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Topaz is named a historic landmark

More Americans may be drawn to the remote central Utah desert, viewing the word TOPAZ spelled out in barbed wire, now that the Interior Department has designated the Topaz Internment Camp as a national historic landmark.

"We're very happy," said Jane Beckwith, president of the board of directors of the Topaz Museum in Delta.

During World War II, Topaz was among 10 "relocation centers" set up in remote parts of the United States. War hysteria and prejudice are implicated as reasons for the camps' establishment.

Approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry — people of all ages and both genders, who were not tried in court and who had broken no law — were forcibly interned in the camps for most of the war years. Topaz had 8,100 residents packed into about one square mile behind barbed-wire fences. It was one of the largest cities in Utah.

The guard towers, armed soldiers watching residents, barracks, mess halls and shops are gone. But among the desert brush are many remnants, such as concrete building foundations, broken crockery, rocks used to outline small gardens and wooden signs designating blocks of barracks.

A flagpole and monuments just outside the camp's boundary help tell the story of Topaz. Visitors are allowed to drive the roads through camp, but are asked not to pick up any of the pieces of broken glass or other relics.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, announced Wednesday that he was designating 12 new national historic landmarks in 10 states, including Topaz.

Other sites range from buildings that trace "the evolving architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright" to the home of Roswell Field, lawyer for Dred Scott in an important Supreme Court case, to the home that appears in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "The House of the Seven Gables."

"Each of them tells a story about us as a nation and a people," Kempthorne said, quoted in an Interior Department press release. "Together they exemplify our history, heritage, literature and architecture.

"They are designated as national historic landmarks so that we may all enjoy and learn from them." Topaz is the sixth relocation camp to receive national historic landmark status; another became a national monument in 2001.

The designation is somewhere between placement on the National Register of Historic Places and national monument status, said Beckwith.

"It doesn't mean that the National Park Service will oversee what happens at the site," she said in a telephone interview. "It means that they (NPS experts) will just be able to be consultants."

The site, 17 miles west and north of Delta, was technically known as the Central Utah Relocation Center. It is overseen by the museum, whose Web site is www.topazcamp


"Most of the residents of Topaz were from northern California, especially the San Francisco Bay area," says the department's release. "More professional artists were confined at Topaz than at any other camp."

National historic landmarks are recommended by the National Park System Advisory Board and designated by the secretary of the Interior Department. Fewer than 2,500 sites have that designation.

Utah has only 12 national historic landmarks, said Beckwith, "so we don't hear about them very much." More than 150 have been established in California.

With the action Wednesday, "We hope that Utahns will be more interested in all the national historic landmarks, not just ours," she added.

Backers of landmark status submitted an application to the Park Service and waited. "Then today I heard that it had passed," Beckwith said.

Last December, President Bush signed a bill saying that $38 million should be set aside to identify, research, interpret and protect the 10 internment camps. But the money hasn't been allocated yet, she noted. "Sometimes it takes years" for the money to actually arrive.

Will designation as a national historic landmark put Topaz on the map?

"Well, we're going to have a ceremony on June 30," Beckwith replied. "That will be our pilgrimage, and we're going to invite some political people, and we'll see if they come."

If they do, she said, "that will be great."

The United States did not formally apologize to internment camp survivors until 1988. Some reparations were paid, but by then many of the internees were no longer alive.