A newly beautified cemetery containing the remains of 33 of the first Latter-day Saints to die in the Salt Lake Valley — 24 of them children — was dedicated Sept. 22 by Elder M. Russell Ballard at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.
Originally buried in what is now downtown Salt Lake City, the remains were discovered during excavation for a construction project near Pioneer Park, site of the original fort built by the early settlers of the valley. The bodies were reinterred in 1986 at This Is The Place park, but the cemetery had suffered from neglect.
In remarks before his dedicatory prayer, Elder Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve related that he had come to the site in 1996 with Stephen M. Studdert, chairman of This Is The Place Foundation, and the two had found it overgrown with tall weeds.
"I said to Steve, 'We can't let these people rise up in the resurrection in a weed patch; you're going to have to do something about it,'" he said.
Brother Studdert, who is now serving as president of the California Carlsbad Mission, in turn asked President Ronald K. Hawkins of the Orem Utah Sunset Heights Stake to take on the beautification of the cemetery as a service project for his stake.
That was 15 months ago. Today, the Pioneer Children's Memorial Cemetery is an attractive spot with bark covering, a slate walkway and native shrubs, flowers and trees surrounded by an ornamental fence of the pioneer period specially ordered from Kentucky. A bronze sculpture of a boy and a girl graces the cemetery, and a plaque on one of two "sentinel stones" bears an inscription that includes these words:
"Many have wondered why those so fresh from God are called so soon to return. We cite the words of a loving father who laid a number of his own children in the silent grave. 'The Lord,' he said, 'takes many away even in infancy that they may escape the envy of men and the sorrows and the evils of the present world. They were too lovely to live on earth.' "
Quoting those words in remarks during the service, President Hawkins said the father quoted on the plaque is Joseph Smith.
Colleen K. Menlove, Primary General President, gave remarks at the service, saying that she has reflected on who is buried in the cemetery. "We know little about their lives and their stories. I know that one buried here was just 6 months old, and another, little Milton Howard Thrillkill, was 3 years old when he drowned in City Creek just days after arriving in the valley after that arduous journey. . . . I'm sure that their parents taught them to walk the path with heaven in view."
She expressed appreciation to a chorus of Primary children from the stake who performed a medley of songs at the service.
To them, Elder Ballard said, "I think those who are buried here are not unaware that you have come to sing to them."