For the better part of two decades from the early 1940s to the early 1960s, a man named Thomas B. Child would slip out the back door and into his back yard to do a little gardening.

Some guys like working with grass. Others with flowers and bushes.

Thomas B. preferred rocks.

The result is Gilgal Garden, a kind of one-man show that conclusively verifies that we are all, after all is said and done, individuals.

You could walk the face of the earth, every inch of it, and not find another Gilgal Garden. Trust me.


Like most everything else in Thomas B. Child's garden, the name is symbolic.

"Gilgal" refers to the place where the Old Testament prophet Joshua camped in Jericho and where the House of Israel laid down a circle of 12 sacred stones, one for each tribe.

At the entrance to the garden in Child's old back yard near downtown Salt Lake City is a circle of 12 stones.

Beyond that are dozens of rock sculptures (many crafted by noted sculptor Maurice Brooks) and engravings all sharing a common theme: religion.

What Thomas B. believed is right there in the open, and sometimes not so open, as he quotes from the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the occasional philosopher, using chisel and rock as his microphone.

Clearly, this was a man who knew his scriptures . . . and knew how to use an acetylene torch.

One massive boulder became the head of an Egyptian Sphinx with the countenance of the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith. Another became the hands of Christ, another the warrior spoken of in the Old Testament with an unhewn stone for a head. Countless other rocks became quotations.

Then there's the full-length sculpture of Child himself, complete with brick pants — what else would a stone mason wear? — and, finally, the lovely bust of Child's wife, Bertha, under which is engraved this inscription:

"He who would have fine quests, let him have a fine wife."

So that's how he got away with spending so much time in the garden.


I took a walk through Gilgal yesterday afternoon. It was just me and the Sphinx.

I had never seen Child's garden before. I didn't know it existed until the recent announcement that it has been saved in perpetuity thanks to a group of art lovers calling themselves the Friends of Gilgal Garden who brokered a deal that will transfer the sale of the property through a nonprofit trust to Salt Lake City.

In just a few short weeks, barring any unforeseen complications, Gilgal will belong to all of us. Like Liberty Park and City Creek Canyon.

Nestled between 700 East and 800 East and 400 South and 500 South, it will be protected from all the elements, including rain, sleet, hail and backhoes.

Who said Salt Lake City isn't artsy? In the space of two city blocks we now have Chuck-a-Rama, the Wonder Bread Bakery, Trolley Square, the Hard Rock Cafe, and Gilgal Garden.

As I was strolling, trying to make some sense of it, Kent Fetzer, a member of the extended Fetzer family that has protected the garden for the past 37 years and is now deeding the land over to us all, walked over and explained some of the symbolism.

Kent is 46 years old. His father was one of Thomas B.'s buddies. Kent can remember when he was a little kid and "Bishop Child" was at his gardening height, bringing in boulders weighing 50 tons and more, hoisting them in with cranes, then going after them with those acetylene torches.

"Some hobby, huh?" said Kent.

Some garden, too.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.