History from the Bottom Up: Pioneer Memorial Museum

Almost a decade in Salt Lake City, and I never made it to the Pioneer Memorial Museum (also known as the Daughters of Utah Pioneer Museum), up North Main opposite the State Capitol.  That is, until a couple of weeks ago.  The building is newly renovated, and the staff is friendly, as is typical of all the public places in the city where the Saints like to make the Gentiles feel welcome . . . .

It is a museum devoted to Mormon memorabilia of the pioneer era (1847-1869): clothing, crockery, quilts, hand tools, pianos (hauled across the plains before the railroads), christening gowns, furniture, badges, medical tools (and a vial of pulled teeth!), sewing machines, a copy of the Golden Spike, Brigham Young’s 1847 roll-into-Zion wagon (and his bathtub, too), and of course, the legendary hand carts.  The DUP ladies, bless them, do their best — but it really does feel as though all the pioneer descendants cleared out their attics and held a gigantic garage sale — and some of these artifacts might have been the left-overs.  Conservation efforts are somewhat haphazard, but funding is tight and the museum staff are all volunteers.  The displays are overwhelming — not just one christening set, but hundreds of baby bonnets and gowns; not just one quilt, but cases and cases of them, their less-than-pristine condition a silent history of the hardships of pioneer lives.  Perhaps some selectivity is in order — but then, that would probably be contrary to the mission of the museum:  the testament to faith is not just one story of one important man, but all the stories of all the pioneers.

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