Tom Clyde: Monuments come and monuments go
In the rest of the country, people are tearing down statues. I’ve never understood why anybody thought it was a good idea to put up statues of Robert E. Lee, the defeated, treasonous leader of the armed insurrection to preserve slavery. Really? Nobody put up monuments in Hawaii of the commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor, or suggested naming a military base “Camp Bin Laden.” Better that they go away peacefully than in a riot, but getting rid of monuments honoring traitors to the country seems just fine.
It all kind of makes you appreciate the pile of pipe stuck in the ground out by the dog park, or some of the other weird public art around here. You can see what you want to see in the water park piece. I see it as a truck rollover that scattered a load of irrigation sprinkler pipe across the field. Others see something else. But nobody can look at that and see Robert E. Lee. Abstract is safe.
In New York they are moving a statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History. Roosevelt is a hero of mine, the kind of leader we could use these days. The statue shows him larger than life on a horse, with a Black man and a Native American man walking slightly behind on either side. It’s not clear what the artist had in mind, but it certainly doesn’t depict the idea of equality. It was a product of its time, and sensitivity and interpretation have changed. For his era, Roosevelt was as progressive as they come on issues of equality. But it seems uncomfortable now. So Teddy will get moved to a basement somewhere.
On the one hand, it all seems like a lot of misplaced energy and effort. It would be a lot more productive to be dealing with police reform, voting rights, economic fairness, etc., than arguing over artistic judgments from many decades ago. And the public art scene will be less interesting and relevant if everything is reduced to abstract piles of scrap metal, or statues so anodyne that nobody could be offended. On the other hand, monuments matter. That’s why we put them up in the first place.
Park City’s mining history left a mixed legacy of a strong community, and piles of toxic dirt. Should the statue of Jim Ivers on Main Street be removed because of arsenic in the tailings? History is messy, which is what makes it interesting. Context matters, environmental practices were different 150 years ago. Community leader or polluter? How about both, and the community we love exists because of the miners.
The best news of the week is that instead of tearing things down, the path is now clear to stand the Daly West head frame back upright. It’s been five years since the shaft collapsed and the frame tipped over. It was one of the most iconic pieces of mining hardware left, and one of a few in the Deer Valley area. It was a monument to our past, including the tragedy of the mine explosion that left 34 miners dead.
Standing it up seemed so easy. The problem is that it was on a half-acre of land that nobody wanted to own. It has no meaningful development rights despite being in the heart of Deer Valley. There is a “basement” that is 2,000 feet deep and trying to swallow up the ground around it. Not a lot to love from a real estate perspective.
Through a long and complicated effort on the part of the Park City Museum, the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, Deer Valley Resort, and eventually the city, the parties all worked it out. Deer Valley bought the land, sinking shaft and all, from the Jordanelle Special Service District for $35,000. That’s not a lot of money in normal times at Deer Valley. These are not normal times, and with the financial trainwreck from last winter, and the uncertainty for next, buying a troubled property for the sake of standing up a relic that may become a liability wasn’t top on the priority list. The new owners needed to get used to the idea.
If the Coliseum in Rome fell over tomorrow, Rome would still be a great city. But it wouldn’t quite be Rome anymore. The few survivors of the mining period here in Park City are essential to who and what we are. Saving them matters.
So a huge thanks to Sandra Morrison at the Park City Museum, Sally Elliott and many others at the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History, and Steve Issowits at Deer Valley who made this happen. There were a lot of other people in the process. As they say, it takes a village. It also takes leadership, and we are very fortunate to have some great people who rose to the occasion.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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It’s fitting in this fact-free world, writes columnist Tom Clyde, for Wasatch County officials to host a “grand opening” for a road that isn’t open yet.