Kimball finds more than 1,000 burials unrecorded
Park City Historian Hal Compton recalls local history buff Gary Kimball perched in front of a screen, half squinting at newspaper obituaries page by page on blurred microfilm on a hunt to fill in what he calls "a very spotty" death registry. "He would sit there for hours," Compton recalls. "I don’t know if I could do that." By the end of his 18-month search, Kimball had connected the dots of 1,020 deaths of miners, infants, prostitutes, and Park City’s well-to-dos who for one reason or another, were erased or half-entered in the Park City’s cemetery record. His discoveries amounted to his new book "Death & Dying in Old Park City," which he says tells the story of these forgotten ones those buried in cemeteries in Park City who, for a variety of reasons were forgotten after burial. He would "be damned" if he handed over his labored research to anyone else, he said. "Golf course grounds and maintenance persons may take care of the cemeteries," he maintains, "but they don’t care who’s buried beneath them." Kimball’s study of lost records begins in the 1880s, when the Park City Mining Record newspaper was first published and ends as Park City begins to become a resort town.
Though Kimball gathered some of his information from visits to mortuaries, he observes that the study of Park City is really the study of its newspapers. The bulk of his research came from death notices in The Park City Mining Record and The Park Record. His book therefore is not merely a dry list of names, but a look into the lives and often tragic details of the deaths of those forgotten in cemetery records.
The death of Stephen J. Edwards after an explosion in a mining tunnel, for example, is described in detail by four coworkers working 20 feet away from him. "[He] was cinching a cap on the second stick [of dynamite] powder when it exploded with the result that six sticks of powder and a box of caps were exploded at the same time The flying rock and dirt cut Edwards up in a frightful manner. He received the greatest force of the blow in the abdomen the intestines being almost completely blown out. Deceased was a native of Camborn, England 39 years of age and came to the Park about six years ago from California," The Park Record reported January 23, 1904.
Kimball entered his research anticipating the infant death rate was high, but encountering hundreds of deaths of children in his research was still "numbing" upon discovery. "Old timers," he says, were typically in their 50s and only a few made it past the age of 70. The vast majority of adults died in their mid-30s, he says, from pneumonia and miner’s consumption, or silicosis, a result of inhaling sharp dust particles in mines.
Among those erased from Park City Cemetery’s records was the infamous and legendary Rachel Urban, also known as "Mother Urban," an owner of a Park City brothel, who died of stomach cancer in 1933.
With a price tag of $515, "Mother Urban had the most expensive burial I had come across," Kimball claims. Her burial location and headstone can still be found in the cemetery, but Kimball suspects city officials asked for Urban’s name to be taken off the books, because they didn’t like the idea of having her name on the list. "I’m caught up in it a little bit," Kimball admits. "After a while, you feel like you get to know the people you read about." Initially, Kimball did not set out on a mission to recover the past. Instead, he stumbled upon it, and as he describes it, the journey into the past seemed to grab hold of him. He bought the Park City Cemetery Register originally in an effort to write a story about William "Jenks" Nelson for a 1991 edition of Lodestar magazine (now Park City Magazine). "The thing was, no one could tell me how Jinks Nelson died," he recalls. "And when I looked at the registry, there were all sorts of things missing and I was curious about why those records disappeared." The two-volume register sat in Kimball’s home gathering dust until 1998 when he attended a viewing at Olpin’s funeral home in Heber. Owner Guy Olpin bought Park City’s Archer’s Mortuary in the early 1960s, and Kimball asked if he could peruse old records. He spent three days at Olpin’s mortuary and recovered information on 200 Park City burials missing from the register.
Newspapers helped Kimball with the rest, though even then stories omitted details that might have been offensive to readers, leaving out important information linked to the deaths of prostitutes. Kimball also discovered that while the newspaper appeared to be kind in its treatment of suicides, it was not so favorable to the death of drunkards.
Kimball did not study The Glenwood Cemetery Association, since the fraternal organizations kept relatively good records of the names and identities of those buried. Compton, who is also president of The Glenwood Cemetery confirms of the 950 buried, they have records of the cause of death for 650 of those interred there. Kimball focuses his study on The Park City Cemetery and other burial grounds. In his book, he writes that there was a burial ground where the Deer Valley Drive roundabout exists today, where graves were dug so shallow that caskets emerged at the turn of the century. He finds no evidence that the city ever reburied the bodies or removed them to the city cemetery. The hunt for unrecorded burials, it seems, continues and Kimball already envisions a second edition of his book.
"The more I get into it, the more questions I have," he says.
Gary Kimball’s book, "Death & Dying in Old Park City" can be purchased at Dolly’s Bookstore on Main Street.
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