Salt Lake City Mythbusters

by Kirsten Sparks, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Aug 31st 2010 01:45 PM

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Salt Lake City Mythbusters

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Salt Lake City, Utah has its own folklore filled with myths, scary urban legends, divine intervention, and ghost stories. But are they true? Test your knowledge on some of the most well-known urban myths of Salt Lake City.

Mythbuster #1: Emo's Grave


The Legend: Emo's Grave, a stone tomb located in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, stands about six feet tall and features an iron gate with a barred window, and a shattered urn can be seen inside. The grave has been haunted for years, according to many residents of Salt Lake City. Urban legend claims if you walk around the tomb three times chanting Emo's name that either Emo's ghostly face or his red eyes will appear inside the crypt's window. Some say that Emo was Salt Lake City's first devil worshiper. After he was burned at the stake by local residents, his ashes were placed in the urn inside the monument. Others say that Emo was a serial killer.

Verdict: This urban legend is false.

Explanation: Emo's Grave is simply a monument erected in memory of Jacob Moritz (1849-1909), a prominent businessman and politician. Moritz was born in Germany and immigrated to Utah, where he grew the Salt Lake Brewing Company into the largest beer brewery in Salt Lake City. In 1908, Moritz began experiencing health problems and hoped a change of air would help him recover. He and his wife traveled back to Germany, where Moritz died from stomach cancer. Moritz was cremated in Germany, and his wife returned to Utah with his ashes and constructed the monument in his memory. However, the ashes were not placed inside the monument. The urn that can be seen through the window is simply a vase for flowers that was broken by vandals.

Although locals have been calling the monument Emo's Grave for at least 40 years, it is not clear where the nickname originated. Jacob Moritz's name is engraved on the monument, and he was never known by the name Emo.

Mythbuster #2: Hobbitville

The Legend: According to Salt Lake City urban legend, there is a small, secret neighborhood in the city built exclusively to house little people. Hobbit Town or Hobbitville, as locals call it, is full of tiny houses and stonework with mysterious sayings carved on them. If you snoop around looking for hobbits, the little people will chase you away by throwing vegetables and running after you with pitchforks and rakes.

Verdict: This urban myth is false.

Explanation: The area known as Hobbitville is actually Allen Park, an eclectic bird sanctuary built in the 1920s. The park contains private residences and small cabin structures that serve as shelters for the birds, and its remote location and no trespassing policy contribute to its lure. The park's elaborate stone walls, pillars and gates feature mosaics and inscriptions created by the people who built the park. Although this urban myth sounds more like the setting for a good book than reality, many curious locals often attempt to trespass looking for hobbits inside this intriguing and quirky neighborhood in Salt Lake City.

Mythbuster #3: The Mystery of Lilly E. Gray

The Legend: In the Salt Lake City cemetery stands a small tombstone which reads, "Lilly E. Gray (June 6, 1881 - November 14, 1958) Victim of the Beast 666." This mysterious and ominous phrase inscribed on Gray's tombstone has triggered rumors about the fate of the woman for decades. Some versions of the urban myth speculate that she was mentally ill or demonically possessed. Others believe she was the victim of spousal abuse, satanic ritual abuse, religious persecution by Mormons, or a car accident on Highway 666 (nicknamed the Devil's Highway). Discrepancies between her gravestone and her obituary (her birth date and the spelling of her name are different) have led to numerology speculations. But those who have researched Lilly E. Gray have found no more information than her obituary, which simply states she died of natural causes.

Verdict: This urban legend is true.

Explanation: The gravestone for Lilly E. Gray, including the eerie inscription, are real and can be seen in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Little information is available about who she was or how she died. Lilly Gray's obituary and that of her husband, Elmer L. Gray, are both available on microfilm in the archives of the local newspaper agency. The discrepancies in the spelling of Gray's name (spelled Lily on her obituary) and her birth date exist, and the obituary does state that Gray died of natural causes. Many who have tried to dig deeper, including the Utah State Historical Society, have been unable to find any further information.

