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State of Excitement, A Birthday To Remember
Hal Schindler
Published: 01/05/1996 Category: Nation-World Page: A1

It was a Utah statehood celebration that lived up to its billing. From dawn to late night, Utahns on Thursday were treated to:

    • A forty-five-star sunrise flag-raising ceremony at the state Capitol.
    • Dedication of a spanking new Utah statehood thirty-two-cent commemorative stamp along with appropriate "First Day of Issue" cancellations.
    • A re-enactment on Salt Lake City's Main Street of the dramatic 1896 telegraphic announcement that President Grover Cleveland at long last had signed the proclamation admitting Utah to the union.
    • An hour-long parade featuring marching units, lots of horses and a couple of bears, as well as the usual dignitaries.
    • Re-enactment of the inaugural ceremonies in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, with all the appropriate speeches.
    • Twenty-one cannon salutes at the state Capitol at dawn and later at Brigham Young Historic Park.
    • And a Centennial Gala at the Delta Center, followed by a high-impact fireworks display choreographed to patriotic music from the Capitol grounds.

It was a day worth remembering, with all the pomp, circumstance and glitter that the 45th state could muster. Considering the weather--it was cold and blustery during the morning--a surprising number of spectators with young children turned out to watch the theatrical re-enactment of the statehood proclamation announcement at 59 S. Main, where a stage-prop Telegraph Office had been positioned. (Actually, the Western Union office in 1896 was located at 159 S. Main--a few doors north of The Salt Lake Tribune.)

At 9:13 a.m. a century ago, Marion B. Brown, Western Union's manager, ran from the office with a double-barrel shotgun in one hand and the proclamation telegram in the other. He fired two blasts into the air and yelled, "Statehood! Statehood, at last!" which sparked celebrations throughout the city and the new state for days. The re-enactment was highly dramatized with Max Evans, Utah's director of state history, taking the part of Brown. It was done in high good humor--and clearly Evans was born for the role. He fired the shotgun with evident glee, recited his lines unerringly, but balked at doing a jig.

A thousand or more spectators crowded into the street as "theater people" recruited "from Draper to Ogden" by artistic director Jim Christian of Weber State University. They broke into song and dance, performing a new and original number, "Utah--America's Newest Star," music by Mearle Marsh and lyrics by Christian. The throng cheered (aided and abetted by the actors), and surged forward to watch the dancing and have photographs taken with various costumed participants.

Nola Campbell ("Call me Nola Viola") played the fiddle, undismayed by the effect the cold air was having on her instrument: "It's a little flat because of the weather, but today--no one notices. Hooray for Utah!" Victor Graybill, wearing a full coyote-pelt headpiece, was handing out copies of 1896 newspapers announcing Cleveland's action. "When I'm dressed like this, my name is 'Crazy Buffalo,'" he said.

By the time the parade began, the downtown crowd had burgeoned substantially and despite a chilling drizzle, maintained its enthusiasm to the end. The Salt Lake Tabernacle--the largest building in the valley in 1896--remained the center of celebration for the inaugural re-enactment, and as Centennial Commission Chairman Stephen M. Studdert had promised, it was a memorable event.

Speeches were abbreviated for the 1996 re-enactment (Governor Heber M. Wells discoursed for two and one-half hours in 1896), with Michael Bennett in the role of acting Governor C.C. Richards, Bryan Bowles playing George Q. Cannon, James Arrington taking the part of Joseph L. Rawlins, Rock White essaying the role of Justice Charles S. Zane, and Robert Peterson distilling the address by Wells to three minutes.

The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, who performed at the sunrise flag ceremony in air cold enough to chill their lips, opened the ceremonies in the Tabernacle with a fanfare, followed by numbers from the Brass Works' Centennial Band ("Sempre Fidelis" and "Luto Quickstep") and the Utah National Guard 23rd Army Band with the "Washington Post" march. A highlight of the ceremonies was the bell-clear performance by the 700-voice Utah children's choir singing "Utah, We Love Thee," "America," "Utah, This Is The Place," and a new song, "This Utah."

The Reverend Robert Sewell, First United Methodist Church, as a counterpart of 1896's Reverend Thomas Corwin Illiff, spoke of "this desert blossoming" into a great city and of the responsibility of its residents in nurturing its spirit because "our state is more than it is perceived by those outside the state." Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the modern counterpart to Wilford Woodruff, urged his audience to plan wisely and build well. "There will be challenges, but none so formidable as were faced and overcome in the past. "As we move forward into this promising new century, may this favored Western commonwealth become as a city set upon a hill whose light cannot be hid."

Governor Mike Leavitt, who has taken part in virtually every aspect of the week's celebrations--including train rides and horse parades--closed the Tabernacle ceremony underscoring Utah's role in the future. "It is not the biggest state in the union, nor are we likely to be the most powerful economically or politically. But in a world where many grope for a sustainable core, we can play a vital role. Utah must be a place of quiet quality, where people pass on to future generations the ageless values. Let us be the 'keeper of the flame' not for a century--but forever."

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