For a peak that's less than one-sixth the height of the tallest mountain surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, Ensign Peak has a lofty prominence in Utah history.
At just 5,414 feet above sea level, or 1,080 feet above the valley floor, Ensign isn't a Twin Peaks or a Mount Olympus, but its strategic proximity to downtown Salt Lake City meant it was the first summit climbed after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the valley in 1847.
Reporter R. Scott Lloyd wrote in the Church News section of the Deseret News in 1989 that Ensign Peak was "the mountain landmark from which Brigham Young raised 'an ensign to the nations' two days after he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley" — July 26, 1847.
The first monument on Ensign Peak was placed there July 26, 1934. However this 18.47-foot-high marker was later destroyed by vandals.
A new marker was placed there July 21, 1989, and dedicated by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, then first counselor in the First Presidency.
An inscription on the new marker reads in part: "Two days after the Mormon Pioneers entered this valley, Brigham Young and party climbed to that point, and with the aid of field glasses, made a careful survey of the mountains, canyons and streams. In addition to Brigham Young, the party included Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Ezra Taft Benson, Willard Richards, Albert Carrington and William Clayton.
"Wilford Woodruff was the first to ascend the peak, Brigham Young the last, due to a recent illness. It was suggested that this would be a fitting place to 'set up an ensign for the nations' where the Lord 'shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth,' as foretold in Isaiah 11:12. It was then named Ensign Peak, and in later years a standard was erected on its summit."
"It was a wonderful thing they did," President Hinckley said in 1989, about them placing "an ensign, perhaps only by the waving of a bandanna or handkerchief from the pocket of Wilford Woodruff, up on the peak to the north of us."
Dean L. May, professor of history at the University of Utah, said Ensign Peak has become sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not for its comeliness but because it symbolized the "spirit of international outreach and the ancient promise that here one could learn the ways of God."
Tens of thousands of converts to the Mormon church immigrated to the Mountain West from other parts of the world because of the ideals symbolized by Ensign Peak, May said.
Latter-day Saints, in their poverty, dedicated Ensign Peak as a place to perform the sacred endowment ceremony until the Endowment House could be built, he said.
A 1991 Church News article referred to Ensign Peak as Utah's version of Mount Sinai, making it the state's most sacred mountain.
In a 1995 Church News story reporter Jason N. Swensen quoted Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve, as saying Brigham Young's original climb of Ensign Peak represented a fulfillment of modern prophesy because Young saw Ensign Peak in a vision long before the Mormon pioneers' exodus to the West.
"Joseph Smith appeared to President Young at Ensign Peak. Joseph told (Young), 'Build under the point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace,' " Ballard said.
By 1996, work had began to turn the base of Ensign Peak into a city park. A permanent hiking trail was established, and motor vehicles were restricted from entering.
Despite a lengthy religious history, Ensign Peak has also had its controversial moments. For example, on Feb. 23, 1925, the Ku Klux Klan surprised Salt Lake City residents by burning a red cross on the peak. They also burned more crosses on the peak and held an initiation ceremony less than two months later in April 1925.
Did the U.S. flag fly on Ensign Peak in the early days of the pioneers? A Deseret News story July 24, 1897, stated that although a flag wasn't raised in the original climb of the peak, "A few weeks, later a company of the pioneers ascended the peak and there unfurled the American flag, rejoicing under the emblem of freedom."
The United Veterans Council put a flagpole on Ensign Peak in 1956. However, vandals destroyed that flag pole in 1958 and again in 1963.
Photo researcher Ron Fox has assembled many photos of Ensign Peak from past issues of the newspaper, which can be seen in full online at deseretnews.com.
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