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Lake's Waves Whisper a Love Story
Will Bagley
Published: 02/04/2001 Edition: Final Section: Utah Page: B1

Part one of story

Fremont Island is one of the most historic spots in the Great Salt Lake. American Indians left flint arrowheads on its beaches. In 1843 mountain man Kit Carson rowed John C. Fremont in an inflatable India rubber dingy to the island. While Fremont surveyed the country, Carson carved a cross on Castle Peak to celebrate his recent conversion to Catholicism. Of all the tales the island can tell, however, nothing compares with the love story of George and Kate Wenner.

Judge Wenner brought his family to the island in 1886 to help him battle "consumption" (tuberculosis). The stone home the Wenners built on the island's south shore stood until the 1960s, but time and vandals have left it in ruins. For five years, the couple and their three children lived an island idyll. In September 1891, the idyll came to an end. Suffering from a hemorrhage, George had sent Rollins, their hired hand, to Hooper to get the mail. When the bleeding stopped, the judge felt better than he had in months. On one of those sparkling, clear fall days that usher in a September gale, Kate read his favorite books and poems to him.

The next morning George called to his wife at breakfast. Finally, Kate admitted to herself that her husband was dying. She held his head in her arms and asked if he loved her. "Yes," he said. "Do you love me?"

"Oh yes." she answered. Within a few moments, her husband was gone. Kate was left alone on the island with three children and a maid who would not even look at the dead man. Kate washed and dressed his body, and gathered her children. Kate explained death to them as best she could and took them to their father. They kissed him and each said a prayer at his side. A great storm broke as the family mourned, and it stirred up the ten miles of open water separating the island from the landing at Hooper. When night fell, Kate climbed Castle Peak and lit signal fires to summon Rollins.

The storm raged for another twenty-four hours, but when the wind died the next night, a sail appeared in a path of golden moonlight. Kate remembered: "I felt like an angel was treading softly across the water." Rollins built a simple coffin and dug a grave not far from the family home. Kate lined the casket with a shawl and put a pillow under her husband's head. Somehow, the widow and her hired man hauled it to the burial site and lowered it into the grave. The prayers of his widow and children were the judge's funeral service. The children gathered colored pebbles to mark the grave with their father's initials and a single word: LOVE.

The storm returned. It was almost a week before the family reached the mainland. The editor of The Salt Lake Tribune saluted the widow, who told him she had never anticipated life without her husband, but now her children would need her remaining strength.

Kate Wenner took her family to California. Later, she remarried and settled in Seattle. But she never sold the island. Fifty-one years later, at age eighty-five, she wrote her memoirs at the request of a Salt Lake yachtsman. On June 13, 1943, she and her daughter Blanche returned to Fremont Island during another raging storm. Kate never left. She now lies buried not far from the lake beside her husband, beneath a copper plaque engraved with the simple facts of their lives and a single word: LOVE.

Historian Will Bagley learned this story from Dale L. Morgan's great book, The Great Salt Lake.

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