Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ghost Town Whatever - Iosepa, Utah!

Western Utah is a neat place to visit. As we have covered (repeatedly) on this blog, you can find mines, cattle, rusted objects of nearly any size, crazies with guns, barbwire (the fence-object, not the movie), the military, the potential to become encrusted with salt, and any other number of things that drive people mad with visit-lust. Western Utah, however, is NOT a neat place to live. You can find mines, cattle, rusted objects of any size, barbwire, the military, the potential to become encrusted with salt, and any other number of things that drive people mad with I-don't-want-to-live-here-lust.

However, once in every great while, someone figures that they will give it a go and they pack up all their belongings and head out for the great and probably haunted western portion of the state. This well-written introduction gives us the backdrop for our next little ghost town....



You may notice that sign has a rather "island" theme, what with the aloha and all. And there's a reason for that, but I'll touch on that later. First lets get our bearings. If you find yourself with a mean case of Iosepa-madness and want to take a look for yourself, you can find the place here....



Or, just drive around and look for this sign...





It's kinda near Mercur and Ophir and stuff. The nearest city with people is Tooele. Well, technically it's Dugway, but don't go there....



The story of Iosepa begins way back in the fruitful year of 1889. Well, technically it begins earlier. Geologically it begins even earlier than that, but I'm not going to talk about that. In the 1880, Mormon missionaries had been hanging out in Hawaii doing their thing, and as a result, they converted a number of Hawaii-folk. These converts decided to visit Salt Lake City for themselves and check out what all the fuss was about, and upon visiting they decided that they would like to stay and help build the temple and then visit the temple and do all the other things that mormons like to do. At first there were 50 or so visitors, then 75, and so on and so forth.

But people are fickle things. Sometimes we don't all get along because we are jerks. The Hawaiian visitors soon found that most of the folks living in the city were strange and had very little to no Hawaiian culture in them, so they decided that they would like to create their own little city. Now, Utah has very little useful land, and by the 1890's most of that land was already spoken for. So the Hawaiians got a slightly less than ideal plot....



In 1889, a whopping 1,280 acres of that stuff was purchased at a cost of $40,000, and with that the mighty metropolis of Iosepa shuttered with its first mighty breath on the night of August 28th of that year!



It didn't take long for the good Hawaiian folks to realize that this....



Is a different experience than this...



And there's way less this...



And much much more of this....


But they were a determined bunch, and that spring the townsite was surveyed so every adult male and widow got to draw lots. They named the town "Iosepa" which is "Joseph" in Hawaiian. This was a shout out to both the Prophet Joseph F. Smith, who was a very successful missionary in Hawaii, as well as to the other Prophet Joseph Smith, who established the church. That's an example of multitasking I suppose. In 1890, the site was dedicated by the Prophet Wilford Woodruff, and with that the flag went down and the colony was ready to take off. Only it didn't really. Here's some of the chaps now!



The town was soon exploding with well-built houses, a church (presumably of the Mormon faith), a school house and roads to get to all these places. Concrete pipes carried every last drop of water from the hills down to the town, and fire-hydrants were installed. This was a good idea, as fires prefer damp-free environments such as western Utah. Probably the most impressive project was the lake they dug in the middle of the valley....



I've never dug a lake, but I'm assuming it is a very difficult thing to do. They stocked the lake (named Kanaka Lake) with trout and carp and other fish for feasting on, and even tinkered around with growing various sea-weeds. Neat!

In an attempt to make the valley somewhat less horrifying, cottonwood and poplar trees were planted down the center of each of the roadways, and yellow roses were planted in most of the yards. Corn, wheat, barley, beets and other delicious foods were grown in the fields, and cattle and pigs were free to walk about and grow fat for the slaughter! In addition, 300 fruit trees, 300 walnut trees, as well as 100 ornamental plant-like objects were installed. The residents of the town even celebrated their version of pioneer day on August 28th instead of July 24th like the other folks. For a while, things seemed to be actually working. In one year the residents made a cool $20,000 in profit from their cattle and wheat and such. Most years weren't that kind though.

