Salt Lake is a city built on secrets. Its origin tale is wrapped up with the “Bible 2.0” Exodus of Brigham Young and his followers, the Latter-day Saints, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (officially) or the Mormons (colloquially and historically). The Mormons first arrived here in the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, after a long and insanely dangerous trek from Nauvoo, Ill. Technically it was Mexican territory, but the Mexican-American War was about to get underway and much bigger dogs than Brigham and his rag-tag band of Mormons were squaring off for a fight. Brigham wanted his followers to be left alone to practice the LDS faith and, yep it gets weird, to establish a short-lived autonomous nation called the Kingdom of Deseret (which got as far as developing its own language and currency, BTW). It is, as we say around here, a heck of a story.
In the late 1800s, federal troops, sent here to put the kibosh on this whole Kingdom thing, discovered rich veins of copper and silver and paved the way for the age of the silver barons and more outside influence. The east-west railroad brought an influx of laborers who would add diversity to the mix, and Utah’s admission to the United States, in 1896, brought even more changes. Still, Utah remained apart with a dominant religion, which often dictated politics and individual conscience. The point is: this whole delicious frontier mix of history made an atmosphere perfect for the cultivation of mushroom-like secrets.
HAIL PRINCESS ALICE
What: A sculpture bearing the likeness of Utah’s first elephant, Princess Alice Where: The elephant house at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, 2600 E. Sunnyside Ave.
In 1882, Salt Lake City completed work on its first major park, Liberty Park. The park was built in the grand tradition of New York’s Central Park and London’s Hyde Park, albeit on a much, much smaller scale. In that tradition, Salt Lake City’s grand park had to have among its attractions a zoo. Animals exotic and, more often, not-so-exotic filled the menagerie. But what zoo is complete, at least in the minds of Salt Lake City residents at the turn of the 20th century, without an elephant? In 1916, Salt Lake City school children gathered up nickels, dimes and pennies in a fundraising drive and purchased an Asian elephant from a traveling circus for what was then the enormous sum of $3,250. Her name was Princess Alice.
Princess Alice was a favorite, drawing visitors from around the region. But Alice didn’t take well to captivity. She became known for her daring escapes, rampaging around the surrounding Liberty Wells neighborhood, knocking down fences, and hiding from searchers for hours. The repeated escapes, although charming, alarmed neighbors and prompted the zoo to relocate to its current location at the mouth of Emigration Canyon in 1931. Local author and historian Linda Sillitoe memorialized Princess Alice’s exploits in her work of fiction The Thieves of Summer, which she set during her own childhood in Salt Lake City around the time Princess Alice and the zoo moved to Emigration Canyon.
A sculpture in relief of Princess Alice’s visage was included in the elephant enclosure and remains there today. Even with the new digs, in 1947, she once again escaped, rampaging around the zoo grounds. In 1953, at the age of 69, Alice was euthanized after a prolonged illness.
THE LOST PRINCE UTAH — In 1918, she gave birth to a male elephant zookeepers named Prince Utah, the first elephant ever born in Utah. He died a year later after his mother rolled over on him.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Secret Salt Lake opens a window into the weird, the bizarre, and obscure secrets of Salt Lake, that are often hiding in plain sight. The guidebook, written by Salt Lake magazine editors Jeremy Pugh and Mary Brown Malouf is a collection of odd tales, urban myths, legends and historical strangeness here in the Beehive State. Get your copy from Reedy Press today and read more about the secrets and oddities of Utah.