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FOR DECADES, SALTAIR SERVED UTAHNS AS RECREATION MECCA

The headline: "Ship Leviathan duly launched," Deseret News June 25, 1909.

With the crack of a champagne bottle across its bow (wielded by Gov. William Spry's lovely daughter, Alice) the good ship Leviathan was ready for duty.The "ship" never sailed a foot from harbor and in fact was never intended to. It was a restaurant and the newest wrinkle at Saltair, Utah's favored fun spot. Its opening was an event. A special train from Salt Lake City brought the Sprys and hundreds of other notables ("clergy and laity judiciously intermingled") to Saltair.

They dined in the fancy new restaurant and then danced to Mc-Clel-lan's superb 50-piece orchestra as its "strains wafted out over the sunset-illuminated waters of the lake." At about midnight, the Saltair train whistled the revelers back for the return to the city.

For years, the eatery provided an alternative to a picnic lunch, with radishes, onions and dill pickles selling for 10 cents each; Filet of Sole Ravigotte, Weiner Schnitzel Saltair and Boiled Barracuda Cardinal for 40 cents. More affluent diners opted for Utah Trout Menniere at 60 cents; a Small Sirloin ala Stanley for 75 cents, and they topped off their meals with a dessert for 10 to 15 cents - 20 if they chose to go with strawberry shortcake.

The 1909 christening of the Leviathan was just one in a long string of events that kept Saltair in the news for decades.

Resorts along Utah Territory's unique inland sea were an attraction to pioneering Utahns almost from the first.

Only three days after arriving in Salt Lake Valley in 1847, Brigham Young and others went to the lake to swim. "The lake ought to be added as the eighth wonder of the world," declared Wilford Woodruff after floating about in the salty water.

In 1851, the Saints' fourth year in Salt Lake Valley, there was a grand celebration at the lake. Pioneers went by wagon, carriage or horse, with Captain Pitt's Brass Band leading the way. It took four hours to travel the 16 miles to the lakeside, but the trek was rewarded with a day of revels and treats, including snow from the Oquirrh Mountains. After a fun-filled day, they slept overnight on the beach.

Early settlers built boweries along the lake's edge from which to launch swimming or boating parties, and in 1860, Heber C. Kimball built a ranch house near Black Rock. It was used for years as a bathhouse. Over the years, at least 16 resorts came and went, depending on the vagaries of the lake.

Lake Park, for instance, was a mecca for fun-seekers before the turn of the century, offering swimming, boating, roller skating and sailing regattas. Too soon, the lake began to recede in one of its periodic fluctuations, and the resort was left in a bed of "sticky blue mud." It closed in 1896, and railroader Simon Bamberger moved its pavilion to his new resort, Lagoon.

Despite tales of lake monsters and whirlpools that might suck one into their vortices, people flocked to the lake, many drawn by its supposed healing properties.

Writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow said of an 1863 dip in the lake that he "felt a pleasant sense of being a pickle, such as a self-conscious gherkin might feel."

For years, tour boats provided a pleasant interlude for pleasure-seekers. The old stern-wheeler City of Corinne was first docked at Lake Side resort, then became an attraction at Garfield.

In the mid-1870s, Salt Lake's elite gentlemen and their ladies crowded three decks, the fine dining room, eight staterooms and gents' and ladies' cabins for romantic moonlight excursions. For $1.50, you could take a 20-mile, two-hour cruise about the lake.

Alarmed LDS leaders frowned upon such licentiousness, and the Deseret News warned parents "not to let your daughters go away from home for an entire night to mingle with a mixed company of people."

The church's concern about the possible moral pollution of its young people became the impetus for Saltair.

On Jan. 14, 1893, the Deseret News announced the church would construct Saltair to be the first and "most magnificent in a long line of resorts." It would be a resort for Mormon families and a shield against the "villanous arts of practiced voluptuaries."

President Joseph F. Smith wrote that the "main thought of the originators of Saltair Railroad and Pavilion was to establish a pleasure resort over the waters of the lake far enough from the shore to be free from mosquitoes, gnats and flies" and to provide "entertainment of a high moral character as well as rest from the heat of the city." With other church leaders, he explored the lake for a suitable site and decided on the Saltair location.

Famed Utah architect Richard Kletting designed a Moorish-style pavilion that was painted in bright colors and in every sense promised fun.

Construction began that year with 2,500 pilings providing the platform for the crescent-shaped pavilion. Water covered the site 3 to 6 feet deep, and bathers (suitably dressed in modest suits that rented for 25 cents) could step right into the lake. Being suitably dressed was not taken lightly. Two men who went bathing "without suitable costumes" went to jail for 30 days.

From the moment it opened, Saltair became THE place to be for recreation. Noisy trainloads of revelers flooded the resort. Thousands at a time frolicked in the lake, crowded concessions, ate tons of food and danced the nights away.

Abbie Rees Madsen, who wrote of her Saltair experiences years later, said she once found herself without black stockings "a problem I solved by having two of the girls walk real close by me until I got down the steps into the water." In the Deseret News of June 28, 1975, Allie H. Packer also recalled from years earlier suits that were "heavy as lead when wet" and bathing caps of rubber that "would float us if we got salt water under them."

Postcards featuring swimmers bobbing atop the lake circulated all over the world, and thousands of Utah families had their pictures taken at Saltair.

Not everyone was there for fun. A policeman spotted James Farrell and Albert Ohler about to lift the wallet of a Saltair patron and "struck Ohler on the jaw." Because the officer had stopped the crime in progress, there was, alas, no evidence that any crime was planned. The would-be pickpockets were freed.

A young couple "sparking" beneath the pilings got their names in the paper but defended their actions as being consistent with those of most engaged young couples.

Visitors to Utah were squired to the lake as one of the state's outstanding attractions. Among them was Seere Nord, the Diving Venus. She said that if it were properly appreciated, Great Salt Lake would draw thousands from Europe. "I never felt so strong as I did when I got through with that bath today."

On the agenda were such excitements as the aerial ballet of the Flying Grigolatis, featuring Mlle. Floretta; Lulu Beeson the best dancer in the world; the Juggling Normans; and hundreds of acts of all sorts. Orville and Wilbur Wright demonstrated their "heavier than air machine" at the resort, flying about 80 feet above the ground for several minutes. And a sham naval battle on the lake highlighted Utah's response to World War I.

But the lake that was the heart of the attraction was fickle. At its highest, it was a hazard. On April 3, 1910, house-high waves destroyed bathhouses and wrecked the pier. Employees working late at the resort crawled on their stomachs to the rail terminus only to find the trestle blown down.

At its other extreme, the lake wandered off into the desert, leaving the resort high, dry and stinking of the brine shrimp and flies left behind.

The church, caught between its resolve to maintain a "sin-free" resort and the public's demand for liquor, Sunday entertainment and even gambling, was happy to divest itself of the resort in 1925. It tried unsuccessfully to sell to Salt Lake City, but the city couldn't afford the resort. It eventually was bought by private interests.

Through the Great Depression, people continued to find an escape at Saltair, and with the world wars, it became a showcase for big-name bands such as Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller, Sammy Kay, Les Brown and many others.

Eventually, the unpredictable nature of the lake, disasters, dropping financial returns and competition from a growing choice of entertainments left Saltair "a white elephant on the lake." On Oct. 21, 1964, promoters sponsored a train ride to Saltair as a trip "down memory lane." Only about a dozen people turned up eager to remember.

Attempts to rebuild have not panned out, but many Utahns, like author Wallace Stegner, retain their memories. Saltair was, Stegner said, "an enchanted playground. I remember it like lost Eden."