- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

SALT LAKE CITY — f you’ve visited Colonial Williamsburg and greatly enjoyed the experience, you’re probably among the many tourists who are keen on the sort of increasingly popular attraction known as a living-history museum.

Think of New England, for example, and topping the list of leading attractions are a number of living-history museums — places such as Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

With so many Americans being so fond of the experience of seeming to step back in time to examine what daily life was like for our ancestors, an increasing number of living-history museums are popping up all over the country.

One of the newer and better ones — yet few have heard of it — is a splendid re-creation of a mid-1800s Western pioneer village that deserves to be on your must-see list if you ever are in or near Salt Lake City.

Walk around Old Deseret Village at This Is the Place Heritage Park, a short drive from downtown, and you get the feeling that you are back among the early Mormon pioneers who, beginning in 1847, found a new home in Utah following their epic exodus westward across the continent to escape religious persecution.

As we strolled into the village, we met a few women dressed in period outfits sitting on a porch knitting a bedcover at a farmhouse inn. Besides explaining what operating an inn was like back then, they told us that it was built in 1858 under the direction of a pioneer woman while her husband was away doing missionary work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as Mormons are formally known.

Though Old Deseret Village is closely connected to the Mormon Church and many Mormons still serve as missionaries for their church at some point in their lives, don’t expect to be proselytized here.

Do expect to learn some American history.

For example, the park’s odd name, This Is the Place, is a reference to an event in American history. Next to the entrance to the pioneer village is a large monument; this is the place where Mormon leader Brigham Young, coming through a mountain pass, first viewed the Great Salt Lake Valley and announced to his followers, “This is the right place.” Those words were a signal to his train of about 500 wagons that they were at the end of their 1,300 mile trek from Illinois across the continent in search of a new home.

What about that other odd name, Deseret? It looks like a misspelling of desert, and it’s not found in most dictionaries anymore. It means honeybees and is found in the Book of Mormon. Mormons use it because the beehive symbolizes their values of hard work and cooperation.

Settlers for a short time referred to this part of America as the State of Deseret before it became known as the Utah Territory.

The main thing you learn at Old Deseret Village is that the pioneers had a hard life. That pioneer wife who lived at Andrus Halfway House and Farm, for example, not only had to oversee a 160-acre farm, but also had to provide food and services for guests of the inn.

Around the corner, we saw more evidence of what a hard life it was. At a 13-by-24-foot one-room cabin, we were greeted by a woman with two children in hand, all three decked out in period dress. Some of the older children in and around the 1864 structure were busy doing what children back then spent much of their time doing: chores such as hoeing the garden, washing clothes with a scrub board and beating rugs. Visiting youngsters are invited in try their hand at some tasks.

LOTS TO SEE AND DO

There is a lot to see and do at this 450-acre pioneer village. To begin with, there are lots of pioneer-era buildings to examine, 41 in all, most of them originals.

On hand to help you get the most from the experience are a few dozen interpreters dressed in period costumes. If you don’t want to walk so much, you can see it while riding in a carriage.

Among the sights to see are:

• Blacksmith shop, where you can watch a demonstration.

• Schoolhouse, where you can see furnishings of the era.

• Store, where you can purchase current and pioneer-era products.

• Livery stable, where you learn which animals were important to the pioneers and why.

• Spots under some shade trees next to a basket weaver’s cabin, where you can learn crafts, such as how to make handkerchief dolls the way it was done in the mid-1800s.

You’ll also learn about that bygone era’s hospital care, furniture making and gristmill operation.

You are not likely to leave Old Deseret Village without understanding some interesting things that you didn’t know before.

Do you know why pioneers preferred to use oxen rather than horses to pull their wagons? Because if a horse is hitched to a large load and can’t pull it on the first attempt, the horse will balk — but an ox will keep trying until it succeeds. Besides, oxen can live off any wild grasses.

Do you know what an ox is? Any type of cattle more than 4 years old that has been trained to be a beast of burden.

If you would like to visit this living-history museum, be aware that some of the Salt Lake City tours that include a visit to This Is the Place stop only at the monument and the visitors center, bypassing Old Deseret Village.

It doesn’t make sense to be next to it and yet miss it. Conversely, if you visit Old Deseret Village, take time to visit the other parts of This Is the Place Heritage Park — including not just the main monument, but Journey’s End Monument, which depicts a pioneer family kneeling in prayer at the end of their journey; the National Pony Express Monument; and the visitors center, which features a free introductory video explaining the history.

• • •

Old Deseret Village is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Special events are held there at other times, such as Halloween and Christmas. Visit www.thisistheplace.org, call 801/582-1847 or send e-mail to info@thisistheplace.org.

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