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Hal Schindler, Journalist and Historian, Dies; Legendary Tribune writer chronicled the American West; Schindler, Dedicated Historian, Journalist, Dies

Terry Orme
Published: 12/29/1998     Category: Utah     Page: C1

Harold Schindler, a journalist who spent a career separating fact from fiction in the story of the American West, died Monday. He was 69.

Readers of The Salt Lake Tribune were the primary beneficiaries of Schindler’s skills as a writer and historian. During the last part of his 50-year Tribune career, he chronicled Utah’s history leading to statehood. He wrote an ambitious series on the 150th anniversary of the Mormon pioneers’ arrival in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Using pioneer journals, he took readers on a day-by-day trek to Zion.

“Harold achieved a pinnacle in this business most can only dream of,” said James E. Shelledy, Schindler’s last editor at The Tribune, and the one who assigned him to write about Utah history. “He is a newspaper legend. I can hear him grousing to the contrary, but it is a fact.” Schindler joked that during his five decades at The Tribune, he held almost every job.

He started his career as a copyboy in 1945 at age 15. He rose through the ranks as a police reporter and on other beats–including a brief stint as the author of The Tribune’s “Nothing Serious” column–then on to 27 years as television columnist.

His TV columns were legend for their strong opinions and acerbic tone. He admitted he did not care for TV, yet only missed one deadline.

John W. Gallivan, publisher emeritus of The Salt Lake Tribune, praised Schindler’s opinionated columns: “Heads up, St. Peter, be prepared for debate.”

Schindler landed more than his share of scoops. He broke the story of the LDS Church’s plans for a new office building that would dwarf downtown Salt Lake City. Church President David O. McKay showed Schindler the drawings.

As a reporter, he witnessed five executions.

“He was a meticulous writer,” said former Tribune editor Will Fehr. “An editor never really had to edit him.”

Schindler was a great writer and an exacting editor. While in charge of the Sunday Arts section and magazine, he mentored many young writers, showing them the importance of cadence and rhythm.

While Schindler was passionate about the newspaper, he was even more so about Western history.

His biography of Orrin Porter Rockwell is considered the definitive work on the controversial Mormon stalwart. First published in 1966, its numerous printings have made it the best-selling University of Utah Press book ever.

“He knew as much about Utah history as anyone I ever knew,” recalled Brigham D. Madsen, U. professor emeritus of history. “He had a tremendous memory for facts, and was very articulate in expressing them.”

Historian Will Bagley worked with Schindler on an updated edition of West From Fort Bridger, an account of Western trails predating the Mormon exodus. The original was the work of Schindler’s hero, the late historian Dale Morgan.

“Not just to me, but to many young historians, he was a mentor, an inspiration and a friend,” Bagley said.

Schindler also made an indelible impression in on-camera appearances in Ric Burns’ public television documentary “The Donner Party.” Burns used Schindler’s expertise again in “The American Experience: The Way West.”

At the time of his death, Schindler was writing another book, on the Utah War. He was stricken with a heart attack at home as he prepared to go to the Utah Historical Society for more research.

Schindler was born Dec. 6, 1929, in Chicago to German immigrant parents. While an infant, his family moved to New York, a place Schindler did not care for, and later would refer to as “Noo Yawk” in his columns. The family moved to Salt Lake City in 1940.

He is survived by his wife, Benita (Bonnie), daughter Carolyn Silver and husband Kirk, sons Steve and Jeffrey, and a brother, James F. Schindler. Funeral services are pending.