she had such perseverance and strength."

Mary Ann has a second persona she sometimes dons: that of Fanny Brooks, a Jewish hatmaker who came to Salt Lake shortly after the Mormon pioneers arrived. "A lot of people are surprised to learn about her. They don't realize that people of a lot of other religions came. The Mormons weren't alone for very long."

Mary Ann became a milliner when she was working at This Is the Place. It has been such fun, she's kept at it. "Hatmaking is almost a lost art," she says. She frequently gives programs displaying some of her hats and talking about their history. She also makes hats on special order for other people who need historic costumes.

For the pioneers, she says, the first hats were utilitarian, worn mostly to protect their skin and keep the dust away. The bonnet of the plains is an iconic image. "But once they arrived here and were established, they wanted pretty things."

Her hats are lined and embellished. Some are made of straw for summer, some of felt and other materials.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS