Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dead can hula.

Tonight on KBYU I caught the first part of a new program produced by BYU about the history of the LDS church in Hawaii, which is one of Mormonism's most successful missionary stories to date. Today there are a large number of Mormons whose ancestors were from Hawaii and other Pacific islands, and in Hawaii the Church has built two temples (Laie and Kona), a university, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is the most popular paid attraction in the Hawaiian islands. The part of the KBYU show I saw had very low production values and the hostess was a bit cloying at times, but the content was quite interesting. I hope to see the rest of the show someday....(did anybody record it?).....

I've never been to Hawaii, but this show, as well as the upcoming visit of a friend who's been living in Hawaii, reminded me of a Memorial Day four or five years ago. My ghost-towning itch always gets fierce on Memorial Day.* That evening I decided to head out to one of my favorite Utah ghost towns, the remnants of the Hawaiian village of Iosepa, which was founded in Utah's aptly-named Skull Valley. (There are many other good ghost towns in the Utah west desert -- check out this fantastic ghost-towning website to find ghost towns in a backwater near YOU! But try not to fall down any mine shafts, okay?)

Anyway, in order to have access to a temple before one was built in the islands, Hawaiian converts to the Mormon church uprooted themselves from paradise in the late 1800s and planted themselves in a parched and treeless land many miles west of Salt Lake City. They named their Utah home Iosepa, which meant "Joseph." All that remains of the town is their cemetery -- a real tearjerker -- and a single fire hydrant. Why did they settle there? The white Mormon rank-and-file of the time, many of them racist, had made living closer to Salt Lake City difficult for these transplanted Saints, and so Church leaders had thought it best to settle them at a distance. They lived there, and many died, until the Hawaiian LDS temple was built a few decades later, at which point, not surprisingly, almost every last one of them returned to Hawaii. I expected to get a bit weepy with the dead that night -- tell them that I was sorry they had made so many sacrifices, only to be met with poor land and a cold welcome. (Steer clear of me on Memorial Day -- I get moody.)

But as I approached the place, which had been completely deserted on my prior visits, there was light and music and bright colors. In the middle of nowhere. In the dim evening. I was sure I was hallucinating. As I got closer, I could see dancers and eaters and singers. They were wearing leis. The gravestones were also wearing leis. There was much eating of pork and running of children. I got out of my car and wandered into the middle of the party, one of only a few white people. They welcomed me, and asked which island I was there to celebrate. It turns out they were the members of the BYU Polynesian Club, which apparently was holding its annual ancestral celebration that night. I explained that I had just happened by, that I wasn't part of the club and I hadn't paid for food, but I was welcomed anyway. Sit down, they said. Eat, they said. Sound warm and fuzzy? It was.

Seeing the show about Hawaii and being reminded of the resilience and warmth of these island cultures made me think of that night in Skull Valley. I had more than a couple epiphanies about history and ghosts and regret and healing, but I won't press them on you. You probably already know what they were, more or less. I do love ancestors, though. Especially ancestors who leave behind happy babies who grow up to be happy hula dancers who feed brooding howlie strangers, wandering alone in the desert.

* One Memorial Day I drove to Logan alone just to track down and photograph the gravestones of all of my great-grandparents, then was actually surprised when no one was interested in looking at the photos. This is why you don't want to be my friend. And if you are my friend, dump me before Memorial Day. Really.


i i eee said...

It's posts like these that make me so happy that I found your blog in some forgotten way. I love your story of how they welcomed you.

I had never even heard of Iosepa. I plan on driving out there soon! Any other favorite ghost towns not too far?

I miss living in Hawaii. I can't wait to go back there someday.

citymama1 said...

I had no idea. What a great story! I may have to take up ghost-towning(?) just to see if I can crash some ancestral parties myself.

sharonsfriendjen said...

Any time you want to go ghost-towning with a friend, call me. I will also look at pictures of gravestones of your ancestors.
That was a great story of how they welcomed you into their party. Though their ancestors were not given the same welcome. I love it when history does not repeat or revenge itself. :)

wynne said...

I am not afraid of you. Not even around Memorial Day. I LIKE ghost towns.

wynne said...

And how cool that the descendants of the settlers of Iosepa would remember. And celebrate. (And I'm SO glad they got to go back to Hawaii when the temple was built. It's amazing what the loss of trees and ocean can do to a person. Look at me. I'm still sulking that I lost western Washington.)

Belladonna said...

I've only been to Hawaii once but do plan to go back again next year. On cold winter days I do fantasize about living in Kona...

I actually went to high school in a town that was officially known as a "Ghost Town", Jerome, AZ. Now days it's more artisan tourista land but back in the day we used to have a blast sneaking into the old abandoned houses and telling scary stories.

Anonymous said...

