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Salt Lake City Looks To Preserve, Enhance Historic Cemetery As Burial Space Dwindles

Salt Lake City will likely have a long-term plan for its municipal cemetery by the end of June. The historic green space is running out of plots to sell and needs extensive repairs.

Even if you don’t have any loved one’s buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, Sexton Mark Smith makes a pretty good case for visiting. He’s been here for about 20 years.

“Cemeteries are totally for the living,” Smith says. “Because they don’t do anybody that’s buried in them any good at all. But they are such a treasure trove.”

Among the wildlife and enormous trees here, you’ll find a headstone made of petrified wood next to Porter Rockwell’s grave. A myriad of dignitaries, artists and faith leaders. But there are a lot of things you might miss if you don’t have someone to point it out to you. We come upon an empty field of grass, surrounded by headstones. Smith tells me that’s where several unidentified paupers are buried.

“It’s full of just unmarked graves,” he says. “And we have four different pauper areas in the cemetery.”

One of the most colorful individuals buried here, Smith says is Jack Slade-a notorious gunslinger who helped establish the Overland Stage Company and was lynched by a mob and buried in a casket full of whiskey.

There are about 900 unsold grave plots left in the cemetery. Smith estimates another 80 to 100 years-worth of burial space. One idea the city is considering is the construction of a columbarium, which is a space-saving above ground burial for cremations only. Smith says it would generate revenue for the cemetery and help with ongoing maintenance on roads and aging walls.

“We’re seeing more cremation burials than we did in the past,” he says. “And whether it be religious beliefs are changing or cost of burials. I’m not sure what’s driving that.”

Smith says it’s 150 acres that will never be developed, but will be handed down from generation to generation. He hopes increased interest in the cemetery will lend itself to continued stewardship.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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