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Celebrating Pioneer Day in 1947

100th anniversary of Mormons' arrival was party of the century

Published: Monday, July 20 2009 1:31 a.m. MDT

Homebuilders constructed a home of tomorrow as part of the yearlong event to mark the 100th anniversary of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley. This home was located at 307 Virginia St.

Deseret News Archives

In 1947, Utahns celebrated Pioneer Day all year long.

The 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley was a year of pageantry, dedication, and entertainment, all uniquely Utahn.

In an editorial in the July 19, 1947, Deseret News an opinion writer praised the event:

"That the whole tone and tenor of our year-long jubilee is 'peculiar' to a 'peculiar people' is evident to all. World fairs, famous expositions and Centennial celebrations there have been a plenty. But there is no record of any having the perspective and theme that are ingrained in our series of commemorative events. We are having the kind of celebration in which Brigham Young himself would rejoice."

And then the editorial promised more:

"Half of Utah's 100th birthday anniversary party is over, but the best is yet to come.

"For facing Utahns and tourists who are swarming to aid in the state's observance of its Centennial year there is still the rip-roaring July 24, with its parades, color and gaiety reminiscent of early Pioneer days."

Many of these historic moments were recorded by Deseret News photographers. Photo researcher Ron Fox has delved into the photo archives and retrieved dozens of images of the Centennial celebration of July 24, 1947. Those images can now be seen on the newspaper Web site, deseretnews.com.

Several of the events that year recalled the journey of the pioneers from Winter Quarters, near Omaha, Neb., to what was to become Salt Lake City. That included the flight of a jet christened "Mormon Trail Blazer."

"Unable to locate a flying disc, officials of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers have obtained a jet–propelled plane, a P-80, which will leave Omaha, Neb., July 17 at 7:30 a.m. (CST) with a message and autographs from members of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers trek and arrive in Ogden about 7:30 a.m. (MST)," wrote an unidentified reporter with tongue firmly in cheek.

"The speedy Army plane will be piloted by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The landing at Hill Field will be broadcast ... to show 100 years of transportation improvements."

The trek mentioned in the story was an attention-getter all the way from Omaha to Utah.

Some 72 automobiles were fitted with frames and covered with white cloth to look like covered wagons. The cars lined up to re-create the pioneer trek, drawing national attention during the several days it took for the "wagons" to travel from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City.

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, traveled with the caravan.

Photos of the parade record an impressive sight, as the wagons lined up three deep along the parade route.

Theatrical entertainment was also an important part of the celebration. A presentation of "Promised Valley," featuring Broadway musical stars Alfred Drake and Jet MacDonald, along with a cast of 150, was performed at the University of Utah Stadium Bowl.

And a pageant, "The Message of the Ages," which had been written and performed in 1930 for the centennial of the organization of the LDS Church, was dusted off and beefed up for performances in the Salt Lake Tabernacle May 5 through June 6. Some 600 people took on a total of 900 parts for the pageant.

"For those who enjoy the dramatic, the spiritual and the majestic, the Centennial year will scarce be complete unless they see this great pageant," reads an unsigned story in the April 29, 1947, Deseret News.

Then, as now, the July 24 parade was the highlight of the celebration. But in 1947, one parade was not enough. Two parades were held, one on July 23 at 8:30 a.m. and one on July 24 at 6 p.m.

It was the party of the century.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com

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