Utah Landmarks

Gilgal Gardens

452 S. 800 E.   Salt Lake City

For many years it was one of Salt Lake City's best-known secrets. Tucked between the Wonder Bread Factory and Chuck O Rama near seventh south, most Salt Lake City residents had no idea such a bizarre animal existed.

Strange sculptures with a weird Mormon ambience, Gilgal Gardens are the creation of Thomas Battersby Child Jr., former bishop of the LDS Church.

Child spent nearly twenty years working on the garden, located on about a half-acre behind his home. He filled it with 12 original sculptures and over 70 engraved stones. The most arresting of his creations is a sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Faith.

 

However, the garden is filled with strange carved images, such as grasshoppers and disembodied heads. There is even a life-sized statue of Child. A visitor must walk a stone path to view these works of art. Each stone is engraved with biblical and literary quotes.

For years the park was open to the public only on Sundays. If someone wanted to view the wonders of Gilgal on a day other than the Sabbath, he would need to call a phone number listed on a sign that adorned the nondescript gate that closed off the gardens

That didn't stop all curious folk. Many, who only knew the place as Stoner Park, would hop the fence at night to get high amidst the bizarre surroundings. Most had no clue about Gilgal or how it had come into being. It was just one of those weird quasi-Mormon places that pepper Utah.

Trent Harris used the garden to memorable effect in his cult movie Plan Ten From Outer Space. Gilgal epitomized everything weird and wonderful about Utah and its dominant religion.

 

The history of Gilgal begins in 1945 after Child retired from his role as a bishop of the Mormon Church. To fill his time and reavow his faith he had a very special plan. He would create a monument to the Church, one unlike any other in Mormondom.   He named this wonderland after the fabled gardens near the River Jordan where the Israelites had crossed on their way to the Promised Land.

Child enlisted the help of Utah sculptor Maurice Brooks and Gilgal Gardens was born.

The retired bishop and his sculptor pal often drove into the canyons to acquire the material required to accomplish this mammoth work. Child would haul the stones, some boulders weighing as much of 72 tons, in the bed of his truck.

He remained active in the Church, serving as the director of the bishop's warehouse and co-chair of Pioneer Day activities. And he toiled on his monument.

Gilgal was a work in progress. Child added to the garden right up to his death in 1963.

After that, Gilgal fell into limbo. Rumor has it he tried to give the garden to the Church, but they didn't want it. Mormonism was trying to embrace a clean-cut image. It didn't need any works that emphasized its strange history.

So there Gilgal sat for thirty years, pretty much ignored, in the shadow of the Wonder Bread factory.

But people found out. Its mystique grew over the years. Some folks love the strange side of Utah the Church takes such pains to hide. They were Gilgal's champions and spread the word about this mondo weirdo garden to anyone that would listen.

When, in early 2000, rumors surfaced that Gilgal was to be razed for a condominium development, these champions leapt into action. The Friends of Gilgal sprang up. Their goal; save the beloved garden.

The Friends worked tirelessly. Bishop Child would have been proud that his little testament to Mormon faith inspired such zeal. And they succeeded.

 

Money rolled in, including $100, 000 ponied up by the LDS church. This enabled the Friends to purchase Gilgal and save it from developer's bulldozers. The saviors donated the park to the city.

Today, Gilgal is open Monday through Saturday. Visitors can browse its strange wonders at will. Ironically, the one day it is not open is Sunday.

TOP

Weird and Wonderful
Utah
Home
Features
History
Rants
Links
Movies
Sources
Calendar
Blog