In the Hollywood fantasy "Somewhere in Time," all Christopher Reeve had to do to transport body and soul into another era was find a proper setting, clear his mind of all things modern and wish with all his might. Decades evaporated like a mildly annoying fog - and there was Jane Seymour. No arcane scientific theories. No coterie of white-clad technicians. No H.G. Wells time machine.
Utahns experience a similar (if less all-consuming) desire, especially in midsummer, when we collectively recall around July 24th the sacrifice and industry of our forebears.A century-and-a-half-plus-one-year after their colony-building began, many of us want somehow to see what they saw, understand how they lived and, to paraphrase Shakespeare, comprehend how the past served as a prologue to the present.
As a preservationist with the Utah State Historical Society, Roger Roper imaginatively and figuratively links with yesteryear all the time.
"My interest is in buildings in large part," he said, "and I think sometimes when you pause and look closely at buildings you start to understand more about the past."
When crawling under the house to work on the antiquated plumbing, for instance, you might catch a glimpse of a hundred-year-old ax mark on the support logs and understand how the wood was shaped for its purpose, he said.
In the alleyway alongside downtown Salt Lake City's Kearns Building you can get a good look at the early skyscraper's foundation. "You see huge granite blocks with a very thin sliver of mortar between them that doesn't vary in width, and you're sort of amazed at the craftsmanship that went into that," he said.
An up-close examination of bricks in an old adobe home can reveal bits of straw and mud and perhaps fingerprints - "and you realize these are little handmade objects," Roper said.
Glen Humpherys, curator-director of Salt Lake County's Wheeler Historic Farm, a functional park that recalls life at the last turn of the century, finds specific tools and objects do much the same thing.
An old iron, for example.
"You'd heat it on the stove, handle it with a piece of cloth and iron a corner of the clothing to make sure you were not going to scorch it," then proceed with the task, Humpherys said. Handling an antique iron and perceiving how it was used helps us understand how things were done in days gone by.
For others, a little more you-are-there make-believe helps. That's where spots like This Is the Place State Park's Old Deseret Village come in.
Near the mouth of Emigration Canyon east of downtown Salt Lake City sit 31 historic buildings, or replicas of historic buildings, including Brigham Young's forest farmhouse.
"I like to say that we re-create the realities of living in pioneer Utah, from 1847 to 1869," said Carol Nixon, the park's director. "It's a step back in time; it's viewing the past from today's perspective - and it's a wonderful experience."
Costumed volunteers are busy carding wool, weaving rugs, preparing food, doing the laundry or working in the woodshop, helping transport modern-day guests back, way back.
One of Nixon's favorite scenes happens about 11:30 in the morning when the schoolhouse bell rings.
"Children in costume come running out of the homes - and it is just a picture to behold," she said. Visiting kids can sit in on the classwork, too, learning perhaps a little about the pioneers' Deseret alphabet.
Utah's history is not so distantly removed that "a step back in time" is all that difficult to accomplish. Here are a dozen ways to travel somewhere in time - without resorting to wishful supernatural concentration:
1. History re-created. This Is the Place State Park's mix-and-match Old Deseret is, as Carol Nixon calls it, "a hands-on living history village." Other spots around the state indulge in realistic displays along the same line. One is Lagoon's Pioneer Village, which stages mini-western shows on the streets of its community of restored and replicated historic structures. People in period dress can also be found at Ogden's late-mountain man era Fort Buenaventura.
2. History re-enacted. Several clubs and organizations not only help populate historic places on weekends and holidays, their participants are active "re-enactors," dressing, posing and sometimes living the life of another time for awhile. Mountain men and Indians still gather for summer rendezvous, as at Ogden's Fort Buenaventura, Bear Lake and Tooele's Festival of the Old West.
3. Historic towns. Despite the passage of years, many communities in the Beehive State have managed to retain the flavor of another time. Notable among these are Sanpete Valley's lovely Spring City, just off U.S. 89 north of Ephraim; Helper, a railroad and mercantile town that seems lodged in the early 20th century; the very different mining towns of Eureka and Park City; Panguitch, sprinkled as it is with brick homes; and once-isolated Bluff, beside the San Juan River in extreme southeastern Utah.