And so things went. As if hard work and exposure wasn't enough, a friendly little visitor named leprosy came to town, and three residents soon found themselves swimming with the disease. A "pest house" was built at the edge of town and the three residents were isolated from the rest. They could raise a flag when they needed something. Here are the three lepers nowadays...





The flagpole at the back of the picture was built in their memory. If you see a flag up there, then that means they've come back as zombies and you should stay away. Anyway, this was the only leper colony to ever exist in Utah. Unless you know about one that I don't I guess. If you do, go write your own blog and leave me alone.

By 1901 the population stood at 80 brave souls, and it would reach a maximum of 228 by 1915. The city won the state prize for being the most progressive (whatever that means) and best kept city in the state in 1911, which is pretty good for a town located in a placed called Skull Valley.

The main problem facing the town was the fact that everyone kept dying. The climate and difficult work kept killing people off faster than they were being born and moving in. As a result, the cemetery soon became a very big place....



Unlike most of the towns that we have looked at so far, the graveyard isn't filled with people with names like "Ol Prospecting Alcoholic Jim" or "Shotgun Prostitute Sally". It's fill with names like this....







I'm not sure that Besse Peters was Hawaiian. Doesn't seem like it fits with the others. There actually were a few white folk living in town, so maybe she was one of them. I'd ask her but she's pretty dead.



Connie Hoopiianina was actually not the last burial. That belonged to this lady....



The Hoopiianina family was one of the few who stayed in the state. We'll cover that later. This next grave belonged to the local judge. Now he's the one behind bars.



Ironic, isn't it? Nope, it isn't. The official historical marker put up by the the state of Utah is near the cemetery. The bust on top is that of a Hawaiian warrior, which is pretty neat.



Having an accelerated death rate is a bad promotional tool for a town. In 1916 the Mormon Church announced plans to construct a temple in Hawaii. This rendered the town of Iosepa obsolete, and by 1917 the remaining townfolk sold their property to the Church and most moved back to Hawaii. And so ended the little hamlet of Iosepa.

Not a lot is left out there. Obviously there is the graveyard, as we've seen. The townsite was later sold to the Deseret Livestock Company, and cattle became the new residents of Iosepa. There are still four houses standing and occupied by ranchers!



I didn't dare go very close because sometimes people in western Utah get a little shooty if you wander onto their land. Something to think about whenever you go out there. Other than those remaining houses, the land offers very few clues that it was once occupied....






Miles and miles of sweet sweet nothingness. Something in this bush was making a really loud, terrifying noise....



Then when I was walking back when I was attacked by the worst creature Utah has to offer...



That is one of the most terrifying thing I have ever found on my shoe. At nearly 10 feet long and weighing in at approximately 4,500 pounds, this cricket-like car was reason enough for me to leave the place. Also I technically should have been at work.

And so my visit ends. There is now a pavilion built next to the graveyard in which a large luau is held every Memorial day weekend. Seems fitting. Also they cook pigs and emu in these crazy pits...



So, if you've got a hankerin' for some sweet sweet bird meat, and aren't scared of T-Rexickets, then I vote you go. I can't make you, and I don't care what you do, but think about it.

3 comments:

Moonery said...

I hate when people get all shooty when I'm out a-wanderin'. Whatever happened to fighting with biscuits not bullets? Anyhoo, nice work! Very interesting and informative.

Cheetah said...

Utah is very anti-biscuits. Seems a man can't walk down a dirt road anymore without someone throwing a bullet his way.

kathy said...

I detoured to Iosepa this past weekend on my way home from Wendover. I've heard about it for years, and decided to check it out. Then I came home and started looking on the internet for info, and stumbled onto your blog, which was more informative than any of the official sites. That beast on your shoe is called a "Mormon Cricket". Frightening, eh?