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Entries in Utah (4)


The Schopenhauer Reading Society

By Jim Poulton

Credit: Utah Historical SocietyI come by my reading society bona fides honestly. I’m the proud member of two reading groups, both of which began in 1982. But that’s not all. Apparently, this obsession with reading is genetic. My great great aunt, if I can believe what my mother told me when I was a child, started the Schopenhauer Reading Society in Idaho Falls, Idaho in the 1880s or 1890s. My mother was proud of this aunt – proud that she’d been an intellectual in the early days of the state, and that she’d read books that didn’t make it on her religious community’s list of approved works. Even the title – the Schopenhauer Reading Society, named after the philosopher, professional curmudgeon and pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer – seemed to be a statement of my aunt’s independent spirit.

Schopenhauer’s Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. Credit: zvab.comI’ve asked through my family about this aunt, and no one knows anything about her. If she and the Schopenhauer Reading Society existed, they’re lost in the winds of time. But it got me wondering – how common were reading societies in the early West? And what was their purpose?

Here are a couple of examples.

Credit: Utah Historical SocietyIn Silvana, Washington, the Norsk Læse- og Samtaleforening (roughly the Norwegian Reading Society) was formed sometime around the mid 1800s. It was centered in the Norwegian Lutheran community, but its constitution could have been written by my iconoclastic aunt. “The society,” it said, “is not a religious society,” meaning they didn’t want the church telling them what to think or read. The purpose of the society was to promote the “profitable use of idle time” through “the purchase and reading of good books together with conversation.” In other words, as a group they bought books and passed them around among their members, so everyone could read them.

Miss Foster, faculty at Carlisle Indian School, full length, reclining in chair, reading a book, 1864. Credit: Library of CongressThis is one of the things I love about the history of the West. In the 1800s, the West was wild and wooly, as we all know. But a lot of people were also striving to use their minds as well as their muscles. A friend of mine told me once that a great great grandfather of his, who settled in Wyoming in the 1860s, paid big money to have philosophy books, written in German and French, brought to him on the Union Pacific train from New York.

Here’s another example:

Farm boy reading jokes as his part of the program at the literary society meeting. Pie Town, New Mexico. Credit: Library of Congress. Circa 1940In February 1874, two young men in Salt Lake City were feeling pessimistic about their hopes of finding true romance. One of them, Jim Ferguson, “had heard, no doubt, of fond couples ‘reading life’s meaning in each others eyes,’” and suggested that they form an association of readers. A short while later, the Wasatch Literary Society was born. It wasn’t that unusual – even at that early date. As the journal BYU Studies says, ‘the 1870s were ripe for cultural societies’ in the Intermountain West, and by 1874, the early Mormon settlers had already fostered many cultural societies, including the ‘Polysophical,’ the ‘Philomathian,’ and the ‘Universal Scientific’ societies, all devoted to expanding the cultural literacy of their members.

Homer Brown joined the Salt Lake Polysophical Society in December 1855. Credit: GatheringGardiners.Blogspot.comThe Wasatch Literary Society was relatively short-lived, and met its ignominious end in 1878. But while it was going, it drew some of the brightest lights of the young pioneers, and presumably Jim Ferguson and his friend finally found romance.

Emily Wells, early member of the Wasatch Reading Society. Credit: Growing Up Early in Utah



Impressions of the West: John McPhee

John McPhee. Credit: Office of Communications, Princeton University

In Basin and Range John McPhee describes, in fascinating detail, the formation of the great Basin and Range area covering nearly all of Nevada, and significant portions of Utah, California, Arizona and New Mexico. In essence, the Basin and Range region was formed by the stretching of the earth’s crust (up to 100% of its original width). As the crust pulled apart, great faults were created. Along these faults, which generally run north-south because the stretching was east-west, mountains were uplifted and valleys were down-dropped, producing the alternating mountain-valley pattern that is distinctive of the Basin and Range region.

Credit: mrlaugh

Credit: MiguelVieira

Here’s what McPhee has to say about it:

“Basin. Fault. Range. Basin. Fault. Range. A mile of relief between basin and range. Stillwater Range. Pleasant Valley. Tobin Range. Jersey Valley. Sonoma Range. Pumpernickel Valley. Shoshone Range. Reese River Valley. Pequop Mountains. Steptoe Valley. Ondographic rhythms of the Basin and Range. We are maybe forty miles off the interstate, in the Pleasant Valley basin [in central Nevada], looking up at the Tobin Range. … The Nevada terrain is not corrugated, like the folded Appalachians, like a tubal air mattress, like a rippled potato chip. This is not – in that compressive manner – a ridge-and-valley situation. Each range here is like a warship standing on its own, and the Great Basin is an ocean of loose sediment with these mountain ranges standing in it as if they were members of a fleet without precedent, assembled at Guam to assault Japan.

Credit: Marly Bryant Miller

"Some of the ranges are forty miles long, others a hundred, a hundred and fifty. They point generally north. The basins that separate them – ten and fifteen miles wide – will run on for fifty, a hundred, two hundred and fifty miles with lone, daisy-petalled windmills standing over sage and wild rye. Animals tend to be content with their home ranges and not to venture out across the big dry valleys. ‘Imagine a chipmunk hiking across one of these basins,’ Deffeyes remarks. ‘The faunas in the high ranges here are quite distinct from one to another. Animals are isolated like Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos. These ranges are truly islands.

Credit: brewbooks

"Supreme over all is silence. Discounting the cry of the occasional bird, the wailing of a pack of coyotes, silence – a great spatial silence – is pure in the Basin and Range. It is a soundless immensity with mountains in it.”

Basin and Range from space. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center


The Mystery of Everett Ruess: An Interview with W. L. Rusho

Image courtesy The Mystery of Everett Ruess, Gibbs Smith Publisher

You initially started your research on Everett Ruess nearly thirty years ago. What gave you the idea for the initial book and why this topic?
The story of Everett Ruess grew out of my research of the history of Glen Canyon before Lake Powell. I learned of Ruess when Greg Crampton got a letter from Waldo Ruess asking if Greg—as principal history researcher for the Glen Canyon Salvage Project—had learned anything about the disappearance of his brother, Everett. Greg had found nothing useful, but he informed me of the letter. Intrigued, I bought a used copy of “On Desert Trails” published in 1940 that included many of Everett’s letters and poems, and that speculated on his disappearance from Davis Gulch in the winter of 1934-35.

KSL interview with Bud Rusho at Lake Powell. Photo courtesy of Bud Rusho.

Then in 1982, Gibbs Smith told me that he had acquired, from Waldo, the rights to edit and republish Everett’s letters and poems, and Gibbs asked me to edit the volume. I was, of course, happy to do so.

How long did it take you to research and compile the book?
I only worked on the material for about a year, as the “Vagabond for Beauty” was published in Oct. 1983. During that time I carefully culled through the Ruess material, and Gibbs and I made a trips to Escalante and Davis Gulch. We also made a long trip to Alamos, Mexico, to interview a witness who had met Everett Ruess. I should have also retraced Everett’s earlier travels in California and Arizona, but Gibbs’ budget would not support such a trip.

´╗┐Bud Rusho at White Mesa Arch, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Bud Rusho.

Who, among the many people you interviewed, was the most intriguing personality?
Probably the most interesting were three people who had actually known Everett briefly—Tad Nichols and Clayborn Lockett in Tucson, and Randolph Jenks in Alamos, Mexico. They didn’t know much about Everett, but each of them was an artist in himself, having collected, painted, or photographed the Red Rock country.

What was the most interesting ‘behind the scenes’ story?

Why were Everett’s possessions—sleeping bag, food, clothing, diary—missing when the burros were discovered in February 1935?  They were probably stolen, either by a Navajo who killed Everett—improbable—or by Gail Bailey from Escalante, a rancher who was first on the scene. Bailey steadfastly denied having seen the possessions, but he admitted to taking the burros and their harnesses. The lack of possessions has clouded all speculations on Everett’s disappearance.

Describe the biggest challenge you experienced since the books have been published.
Are we talking about the original book Everett Ruess—Vagabond for Beauty or it’s newer reincarnation The Mystery of Everett Ruess? For the original book, my biggest difficulty, in 1982, was having to work on an old Royal typewriter, thus having to type the manuscript several times. Also, Gibbs Smith was tight with funds, thus restricting my research. And the Gibbs Smith editor, a guy named Buckley, cut out large portions of material that I considered good writing.

With the newer book, The Mystery, I have had only pleasant experiences with Gibbs and his editor, Madge Baird. The book is more attractive, especially with larger photos. Of course, it could have been better with an ample research budget, but it’s a good compromise. 

What are your most rewarding experiences since the books have been published?
The book has been successful—not a blockbuster—but it has been attracting readers of many ages, and has always been in print. The newer book, The Mystery of Everett Ruess, has received good reviews, but is essentially old news. So I don’t know how it will fare, especially since two writers are coming out with Everett Ruess bios in 2011 and 2012.

What is the most commonly asked question that you get and what is your answer?
Naturally, the first question is “What do you think happened to Everett?” This is really the heart of the whole Everett phenomena. Without the disappearance in 1935 (and his mother’s persistent efforts to get his letters published), the world would have forgotten the guy. In 2009, I was confused by reports—later proved wrong—that Everett’s body had been discovered in Comb Ridge, as evidenced by DNA tests. I always found that hard to believe, so I was relieved when the bones were found to be that of a Navajo. I personally believe that Everett, while climbing around, fell to his death into a narrow slot canyon, a canyon that could not be reached by the 1935 horseback searchers. Yet the mystery remains, which is vital for the story to live on. 


AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES V. D'ARC: When Hollywood Came to Town


James V. D'Arc

What gave you the idea for the book and why this topic?
Moving from southern California to Utah to go to school, I knew that I would be there at least four years and I thought the best way to get to know my new state was to take my love of movies and my chosen major of history and combine them to search out the movies made in the Beehive State. I became locked into the project after two early and important interviews: the first in 1976 was with Paramount Pictures producer Howard W. Koch, who made 10 features in Kane County during the 1950s. He talked of his love for the people there as if it all happened yesterday and provided a behind-the-scenes look at both the importance of the landscape, but mostly the people of Utah in making his production successful. The second, in 1977, was with Rebecca Beckett, ex-wife of Kanab hotelier Whit Parry, the legendary promoter of southern Utah to the movie studios that suggested both a P.T. Barnum and a savvy businessman.  

How long did you work on the book?
Off and on for 32 years to authenticate movie titles, locations and conduct extensive interviews with key movie industry figures as well as those in various Utah communities close to the Utah moviemaking story.

Who was one of the most interesting persons that you interviewed?
The aforementioned producer-director Howard W. Koch, was so dynamic and colorful in his recollections of his love of the Utah people and the sheer delight that he had in working with so many of them in Kanab while making his movies there. Later, as a major producer at Paramount Pictures, Koch flew to Kanab for the sole purpose of giving the eulogy for Kanab rancher and movie contact man Fay Hamblin. In 1990, Kanab held a Howard Koch Days celebration for this beloved man, an indication of the love affair between Koch and this small Utah community.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

Who, among the great actors and directors, did you interview?
TV and movie actor Peter Graves had a tremendous recollection on working on the films he made in Utah, beginning with "The Yellow Tomahawk" in 1953. Charlton Heston had fond memories of making both "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (as John the Baptist) and in the TV movie "Avenging Angel" (as Brigham Young). Fortunately, I was able to get to both of these industry giants before they passed on.

Is there one location that you particularly enjoyed visiting?
The stunning canyon in Kane County carved by the Paria River, where so many movies, from "Western Union" (1941) to "The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1975) were made, and, of course, the incomparable Monument Valley, home to so many of the classic John Ford westerns. Visiting them now, with images of the great movies filmed there, leaves me with a sense of their being inhabited by "ghosts" of those who made them. Conrad Hall, the celebrated cinematographer who filmed "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" on several Utah locations, reminisced later on how he enjoys visiting later on the locations of movies on which he has worked to bring back the good times had on them.

[See Matt Zoller Seitz' video essay on The Outlaw Josey Wales]

I know that you could not include all of the films and locations that you wanted because there were too many, but is there one film and or one location that you regret not including?
Not really. Fortunately, I was able to include the top films and major locations in the book that focused on the story of how Hollywood moviemaking affected Utahns and how the thousands of Utahns left their impressions on Hollywood studio casts and crews.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

I was surprised to learn that a scene from the Eiger Sanction was filmed in Zion.  What film surprised you most?
The most surprising was a 1983 3-D movie "Spacehunters: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone," starring Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald, where the sunbaked desert and canyons near Moab served as another planet. While the film is not a prime example of the sci-fi genre, its use of southeastern Utah landscapes is remarkable.

Image courtesy When Hollywood Came to Town, Gibbs Smith Publisher.

What was the most interesting 'behind the scenes' story you encountered?
Attempting to unravel the puzzle of who first "discovered" Monument Valley for the movies versus the more commonly published accounts. For the answer(s) to this controversy, I direct readers to the book. How's that for drama?

Describe the biggest challenge you experienced in terms of compiling such a book?
Making certain that I had tracked down the accurate titles and locations to the more than 700 feature films, television movies, and television series filmed throughout Utah. Sources had to be checked and re-checked to corroborate names and locations to make sure that the information was as correct as it could be, especially for films that are now considered "lost," where no copies are known to exist. That comprhehensive list provided the initial roadmap to the Utah moviemaking story. That is how the book got started and it was also the last aspect of the book to recieve the last-minute touches before it went to press in April of 2010. It was also the main reason why the book took so long to be finally written.

What are your most rewarding experiences since the book has been published?
Clearly, the greatest payoff has been at book signings where I have had the privilege of talking to so many people who are interested in this long-neglected aspect of Utah's history. These have included relatives of those local Utahns who worked on many of the movies covered in the book, and have expressed their gratitude that this important saga has been given book-length treatment. To bowdlerize the title of a prominently made movie in Utah, the story of moviemaking in Utah has always been to me the greatest story NEVER told, until now.

[This documentary, by Christopher Onstott (a filmmaker in St. George, Utah), is narrated by Dick Norse and features interviews with Harry Carey Jr., anecdotes about Clint Eastwood, John Wayne! It can be found at the University Bookstore in St. George.]

Return to Little Hollywood Trailer from Christopher Onstott on Vimeo.