As the leaves start to change, the days grow colder and people get into the Halloween spirit. Corn mazes and haunted houses regain their popularity. The night of spooks and ghouls might be considered by those who adore passing out candy and seeing unique costumes as the most festive holiday of the year. Those looking for some historical fun during this terrifying season may wish to consider visiting one of the University of Utah’s own haunted sites.
Opened in the 1860’s, the Fort Douglas Cemetery has been the final resting place for numerous civilians and military personnel. Located just off Chipeta Way in Research Park, the cemetery boasts a colorful history and distinguished clientele.
Individuals such as James Duane Doty, the Utah Territorial Governor and General Patrick Conner, the first commander of Fort Douglas, are laid to rest beside individuals who fought in the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. During World Wars I and II, 54 prisoners of war were laid to rest under tombstones depicting their nationality and date of death.
The cemetery annually hosts a spooky tour, transporting the living through time with the help of tour guides and authentically dressed actors. This year’s tours will be held on Saturday, Oct. 27 and run from 1 to 4 p.m. The tours are free for all those wishing to participate in this educational re-enactment of the past; however, donations are greatly appreciated to help ensure that the Fort Douglas History museum spooky tours remain open and available to all.
As an outreach program, the museum partners with actors who specialize in historic military portrayals in order to provide unique hands-on learning interactions with the past. Most actors are individuals directly associated with the museum.
The idea of the tour is to make history come alive for all to enjoy. The annual event gives light to the very diverse lives, cultures and experiences of the Fort Douglas Cemetery’s deceased inhabitants.
The public can come and speak with army laundresses, German Prisoners of War from World War I and II, General Conner and try sneaking a peek at a wailing widow who sometimes graces the cemetery with her presence.
Camp Douglas was established in October of 1862 when U.S. soldiers arrived in Utah. It was officially inaugurated into the status of a Fort on Oct. 26 of that same year. On Feb. 25, 1863, it witnessed the first burial at the cemetery, a fallen soldier from the Bear River battle.
This year, on Oct. 26, the Historical Association at the Fort Douglas Museum will be hosting an open house to commemorate Fort Douglas Founders’ Day, marking the 156th year birthday of the fort. This special event will give the public an opportunity to interact with individuals depicting Union Civil War soldiers.
During the celebration, state archeologists and a local archeological firm will reveal historical artifacts from the early days of Camp Douglas, including some that were recently recovered from the active archeology dig on Potter Street.
Students eager to further their education about Fort Douglas are invited to come and spend an evening with the Continuing Education & Community Engagement’s instructor Paul Wheeler and to learn about some of the interesting individuals buried right here on campus.
Paul Wheeler has been working in film, photography and animation for the past 12 years. He has a passion for creating art in multiple mediums and loves to teach. Directly after graduating with a degree in film at the University of Utah, Wheeler pursued his passion on a multitude of projects, including instructing the class “A Spooky Tour of Ft Douglas Cemetery.” This class is offered to those students who want more of a kick out of this haunted site. Just in time for Halloween, students are given the opportunity to experience firsthand the rich and vivid history of Fort Douglas Cemetery.
This nighttime course incorporates many chilling tales and ghost stories associated with this National Historic Landmark. Wheeler gives students the amazing opportunity to learn about the cemetery’s famous and infamous permanent residents. All that is necessary for a student to bring is a flashlight, an imagination and courage.
Whether you are a student, family or aspiring volunteer the Fort Douglas Cemetery Spook Tours are said to be engaging activities for all ages. For more information on how to attend the class go to https://continue.utah.edu/lifelong/class/llpot_926_a_spooky_tour_of_ft_douglas_cemetery