One writer, Richelle Hawks, has uncovered an application for parole filed by Lilly's husband. In the application, dated several years before Elmer and Lilly were married, Elmer Gray claims that he was kidnapped by five officials from the Democratic Party. He also claims that his previous wife (before Lilly) was murdered by his kidnappers and that his parents died of grief after her death.

This document reveals, at the least, a cantankerous and colorful man with a hatred for the government, possibly suffering from paranoid delusions of political persecution. It appears that Elmer Gray was Lilly Gray's only survivor, and his wild and outlandish beliefs may provide the most reasonable explanation for the inscription on her gravestone.

Mythbuster #4: The Miracle of the Seagulls and the Crickets

The Legend: The Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, and the following spring they found themselves starving and desperate for their crops to grow. The crops were swarmed by crickets that were devouring the entire harvest, already damaged by a late frost and drought. Unable to stop the crickets on their own, the pioneers prayed that they would be saved from starvation. A large flock of seagulls - so many that they darkened the sky - flew in from the west and feasted on the crickets. According to the legend, many seagulls were seen eating their fill then regurgitating in order to kill more insects. The birds returned day after day until no crickets remained, thus preserving the harvest and saving the pioneers from starvation.

This urban legend of Salt Lake City's past has been told by both Mormons and Utahans as an example of divine intervention and as a part of Utah's early history.

Verdict: This urban myth is partly true.

Explanation: The story of the seagulls and the crickets is so deeply ingrained in the culture of Salt Lake City and the Mormon Church that the California Gull (the seagulls in the story) was made the state bird. A monument to the seagulls stands on the Mormon Temple Square in the heart of Salt Lake City, and the variety of cricket that swarmed the crops is commonly named the Mormon cricket because of this legend.

William G. Hartley, a Utah historian, has researched the story based on pioneer journal entries from 1848. Hartley's investigation determined that there was a swarm of Mormon crickets that attacked the crops of the pioneers for about three weeks in May and June that year. The journals also account for crop damage due to frost and drought. He discovered that the pioneers had used many methods to drive out the insects, including forming lines to beat the insects out of the fields. While some journals recounted seagulls eating crickets at the edges of fields, others did not mention them.

Hartley concluded that the seagulls eating the crickets was a natural event that was isolated to some small flocks, and the birds did not devour all of the crickets. Over time, the role of the seagulls was exaggerated and credited as divine intervention.

Mythbuster #5: The Devil's Highway

The Legend: Utah's Route 666, nicknamed the Devil's Highway, is considered to be haunted and one of the most dangerous highways in the world (due to its sinister name). Urban myth claims that ghosts appear to drivers on the road, in front of their cars, or in their backseats. Skin-walkers, shape-shifters and demon dogs haunt the road, and if you dare stop at night your tires will be shredded by the dogs. An apparition of a flaming semi-truck has been seen speeding down the highway directly toward oncoming cars. The hauntings and apparitions have caused an unusually high number of traffic fatalities.

Verdict: This urban legend is partly true.

Explanation: US Route 666 does exist and runs from New Mexico to Interstate 15 in American Fork, Utah. Due to the nickname of the Devil's Highway, rumors about curses and supernatural occurrences, and an unusual number of sign thefts, the highway has been renamed. US Route 666 was given its original name because it was the sixth route of Route 66, which is now defunct.

Now known as Route 491, the stretch of the highway that runs from Price, Utah to American Fork, Utah has been named one of the deadliest in the United States. However, the accident rate is blamed on high traffic volume through the narrow and winding American Fork Canyon instead of the supernatural. The road also has tight, blind curves that are hard to navigate if drivers exceed the speed limit of 65 mph. Many accidents are blamed on drivers attempting to pass traffic on these stretches without being able to see oncoming cars. This route is also heavily used because it is the quickest route from Denver to Salt Lake City; it connects rural Utah to urban areas, and it leads to Utah's National Parks.

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