The Utah Centennial Is History: Affair Was Productive, But Was It Inclusive?

Posted on June 02, 1997 | Type: In the News
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Utah's Statehood Centennial year is history.And in the opinion of Gov. Mike Leavitt and Stephen M. Studdert, Centennial Commission chairman, the yearlong celebration was a winner, a project that ended in the black and exceeded fiscal expectations without spending a tax dollar.By statute, the commission still is intact until June 1998, but its activities will end June 3, 1997. "That gives us time to finish up the paperwork and such," Studdert said.

For Studdert it was the culmination of two years of planning. He considers the observance a success.Leavitt summarized his feelings this way, "I had a ball, a great time.""I underestimated the privilege of serving as governor during the Statehood Centennial year. It will certainly be a major highlight of my career; the memories are very real."

Leavitt especially was moved by the train trip from Cedar City to Salt Lake City on Jan. 3. "All the people, the children and their parents in the small communities between stops who gathered at the side of the tracks to wave flags and shout greetings at us as we went by -- that is not something you forget."Did the governor have any regrets, any second thoughts about the centennial?

"Yes, we could have anticipated it more; perhaps let the schoolchildren out that day [Jan. 4th] to join in the celebration. We should have done that."Studdert ticked off what he considers the major events of the year:

-- The Statehood Banquet and Ball at Fillmore.

-- Utah Centennial Express, train excursions converging on Salt Lake City from the north, south and east.-- Multidenominational Thanksgiving services.

-- State Capitol Flag Ceremony.

-- Theatrical re-enactment of the Statehood announcement via telegraph and the ensuing celebration through downtown Salt Lake City.

-- Re-enactments of the 1896 Statehood Parade.

-- Utah Centennial Inaugural Ceremony and Statehood Day Remembrance.

-- Faces of Utah: A Centennial Portrait, a project to record the impressions and memories of modern-day Utah residents. (Nearly three-quarters of a million personal essays by adults and schoolchildren resulted in the nation's largest social history chronicle.)

-- Utah history television documentaries, including "Utah: The Struggle For Statehood"; "Treasure House

-- The Utah Mining Story"; "Salt Lake City -- Once Upon a Time"; "Utah Remembers"; and others.

-- The books: Utah History Encyclopedia, edited by Allan Kent Powell; Utah: A Centennial Celebration by Brooke Williams and photographs by Tom Till; Utah: A Centennial Portait, edited by Shannon Hoskins; Utah: The Struggle For Statehood, by Ken Verdoia and Richard Firmage, companion volume to the television miniseries; and publication throughout the year of county centennial and tribal histories under auspices of the Division of State History.

-- "Utah!" the outdoor musical drama at Tuacahn Amphitheater in St. George, celebrating the exploration and settling of Utah.

-- Reopening of This Is The Place State Park and dedication of Old Deseret Village as a Living Legacy Project. A new $ 2 1/2 million Visitor and Information Center and at least 15 new structures to Old Deseret Village.

-- A 53-unit Centennial Wagon Train traveling from Logan to Cedar City during the month of June.

"The most pleasing aspect of this past year was the involvement of hundreds of thousands of Utah citizens in the celebration," continued Studdert. "It wasn't just one big event, but lots of little celebrations all over the state in which townspeople participated."Studdert said the first week of the celebration was the hardest."

The scheduling of three trains moving simultaneously toward Salt Lake City from three different directions, the parades and the timing in the re-enactments and celebrations in Salt Lake City.

"It also was the time Studdert asked Kim Burningham, commission director and its principal full-time employee, to step aside until that centennial week had passed. The action was taken when the commission members agreed that the impetus of the celebration was flagging and needed revitalizing. The burden of responsibility was shifted, ostensibly until the centennial week was over, but Burningham's administrative leave lasted for the remainder of the year.Studdert's responsibilities were broadened.

"Of course, the logistics of supporting a huge wagon train across the state, that was a tough task, too," Studdert said. "But if I had any wishes about what we could have done, it would be that every single Utahn, regardless of race or religion, found a way to be involved in the centennial. If it didn't happen, then I would have wanted it to happen.

"Some argue that it didn't happen, that the yearlong celebration focused on Utah's white Mormon culture at the expense of historical contributions made by Latinos, American Indians and blacks."Where were the Greeks in Carbon County?" asked Reba Keele, a business professor at the University of Utah.

"Where were the Slavs from Bingham Canyon? The blacks from Ogden? The Native Americans from Blanding?"[The centennial] was symbolic of the mood in Utah right now: the majority wins. . . . It is not bad will. It's just that the majority doesn't see the diversity and the richness it brings to the state.

"The centennial was to have ended with a bang. But the "Grand Finale Gala," set for Friday at the Delta Center, has been called off. Officials say that the festivities featuring comedian Bill Cosby and area talent would have put the celebration in the red.

Now, a low-key flag-retirement ceremony at the state Capitol with fireworks and an Air Force flyover will be the order of the day Friday at a still-to-be-determined time.

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