Thursday, March 22, 2012

Calvin Swank Visits Utah

Dr. Calvin P. Swank was, in the first half of the twentieth century, the superintendant of Lutheran missions for the synod of East Pennsylvania. On 24 July 1936, the New Holland Clarion had the privilege of publishing a 19 June 1936 letter that Dr. Swank had sent them recounting his trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco. On the way, Dr. Swank passed through Utah, and I think it worth a look at the relevant portion of Dr. Swank's letter, reprinted here as-is:
Mining and prospecting is taking on a new life in Colorado. Old mines of gold and silver are being reopened and the stores are advertising prospectors supplies. The Bingham sopper mines near Salt Lake City are now running as never before. They are literally removing the mountain. With steam shovels they remove more earth and rock a day than in building the Panama Canal. It is of low percentage (about 3) in copper, with some silver and gold, but in quantities is worthwhile.

Leaving Denver Friday evening about four o'clock, we headed toward the Moffet Tunnel; the northern and more direct route from Denver to Salt Lake. It was one of the most beautiful rides we have had. Climbing the mountain, the scenery is much like that of the Swiss Alps. For an hour or more we climbed, one hairpin curve after another with numerous small tunnels until we reached the Moffet where for fifteen minutes we rode in the dark, going under the James Peak, the great water divide. About us the great mountains rose with snow covered valleys while frequently we could look down a thousand or more feet. The tunnel was opened in 1934, and is named after Moffet, who had the vision and who attempted to finance its construction, but became a poor man. We saw his residence in Denver.

We arrived at Salt Lake City at 7:30 Saturday morning. We had been there twice before, but it is always interesting. After transferring our baggage to the Union Pacific Station, we started out for the day. The center of the city is the Mormon temple, occupying a square. This is the geographical, the moral, and really the commercial center. It is a Mormon town and while visitors are not in any way commercialized, the church takes advantage of every opportunity to propagate its faith. The city is controlled by the church and the recreational life of its young people is by the church. The streets are all numbered from the Temple as First Street, East, West, North or South from the Temple. We spent about two hours in the enclosure, occupied by the Temple, the auditorium, where we heard the organ recital at twelve, and saw church and museum buildings, and a well-kept garden with beautiful flowers. No one sees within the temple except those who go for the ordinances of the church such as infant baptism, marriage, baptism of dead, which the Latter Day Saints emphasize. These ceremonies are by appointment and a thousand or more people enter daily to either participate or accompany their friends, under which circumstances their conduct must be approved by the elder of their community and the bishop of their ward.

While we were going through, an elder was taking a group of almost twenty-five young missionaries about and lecturing to them on the tenets of the faith. He overtook me on the steps of the museum building and stopping me said, "You look like a Christian leader, where are you from?" I told him, informing him that I am a clergyman. He was eager to know what denomination. When I told him Lutheran, he replied, "Well, you are striving to teach faith in God too, aren't you." I then asked the group of missionaries, mostly fine young men of about twenty or twenty-five, where they were going. Some said to the East, some to cities of the West, and several to Europe scattering in England, Norway, France, etc. I asked who financed them. One said his parents, others were going to earn their way, etc. The guide replied that the only expense to the church was to bring them home. I was much impressed with their earnestness. They, knowing I was a clergyman, all shook my hand. After a lecture by the guide, who seemed proud of his ability in picking out a Christian leader, lectured them upon the importance of a clean life and how it always shows in one's face. Of this we write modestly and pose as no example, but mention it because of its general truth, and not wanting it to appear as egotistical.

We had breakfast and supper at the Utah, a very fine hotel, and spent much of the afternoon at the "Saltair," the park about fifteen miles from the town on Salt Lake. Here Paul and I went bathing. That is the place for a poor swimmer. The water is 22 per cent. salt and one can just float on its surface. If it should get into the eyes it burns badly and when coming out the skin is covered with a fine salt. The lake is seventy-five miles long and thirty-one miles wide. It lies in a basin in the mountains and without outlet its saline soil water drains into the lake and evaporates. It is more salty than any body of water in the world, except the Dead Sea of Palestine.
From there, Dr. Swank describes the remainder of his trip to San Francisco across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He didn't quite get things right (his reference to "infant baptism" in the temple is quite an error), but no matter; I think his positive interactions with the prospective missionaries and their guide are the most significant part of Dr. Swank's account.

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