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Tyler Sipe, Deseret Morning News
Sharon Harris of West Jordan and grandson Harrison Watts, 2, check out Days of '47 floats on Monday in Sandy.

Utahns got a behind-the-scenes look at 37 floats at a preview party Monday as The Days of '47 Pioneer Day Parade festivities kicked off.

"The majority of these are built by volunteers who, in a lot of cases, have never built a float before," said Susan McHenry, The Days of '47 board chairman. "They've done all this work. Why not show it off a little more?"

The free preview, which continues today from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the South Towne Exposition Center, allows visitors to see the floats up close. The floats were made by religious, civic, government and business groups, and followed this year's Days of '47 theme, "Our Pioneer Heritage — A Living Legacy."

"I think people are just thinking a lot about their heritage this year," McHenry said.

This year marks the 200th birthday of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and remembering Smith and other pioneer ancestors was a common theme of most of the floats.

Some floats allowed visitors to get an insight into how and why they were built. The float from the Lindon West Stake, "A Legacy to Follow," included a DVD montage with pictures illustrating the creation. The stake's float is a one-eighth size replica of the Nauvoo temple, complete with a miniature bell and Angel Moroni, and members have dubbed the float "the Nauvoo temple in Lindon."

"It's hard to ever feel the difference between the two temples. It's almost eerie," said Leslie Packer, a member of the stake and chair of the stake's Joseph Smith celebration.

The temple was made in about one week for the Lindon West Stake commemoration for the LDS founder's 200th. Most of the work was done on one day, Packer said, by more than 300 youths in the stake.

"These kids really connected, and that was the whole goal," she said. "I wanted them to connect with the temple, connect with Joseph, connect with the saints. And they did."

Youths from the stake said they got a small taste of what it was like to build a temple.

"I can't imagine doing the whole thing," said Natalie Packer, 15.

"We'll never forget it," said Skyler Cox, 13.

Although the theme was the same, floats ranged in decoration and medium. A float from the Draper Stake, "Celebrating New Legacies," included giant busts of Utah native and "Jeopardy!" champion Ken Jennings and University of Utah football quarterback Alex Smith.

The Midvale Stake's float, "A Pioneer Legacy to Youth," included a 300-pound replica of the sunstone on the Nauvoo Temple. The replica was so large, in fact, the stake had to cut it down to get it out of the garage the float was being stored in.

"The work that goes in on the site, you wouldn't believe," said stake member Ron Monsen, who helped build the float. He said members worked night and day to get it done.

In addition to the sunstone, the float includes "Ben the Wagon Boy" with his dog and a wagon filled with tools — a scene designed from one stake member's ancestry.

Benjamin Woodbury Driggs was one of the rescuers who assisted the Willey and Martin handcart companies. While living in Nauvoo, Ill., Driggs loved playing at the wagon shop his father Shadrach Ford worked in. For his seventh birthday, Driggs' father made him a small wagon. The young boy loved the wagon and was sad when two men working on the Nauvoo temple asked Driggs if he would give his wagon to them so they could transport their tools for work on the temple. Driggs eventually gave his favorite toy to the workmen so they could move their tools efficiently.

Stake members passed out the history of Driggs at the event and will pass it out during the parade.

"It draws a lot of happiness," Monsen said. "There's a satisfaction of people enjoying it."

There will be 53 floats in the parade, and 37 are featured at the preview event. Groups must get their float design approved by The Days of '47 board six to seven months before the parade, so the board can make sure the theme is followed.

To pick a theme, McHenry said, the board "kicked around with what the pioneering spirit meant. That it isn't dead. It's still alive and well."

The preview party is at South Towne Expo Center in Sandy and ends today at 8 p.m. Bands, dancers, clowns and others also perform at the event. For more information, visit www.daysof47.com.

E-mail: astowell@desnews.com