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Historic spot

Overshadowed by the famous This Is the Place Monument in Emigration Canyon east of Salt Lake City is a much-weathered 10-foot concrete obelisk that for years has been deteriorating in the weeds on the east side of This Is The Place Heritage Park.

It is this marker that is said to be on or near the spot where President Brigham Young on July 24, 1847, gazed at the Salt Lake Valley below and declared in words that have been preserved for history, "This is the right place; drive on."

Now, that modest marker has come into its own, having been refurbished by the Mills Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers in partnership with Zachary Mahoney, grandson of one of the chapter members, who took on the project pursuant to earning his Eagle Scout award.

President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, dedicated the refurbished marker on July 21 — three days before this year's Pioneer Day observance. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve attended the dedication but did not speak during the ceremony.

In remarks to a gathering of chapter members and others, President Packer said the park holds special memories for him. Sixty years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, he was there for the occasion with Donna Smith, recent Peach Queen in his hometown of Brigham City, Utah, to whom he was engaged and would be married four days later in the Logan Temple.

His father and mother, he said, were on a commemorative Sons of Utah Pioneers automobile trek from Nauvoo, Ill., to Salt Lake City, ending that day at the new This Is the Place Monument, which was dedicated by President George Albert Smith. President Packer described the Church president as "a tall, dignified, saintly man whose dream had been to have the monument built."

President Packer recalled that the cars on the trek were fitted out on each side with wooden oxen and topped with rings and a cover so as to resemble covered wagons. Just before leaving for Nauvoo, his father had "branded" the oxen on his car, painting the letters "EJP" on one and "IWP" on the other; those were the initials of President Packer's parents, Emma Jensen Packer and Ira W. Packer. His father, President Packer said, pronounced the couple "the best team that ever pulled together this side of eternity."

Recalling his pioneer heritage, President Packer told of his two great-grandmothers who came to the valley as girls from Denmark. One came with an ox wagon and the other with a handcart. Christena Olsen, the girl in the handcart, bought three pairs of shoes in St. Louis, Mo. She was determined not to walk into the valley barefoot, so she tied one pair of shoes on a string around her neck to preserve them.

"They arrived in September, and it was cold and it had started to snow," he said. "They came into the valley pushing that handcart barefooted. There were tracks of blood to mark the place they had been. Inside of the city, I suppose not too far from here, she sat down to put on her shoes from around her neck. But her feet were too cut and calloused to put her shoes on. So she did walk into the valley barefooted."

In remarks earlier in the program, career actor Michael Bennett, a presenter and performer at the park from 1998 until last year, traced the history of the refurbished marker.

"When I was a child, perhaps 9 years of age, I with my brothers and sisters was brought to this spot by my parents" and told of its significance, he said. "In those days, this was all there was. There was no heritage park, no Deseret Village (living history attraction), no impressive monument with Brigham Young on the top.... But this was my monument. This was the place."

He said during his employment at the park, he often had occasion to pass the monument when he would be called upon to remove rattlesnakes from the proximity of the visitors. "I always felt that my monument was happy to see me, although with it I shared the pain of its forced isolation, neglect and a gradual returning of its essence to dust."

As SUP members of the Mills Chapter, he and Frank Madsen undertook on behalf of the group the renovation of that original This Is the Place monument, he said. "At the outset, our desire was to determine, if possible, whether or not the monument was actually 'the place.' After conversing with dozens of scholars and reading dozens of texts on the matter, we realized there was no unanimity among them, nor was there ever likely to be."

Later, they were furnished with original copies of newspapers dated before and after the dedication of the original monument on July 25, 1921. Those accounts quoted William Riter, 83, who remembered being brought there at age 9 by President Wilford Woodruff. Also quoted was Elder B. H. Roberts, 64, a member of the Seventy and prominent historian in the Church, who, citing the journal of President Woodruff, "proved conclusively that there can be no doubt that the spot now marked by this concrete monument is very near to the actual place."

In fact, Elder Roberts at the 1921 dedication service, said Brigham Young had spoken the words "on or near the spot where we now stand."

Brother Bennett said the chapter provided the financing for the marker refurbishment, but the cost was minimal because of donations of expertise and material from craftsmen and suppliers and 300 donated hours of labor.

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