SALT LAKE CITY — About 2,000 people gathered to hear the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speak on a sunny Monday morning, July 25, 1898. Wilford Woodruff stood, the stars and stripes serving as a backdrop, and addressed the crowd at the original camping spot of the Utah settlers.
"Wonderful changes have come to this land and people since the arrival of the pioneers," he said as he dedicated Pioneer Park, with fellow pioneers seated behind him. "And I want to say that the changes, the progress and increase will be just as great during the next 51 years as during a similar period that has just closed. The destiny of this people is before heaven and earth and nothing can stay it.”
Those were the words spoken to the crowd as recorded in the July 25, 1898 evening edition of the Deseret News. It would be one of his final addresses as the man who served with Joseph Smith and the founding members of the LDS Church would die only weeks later on Sept. 2.
An original glass negative, recently discovered and sold to the LDS church, shows the president addressing the crowd as those enjoying the dedication donned heavy clothes, but also hats, flowers and umbrellas for the event.
Richard E. Turley, Jr., assistant historian and recorder for the LDS church, said the images are in the possession of the church and they are in the process of cataloguing them. He said the church plans on making the images available to the public.
"They're a wonderful addition to our collection," Turley said.
A print says July 24th, but the image President Woodruff is of the next day at the park, one of 624 original glass negatives in a collection taken by Charles Ellis Johnson from as early as 1892 to as late as 1912. Glen Beckstead sold the negatives to the church after purchasing them from a bookstore.
"They were the kind of thing that needed to be with a big institution," Beckstead said. "There were a lot of them that needed to be fixed, that needed some tender loving care, so it was easy to decide to sell."
Ron Fox, photo historian and author, helped broker the deal and said the image depicts a festive celebration.
"It's all about the great love for the heritage, for the struggle for statehood," Fox said. "And the struggle to take the desert and make it bloom like a rose."
He said the LDS church is in the process of conserving the images and preparing them for a longer life, a process that may take up to a year. But Fox said the images are great quality and have thousands of mega pixels.
"You could blow this original picture up to the size of a billboard and still have the quality," he said.
Other images in the collection include a photo of a group of young girls at the dedication, and images of the Buffalo Soldiers marching down Main Street and at the train station. There are action shots of a busy Main Street, photos from President Woodruff's funeral, and images showing Utah's first state governor, Heber Manning Wells. There are images of Emmeline B. Wells, Fifth general president of the LDS Relief Society and for decades a voice for Utah women, including in the fight for the vote.
In the Pioneer Park photo, those in attendance and sitting on the stage behind President Woodruff were city council members, George Q. Cannon, First Counselor to President Woodruff in the church's First Presidency; Congressman William Henry King, judge William Cochran Adkinson Smoot, Zina D.H. Young, the third general president of the Relief Society and others.
Mayor John Clark said although they weren't formally celebrating the 51st anniversary of the pioneers into Salt Lake Valley that day (it was the day before), there was no better way to honor them than by dedicating the historic ground as a public park, "for the benefit of the inhabitants of this city, founded by the pioneers."
The dedication closed with a dedicatory prayer given by President Cannon, followed by three cheers for the pioneers, and the mayor and city council for having the park dedicated for residents.
“Let us never forget those noble pioneers who opened up these valleys for us and our posterity and made it possible for us to enjoy this rich heritage," Clark said. "Hail to the Pioneers of ’47, joy and peace to their posterity and to all the dwellers in the pleasant vales of Utah!”
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