SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Ghostly legends and cryptic headstones dot the landscape of the largest city-owned cemetery in the country, and it’s right in the heart of Salt Lake City.
The Salt Lake City Cemetery has nearly 130,000 active gravesites and has been used since 1848, roughly a year after the first pioneer immigrants entered the valley. It is large enough to have its own street system similar to the one used to navigate the rest of the Salt Lake Valley.
A trip through Salt Lake Cemetery is like taking a glimpse at the past, and with the right tour guide, some pretty interesting stories come to light. Along with famous Utahns like former governors, auto-magnate and Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, multiple prophets from the LDS Church, and famous lawman Porter Rockwell, visitors can see stunning statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangel.
These monuments honoring people who shaped the history of Utah aren’t complete without stories of graverobbers and ghostly legends.
One of the more popular stories surrounds the grave of Lilly Gray, whose headstone read “Victim of the Beast 666.” Many believe it is a reference to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament and the anti-Christ. The cemetery has become a haunt for ghost hunters looking to find out if the spirits of those who have passed can shed light on the mysterious phrase.
Paul Wheeler a local tour guide says he has seen lots of people come to the cemetery to reach out to the beyond.
“You see a lot of people who come here to collect evidence of the paranormal and see what happens,” Wheeler said. “It’s funny to watch and see what they capture, what they don’t, what’s real and what’s not, and try to debunk some of that.”
Stories on the tour also involve spine-chilling tales of those not buried in the cemetery but the unrest they are suspected of causing.
Wheeler shares the story of Jean Baptiste a graverobber discovered in the 1860’s to have the burial clothes and belongings of over 300 dead individuals, including children. Baptiste fate was sealed when, then president of the LDS Church, Brigham Young exiled Baptiste to a small island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. To add to the spooky legend, many believe the spirit of John Baptiste still roams the shores near where he spent his last days.
“My favorite part of the tour is really telling those stories to the people and seeing them light up, like ‘Oh, I had no idea that happened here,’” said Wheeler. For anyone wanting to learn more about the Salt Lake Cemetery, the tours are several times a year and sponsored by the Lifelong Learning Program at the University of Utah. You don’t have to be a student