Ryan Summerlin May 14, 2013
In his latest look into Park City’s past, local author, historian and raconteur Gary Kimball gives us another well-researched collection of interesting stories, this one concerning the widely varied minority cultures within the old mining camp. Before I get too carried away, however, I should issue this disclaimer: Gary is a friend and I own all his books.
"Life Under China Bridge & Other Stories of Minorities in Old Park City" is a look at many ethnic component parts that made up western mining towns in general, and ours in particular. And what a "grand soup," in Gary’s words, it turned out to be.
Just a quick perusal of the back cover gives the reader insight into the many diverse nationalities and religious affiliations represented amid the ore-rich anticlines that became Park City, Utah. "Finns, Swedes, Icelanders, Norwegians, Danes, mixed with Germans, French, Netherlanders, Russians, Slavs, Poles, Croatians, Mexicans, Austrians, and Spanish.
"Then add a pinch of Greeks and a sprinkle of Italians; then splash in the larger groups of Scotch, English, Welsh, Irish, and native born Americans. Be sure to stir in a good mix of religions: Catholic, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Mormons, Baptists, Christian Scientists, Salvation Army and a whole school of Free Thinkers."
It would be, however, when the mixture is seasoned by events such as strikes, lockouts, fire, snow slides, epidemics, and economic depressions, that, once simmered for a few decades, causes the soup to boil over into that amalgamation we now refer to as American.
Racism, of course, to varying degrees, has always been part of our institutions and belief systems and nowhere was it more prevalent in old Park City than when it came to the treatment of the Chinese community by the dominant culture. Kimball’s title chapter, "Life Under China Bridge: A History of Park City Chinatown" chronicles what community-wide ignorance of one particular branch from the tree of humanity can beget.
The China Bridge itself grew out of just such ethnic disdain. Residents of Rossie Hill found it distasteful to have to walk through Chinatown, which was located in a section of what is now Swede Alley, as they made their way to Main Street. A bridge over the neighborhood-in-question went up in 1886 providing access from town to Marsac Avenue on Rossie Hill without having to encounter the "heathens" down below.
Many Park City institutions of the day, including the Miners’ Union and this newspaper, then published as the Park Mining Record, continued to apply pressure to influence Chinese residents to move on to greener pastures. Gary’s chapter on Chinatown is a total gift to us history buffs who received only smatterings of information from previous chronicles.
Another chapter deals with William Jefferson Hardin, a rather interesting yet enigmatic African-American Civil War officer who spent several years in Colorado before getting elected twice to the Wyoming legislature, moving to Ogden, Utah, and finally, for some mysterious reason, arriving in Park City.
This chapter, originally published in the Utah Historical Quarterly Winter 2010, is a textbook example of how a historian, in this case Gary Kimball, can stumble upon and subsequently follow up on a piece of information while performing research for another book. Each can of worms he opened seemed to have another somewhat smaller one inside.
The chapter "What’s in a Name? Negro Hollow Versus Treasure Hollow," spins a yarn as much about Kimball’s humorous attempts at revising an earlier version of the same piece as about political correctness in the renaming of ski runs at the then-new Treasure Mountain Resort. The author, however, found little humor in the name change and the motivations therein.
Also included in the chapter is a hilarious anecdote from a 1915 Park Record concerning the misadventures of a Heber attorney visiting Park City to drink corn and sow oats. Great stuff! When did journalism decide that a serious tone and truth were joined at the hip?
Each chapter in "Life Under China Bridge & Other Stories of Minorities in Old Park City," including a couple which delve into "Park City and the Mormons," contains levels of passion, humor, insight, and accuracy that befit both its central theme and its author. This book by Gary Kimball is a must-read for any Parkite looking to learn what’s under that singular local dust that’s been settling in various nooks, crannies, and closets for lo these many years.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.