I have the courage to post again. You have a real gift for story telling. I bet some of your ancestors are just waiting for you to publish theirs-although from the dedication evident in your posts you probably already have.
By the way, is the title a reference to Dead Can Dance? I love that group.

Carvel said...

What is the name of the KBYU program? I might search for a re-broadcast, & DVR it.
If I was one who wasn't interested in looking at your photos of headstones, I'm sorry. But I almost certainly had seen them several times before.
As many as 40 years ago, my roommate,Barry Fowler, who was a "ghost-towner", persuaded me to ride along with him to Iosepa. I was astonished and mystified that Hawaiians lived, farmed, etc., there.
After we looked at the tiny cemetery & the water hydrant or pump, we continued south to either Tintic or Eureka, or both: I don't recall. But as I recall there were several old wooden buildings & remnants of mining infrastructure. Then we drove east into Utah county, and back to SLC.I think any decent Utah road map would have Tintic & Eureka marked on it.And I'm sure Skull Valley is marked on the maps. But finding Iosepa could be tricky. It's on the east side of the highway, but that's the only direction I can give.

Marie said...

ii eee -- Did you go to BYU-H? I'm very jealous. My dad mentioned a few of the best west desert ghost towns in a later comment. Eureka's not a true ghost town, though it is a shadow of its former self and has an abandoned main street that's pretty cool. Someone moved a cabin onto main street that is purportedly Porter Rockwell's (I believe used to be out by point of the mountain). There's also a mining museum there that's always closed when I visit -- you have to make a special appointment for them to open it, I think. Ophir is another half-ghost town out there in an interesting location. Mammoth is close to dead and for some reason I found it really depressing that the other half-ghosts weren't. Iosepa's not hard to find once you're on the right highway -- there's a metal marker that says "Iosepa" that points you down a dirt road through a rancher's property. I also liked stopping at the marker where the Ajax underground merchantile store was -- if you have a good imagination it doesn't matter that it's not still there. There's a great book about Utah ghost towns called Some Dreams Die -- I keep it in the car at all times so I can find out what's nearby if I'm ever in some new corner of the state. Have fun, but be sure to tell someone where you're going in case the dingos get you...

Citymama -- Take your Offspring with you if you need help imagining the ghosts.

Jen -- So true. I'm glad you're game -- I gotta get going in the spring this year. Once it's summer I'm in no mood to wander in the desert, even if ghosts are the prize.

Wynne -- I know! I love Utah, but it took me long years of pining for Seattle and Oregon before I was able to see beauty in the dryness and ungreenness. It's hard to imagine a greater sacrifice than going from Hawaii to western Utah.

Belladonna -- Hey, long time no see! I like to visit ghost towns, but I don't know that I'd like to live in one. Even a tourist artista one. Though if you have a good imagination, it doesn't matter where you live -- you can imagine ghosts if your surroundings get too thick and banish them if you get lonely for the living.

Anonymous -- My ancestors probably want me to stop fiddling around and just keep on task. But I like other people's ghosts a whole lot too and when they ask for help with their research (the people, not their ghosts) I get all excited and usually end up doing it for them. That reminds me, I need to nag my sister-in-law to get more info for me on her great grandpa in Italy. I've never done Italian research before, and I bet there will be plenty of great stories. Yes, the title is after Dead Can Dance, though I can't claim to be a true fan. I had free access to just about every CD in existence at the beginning of the 90s and would just listen at random for hours -- if the cover was interesting or the name was funky, I listened to it. The album cover that caught my attention all those years ago was Aion. I remember liking it, but if their records vary so much as people say, then there's no way to know if I'd like their other ones. I shall see what the library's got on them....any favorites?

Dad -- I forgive you for yawning over my photos. I wasn't excited about the Logan cemetery since we'd been there so many times. I was proudest of finding the Providence cemetery (and the Naefs and Kendricks) -- it gave me a run for my money, though I found some beautiful side roads in the process and a fence made of metal bed headboards. I don't know the name of the Hawaii show. It aired on Dec 4 during the pledge drive. As for the ghost towns, yes, those are good ones. It used to be fun driving down Highway 68 west of Utah Lake, stopping in Eureka, then doing the ghost towns on the west of the Oquirrhs and then looping back into Salt Lake, but now Highway 68 is clogged with McMansions. Yick. I hope the spider infestations drive them out.

Or the ghosts.

Marie said...

Um, clarification -- I found Mammoth's half-deadness depressing in a WAY that the other half-dead towns weren't. That sentence was complete when I first typed it, but then the ghosts started stealing words out of it. The scamps.

Oh, and another good ghost town out there is Silver City. The main thing I remember is the ruins of a huge silver refinery. There was something about it that was really creepy, even in broad, hot daylight.

Anonymous said...

It is true that not all Dead Can Dance albums are created equal. My favorite is Toward the Within, a concert recording. Great stuff. Next in line is Into the Labyrinth. Libraries are awesome in so many ways.