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Courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City
Children enjoy the swimming pool at St. Ann's Retreat in Logan Canyon.

History or legend? It's a question that underlies many of the most talked-about mysteries of religious history and provides endless fascination for those who believe in a world of spiritual reality not visible to the human eye.

Such queries, gone awry, can also drive rumor mills and foment trouble.

It's that kind of intrigue that has drawn "legend-trippers" to Logan Canyon over the years, looking for some clue to validate legends that have grown up around a summer camp known as St. Ann's Retreat, which was approved on Thursday by the state Board of History for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The site made national news in 1997, when a group of trespassing teens drawn by stories of haunting were confronted at the camp by three watchmen, who herded them into an empty swimming pool, tied them up and threatened them with shotguns until police arrived. The resulting court trial for the guards caused an uproar in Logan that was widely documented in area newspapers.

Known by various other names, including Hatch's Camp, Forest Hills and Pine Glenn Cove, the property includes 21 buildings and structures, including two main lodges, six smaller cabins, a playhouse, a pool house and generator house, along with a fireplace, fire pit, fountain, bridge and swimming pool. At one time, it also was home to a small theater with an adjoining ticket booth.

Used by a group of Catholic nuns in the 1950s as a summer retreat and then a children's camp, the site was originally developed in the early 1900s by Hezekiah Eastman Hatch, a prominent Logan businessman who built the first cabin there.

According to research by Korral Broschinsky, an architectural historic preservation researcher who wrote the nomination for St. Ann's, Hatch's descendants and extended family expanded the camp during the 1920s and '30s. Two of them — L. Boyd Hatch and Floyd B. Odlum — became self-made millionaires. As directors of the Atlas Corp. in the 1930s and '40s, they invested in, manage or controlled numerous businesses including Greyhound Buslines, Paramount motion picture studios, the Hilton Hotel chain, Madison Square Garden and various mines, utilities and banks.

The two moguls lived in New York City with their families but spent summers at the camp, where they entertained Hollywood actors and directors, politicians, corporate executives and even the czar of Russia, according to the property's current owner, Chad Godfrey. He is now in the process of rehabilitating the property with help from a federal historic preservation tax credit. He said he plans to operate it as a summer retreat once renovations are completed.

The original camp owners "had holdings all over the world but came here every summer" to stay at the retreat, Godfrey said. Odlum's second wife, Jacqueline Cochran, was a famous aviator, setting more than 200 flying records. She became the first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953.

While its early history was focused on monied upper-class residents and their guests, the family had stopped using the camp by the mid-1950s. Godfrey said at that time, they offered it first to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then to Utah State University, but neither entity was interested. It was then offered to the Catholic Church through St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Logan, he said.

The sisters renamed the camp St. Ann's Retreat and occupied it sporadically through 1978, when it was closed for repairs. Broschinsky said she wouldn't refer to it as a "nunnery" because the sisters were not permanent residents. No additional buildings were added by the church, she said, adding she did find evidence that the church erected a statue of Mary next to a pond on the property.

At some point after the church took possession of the property, rumors began surfacing in Logan about an infant drowning in the retreat's swimming pool. Some speculated that a nun had become pregnant and the child was drowned to keep the secret; others included expanded versions of the story featuring a suicide; still others speak of a child's voice by the pool and sightings of a woman dressed in black.

One version of the story has even made its way onto the Internet.

Yet the Deseret Morning News was unable to find evidence that any part of the local legend was based on fact. Some have speculated it was prejudice and bigotry that drove the rumor mill.

Godfrey said he's well aware of the speculation but likened it to a fictional tale of haunting chronicled in the comedy flick, "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," featuring actor Don Knotts. "The dead babies, the pregnant nun, the nun with the golden arm, it's all part of it."

The lore drew more than two dozen teens to the property in October 1997, where they were held at gunpoint for trespassing. The three men who held them were charged with aggravated assault and one count of forcible sexual abuse. The resulting trial whipped up angry sentiment within the community, and the three defendants eventually entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Gary Topping, archivist with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said he is unaware of the legends or the crime that mark the camp's reputation and found nothing in the records of the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish that mentioned anything about it.

He did provide a copy of a 1959 letter from Msgr. Jerome Stoffel, pastor of St. Thomas, to Bishop Duane Hunt of the Utah Diocese, which documents that a large cottage on the property had been converted into a chapel, and discussing questions of which sisters within the diocese should have legal claim to the property.

Topping said he's not aware of any existing records that document events at St. Ann's, and Msgr. Stoffel is long deceased.

After the sisters ceased using it as a retreat, the property was used as a youth camp until 1987, when the church closed it permanently due to rampant trespassing and vandalism, according to Broschinsky.

While the buildings are now owned by Pine Glenn Cove LLC of Holladay, the land they sit on is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, which leases it to the property owner. History board members unanimously approved the property's nomination to the National Historic Register, and the proposal is set to be forwarded to the Forest Service.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com