Saturday, March 1, 2014

How this bricks pant'ed man managed to make Salt Lake City even weirder than it already is.

I have always had mixed feelings about Salt Lake City. In my very limited experience, I have found it to be an interesting study in contrast.  One look around and you find a city with magnificent mountain vistas and a proximity to some of the country's most spectacular national parks but to get to them you have to run the gauntlet of all these seemingly lobotomized women who refer to each other as Sister-so-and-so and are very intent on getting your home address. It would be easy to infer that they were escaped inmates from a nearby asylum, but they are not.  They are Mormons and they want to make more Mormons.

Salt Lake City is a beautiful place but the heavy hand of the Mormon Church always manages to creep me out a bit. How heavy is the hand? The city itself is built around the well-maintained yet still slightly off-putting Temple Square (home to the largest concentration of loboto-sisters)... but like literally built around it.  If someone gives you the address 31 E 400 S, you know that the place (in this case, the Green Pig Pub) is located 3 blocks east and 4 blocks south of the temple.  Try to get a drink at the Pub and you will be met with all these byzantine liquor laws intent on keeping the flock from having to be exposed to the evils of alcohol (although to be fair, it does seem like this has changed a bit since my last visit, as I did not encounter the private club thing, where a member has to "vouch" for you in order for you to enter a bar).
But sometimes the wonderful and the bizarre come together in near perfect-harmony. Such is the case when you have a religious freak (or as he probably preferred to be known, a retired Mormon Bishop) with a lot of free time and a passion for masonry. The result is the very well-hidden Gigal Gardens.

To get to this magical place, I had to go away from the downtown area, towards a residential neighborhood.  The walk portended well for things to come.

Inset time travel joke here...

Utah State Office of Education sign pointing straight at a church?  Yup seems about right.
After about 30 minutes, I came across this un-remarkable scene,  looking like the entrance to a typical small city park, anywhere in the world.

This notion would not last for long.

Gilgal is the name of a city and valley in the Book of Mormon and also Circle of Standing Stones.

Guarding the entrance was a rather large sword wielding rock-head.

It is possible that he was looking after the Smith Sphinx.  This mythical creature is part sphinx, part Joseph Smith (the founder of the Mormon church) and all mullet.

Business in the front and...nope, still in business in the back.  It's Joseph Smith, yo.
A stone path leads through the park, only since this was February, it was more of an ice path, one that threatened to take me down in the least graceful way possible.

Suddenly, I envisioned slipping and falling,  finding myself alone in this bizarro world, laying alongside a disembodied head...

...or possibly a giant scripture-quoting grasshopper.

Either way, I knew I had to be careful because I had no idea how many blocks I was in relation to the temple and the few locals I talked to about Gilgal had no idea what I was talking about.

Thomas Child worked on this backyard project for over twenty years and proudly showed it off to visitors. His goal was to initiate a conversation. " You don't have to agree with me," he said. "You may think I am a nut, but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity."  But once he died in 1963, the park laid semi-abandoned, open only on Sundays, or whenever local kids, who re-dubbed it "Stoner Park" chose to hop the fence and break in.

Thomas and his magical pants.

It wasn't until a Canadian company threatened to raze the park in the early 2000's in order to build condos, that the artistic community (who I'm guessing may also have been the ones behind the Stoner Park moniker) rallied around and raised money to save it from destruction.

Obviously, it worked and now the park is open to the public every day, a loving testament to the weirdness of Salt Lake City, albeit one that does not seem to be very widely known (or perhaps I'm the only idiot that would come out here in this weather and the locals know to wait until the ice melts).

But the best part was that here was this cool, strange place, which embodied the city's fascination with all things Mormon and yet there was not one loboto-sister anywhere to be seen.

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