Honoring Pioneer Children at This is the Place
Jun 2, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 12:23 pm
(Alejandro Lucero, KSL NewsRadio)
SALT LAKE CITY — When you walk up to the Pioneer Children’s Memorial at This is the Place Heritage Park, you are standing in the presence of 17 larger-than-life stones. They are so imposing, the feeling is almost like you might imagine Stonehenge would be.
But then you see the statues of children. There are 47 of them (in honor of the Days of ’47.) Some of the children are playing, some older children holding younger ones, some who have their arms wrapped around their thin bodies, looking cold.
Then you see the names of 664 children who died between 1847 and 1869, on the long trek from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley. “I wanted to have something like the Vietnam War Memorial,” (where you can come and touch the names) said Greg James, Executive Vice President of the Days of ’47 Board.
“And you get a view of the valley. You get to see what they would have seen.”
“We can’t forget these kids”
When the 80-year tradition of the Children’s Parade in the Days of ’47 celebration ended in 2018, James felt a hole in his heart. He explained that before the Children’s Parade was canceled in 2018, they uncovered the names of 664 children who had passed on the trail. What they did the last few years of the Children’s Parade is give each child who walked in the parade the name of one of those children, so they could walk in place of the pioneer children.
James “went to the board and said, ‘We can’t forget these kids.'” The idea for the Pioneer Children’s Memorial was born.
“The story of the pioneers is talked about a lot, but it’s not always talked about from the perspective of the children and the families,” James said.
It is his hope that this memorial will be a place where people can come and think about their family, about what their children mean to them. “I don’t want this to be somber and sad,” he said.
A river runs through it
The Pioneer Children’s Memorial is more than the impressive 17 stones and 47 statues. It is a walk along a quiet stream up toward the top of the park.
“We created this river,” James said. “You’re standing on top of 60,000 gallons of water that we pump up to the top and bring back down.”
The 47 statues are lovingly placed along the stream, some in a replication of the Sweetwater Crossing where the Martin Handcart Company passed in 1856. One of the most moving sculptures is of the Rocky Ridge Climb, placed literally atop a rocky ridge.
“My hope is that this park reconnects this generation with previous generations, and they learn something about what it took,” James explained.
“We need your help.”
The stories of the fallen children are about more than the children.
“How much do we know about an infant who died or a 4-year-old,” James said. “That death had a significant impact on that family, on their decisions. So, the stories aren’t just about the children themselves. They’re about the impact that life had on that family.”
This is where you, the reader or listener or viewer, comes in.
“We’re asking for people to help us by sharing their family stories if they’re related to these children,” James said. “There is nobody better to write about these children than their families.”
Even if you are not related to any of the pioneers, James invites you to go to the website, click on a child’s name and see if you can’t add to the important research.