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'Images of America' chronicles Salt Lake's coming of age
By Carma Wadley   - 07/20/2009

Desert News

More Info on This Book: Salt Lake City: 1890-1930

The years between 1890 and 1930 were a time of intense change for Salt Lake City.

It experienced, say authors Gary Topping and Melissa Coy Ferguson, "some of the most rapid and profound changes of any city in U.S. history."

During the pioneer period, they point out in their book "Images of America: Salt Lake City 1890-1930" (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), the city had "struggled against outside pressures to maintain its identity as a self-sufficient Mormon utopian community, with its theocratic government, agricultural economy and polygamous society."

But the coming of the railroad in 1869, pressure from the federal government in the 1880s leading to the discontinuation of polygamy in 1890, and the increasing diversity of the population led to major change and growth in all aspects of life.

"Over the next decade, Utah developed a two-party political system, a capitalist and industrial economy, and a diversified society," they say.

Not to mention that the territory finally gained statehood in 1896.

This story of change and diversification is mostly told through pictures, and for those pictures, they drew heavily on the Utah State Historical Society's Shipler collection.

If any pictures equal a thousand words, they are these, says Topping. Harry Shipler was a turn-of-the-century photographer "who photographed everything imaginable."

He did a lot of advertising photography, but he was also interested in transportation, architecture, recreation, culture and life. And he did a lot of it on 8x10 glass plate negatives. "They are remarkable photos. Just think of lugging all that gear around," Topping says.

The collection came to the state in the '80s, says Ferguson, who works at the Utah State Historical Society, which is also listed as a collaborator on the book.

"They gave us complete reign of the collection, which has about 100,000 photos, some 10,000 of which have been digitized."

The only unfortunate thing, Topping says, is that due to the format and size of the book, "we have to use them fairly small."

Still, Ferguson says, "they provide a stunning look at yesterday."

Topping, who is a history professor at Salt Lake Community College, was approached by Arcadia with the idea of putting together a book for the publisher's "Images of America" series.

Topping asked Ferguson, who is also working on her master's degree at the University of Utah, to be his co-author. "It was a perfect collaboration," he says. "Our interests totally complement each other."

Neither of them are natives of the state, which they feel gives them fresh perspective. "It was important to us both to place Sale Lake City in a broader national context," Ferguson says. "Often local history is placed in a bubble important because you live here. We wanted to place it in a broader context as to what was happening everywhere with immigration and industrialization."

They don't dispute that "Utah is a special, unique place and that the Mormons have a special, unique history," Topping says. "But we don't want to be too insular. We don't want to cut it off from the rest of the country."

Another thing they looked for were pictures that haven't been previously published. "There's a lot of redundancy in the collection," Topping says. "There are hundreds of pictures of the Catherdral of the Madeleine, for example, and of Saltair and the state Capitol building and the City-County Building. But we didn't want to use the same ones everyone's seen."

In general, they looked for action, for daily life. "It's rare to get so many old action pictures," Topping says, "to get actual photographs of people doing things. One of the things we're most proud of is that these aren't just pretty pictures. They show the maturation of society, with all the problems that went along with it."

Buy It Now: Salt Lake City: 1890-1930 $21.99

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