4. Take a walk. Take a day to be a tourist - you never know what you might discover in a nearby town. The Utah Travel Council and local tourism centers prepare brochures and guides to help sightseers discover (or rediscover) the history still to be found in metropolitan and downtown areas like Ogden (notably once rip-roaring 25th Street), Provo and Logan. Mark Angus has written a full-length tour book, "Salt Lake City Under Foot," presenting "self-guided tours of historic neighborhoods" in Utah's capital, and there's a similarly named book by Brent Corcoran about Park City.
5. There's no place like home. If you really want to see how people lived, you have to visit their houses. Besides Old Deseret, consider dropping by a few of the historic residences on their original sites. The Lion House and Beehive House have much to please the eye in midtown Salt Lake City. The pioneer-era Jacob Hamblin home in Santa Clara near St. George is a fascinating stop. Also recommended are such households as the Wheeler Farm in Salt Lake County, the Ronald V. Jensen Living Historical Farm near Logan and the Bowman-Chamberlain Heritage House in Kanab.
6. Places of worship. Founded by pious refugees, Utah is blessed with a world-class religious shrine in Temple Square and graced with other LDS temple sites from Logan to St. George. The historic contributions of other denominations are displayed in such inspiring structures as the Catholic Cathedral of the Madeleine and the Episcopal St. Mark's Cathedral, among others. And virtually every Utah community has notable meetinghouses, from the Wellsville Tabernacle in the Cache Valley to the quaintly constructed and gleaming white Pine Valley church in southeastern Utah.
7. Stockades and forts. Cove Fort, Fort Buenaventura, Fort Douglas, Fort Deseret - modern Utah is guarded still by several military or protective stockades from the 19th century. Most offer enlightening tours and museums.
8. The seats of government. Utah's State Capitol is a creation of the current century, but Salt Lake City's old Council Hall (now home of the Utah Travel Council) was moved just across the street years ago from downtown Salt Lake City. The City-County Building hosted the new state's early legislative sessions. Farther south, centrally placed Fillmore is home to the mid-19th century Territorial Statehouse - and handsome courthouses and civic buildings grace many a county seat.
9. Ghost towns and cemeteries. Many of Utah's ghost towns have vanished from the landscape, though guides like George A. Thompson's perfectly named book "Some Dreams Die" can point the way. But a few pioneer and mine towns beckon still: half-dead/half-alive Ophir; abandoned Grafton; Widtsoe Junction, near Bryce Canyon. And even if the homes and businesses have disappeared, many ex-communities are still represented by their cemeteries - which are also historically intriguing and even restful places to stroll in cities that are still on the map.
10. Life's work. Determined labor made life possible in the Utah's semi-desert conditions, and museums and living farms give us a chance to revisit some enterprises and vocations. These include the Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the transcontinental railroad was ceremoniously completed in 1869; the Park City Silver Mine Adventure; Bingham Copper Mine's museum in the Oquirrhs; Logan's Jensen Historic Farm; the Wheeler Farm in Salt Lake County; Tooele County's Benson Grist Mill; Antelope Island State Park's annual buffalo roundup; and railroad stops like Ogden's Union Station and the Utah State Historical Society's headquarters, the old Denver & Rio Grande Railroad station.
11. Utah's hutches and attics. Utah is blessed with scores of museums, from the relic halls of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers found in just about every village and town to many fine facilities in proud communities like Fairview, Delta and Castle Dale. A broad range of topics are tackled at excellent stops like the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, exploring the history of the Colorado River; the eclectic John Hutchings Natural History Museum in Lehi; and the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper. No matter where you go in Utah, there's bound to be an enlightening museum or two.
12. Showtime in Utah. And let's not forget the impressive array of local pageants, festivals and parades. As do other communities for Pioneer Day, Salt Lake City expends great effort each year remembering the Days of '47, with the downtown holiday parade serving as the foundation of it all. Pioneer and Mormon pageants lure thousands every summer to Logan (the Festival of the American West), Manti (the Mormon Miracle Pageant), Emery County (the Castle Valley Pageant), Stansbury Park (the Benson Grist Mill Pageant), Clarkston (the Martin Harris Pageant) and Tuacahn, near St. George ("Utah!").
Like a bee in amber, the past is beautifully preserved in the Beehive State.
The Utah Travel Council and local tourism bureaus offer pamphlets and information on many of these and other historic locations and history-related activities. The Utah Travel Council is located on Capitol Hill or can be reached by calling 538-1030. For more information about specific sites and programs, contact the museum or state park in question.