ethel’s words; reprints

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(A tiny sampling of the struggle to save Pioneer Park for “the people”; brief histories)

Again, attention is turned to a place, where long ago, pioneers needing a home encamped; in gratitude they memorialized that spot as Pioneer Park..

Over the years it has been, variously, a place for wayfarers in The Thirties; then, a green haven that welcomed children of the poor who lived on the edge of downtown; a place of brief rest for Native Americans. Now, by merest chance, it has become the refuge, a sanctuary, for homeless persons, abandoned by The Fates in a time of economic individualism. But many are only temporarily homeless, the working poor who live from payday to payday, with no resource to meet emergencies.

Even where grass was sparse, the trees gave comfort, renewed the air, reminded that there is a place to rekindle hope. The Peace of the park was never secure: “Bulls” in The Thirties, “cops” herding Native Americans in the Forties and Fifties; mounted police (briefly) in another horrendous era.

Now, un-named persons want to erase the sight of idle people in a park, to cancel the traditional image of an old man on a park bench, or a scene of companions commiserating sitting on the cold grass. Some power wants glitter and gloss in place of trees and quiet; wants the poor people to evaporate, to be denied even this ten acres.

The “tired, the poor, the homeless tempest-tossed” were of a different age. Homeless persons freezing to death has not the dramatic force of a hurricane, but it should be a mighty challenge to our value system.

Pioneer Park, in the Great Depression, was a refuge of people on-the-bum, folks who had lost their farms or jobs. They traveled by country road, rode in boxcars or rode the rods. By Pioneer Park there was a place where they could shower--free! People who still had jobs and homes made little lunches for them--sandwiches and home-grown fruit.

Later, Pioneer Park was a haven for Native Americans who came to the City--the city built on land that once was theirs. Even there, they were victims of petty robbers, and sometimes, when cops got bored they would beat on them; often shove them into the Black Mariah.

Then, in the horrible Eighties and Nineties, homeless persons of every creed and color plodded to Pioneer Park as a place to lay their head, to find peers, to seek friendship and survival information.

A cruel government was set in place in Salt Lake City by money-grubbers of one sort or another, or all sorts, and the homeless became special whipping boys for persons in high places: Every time some important official committed a crime, police dashed off to Pioneer Park to bash the heads of the homeless.

Again and again the police were commanded to “sweep the Park” and they battered the homeless with their “enforcement tools” that we used to call “billy clubs.” Smoking came to be prohibited but brutality was welcomed.

Persons surprised that Salt Lake City is designated “meanest to the homeless” must have been absent a while back. Results of surveys do not reflect recent times; more likely the data are two years old.

Some of us remember how homeless were driven out of their “cottage” in the hollow concrete overpass support; how meager belongings were burned (burned in the City!) by police; that in Pioneer Park (historical refuge of the despised) Mayor DeeDee Corradini put police on horses so they could better intimidate with their bone-cracking billy clubs (under a new euphemism). Yes, of course, it is the Corradini Era in question, not the Rocky era.

The Corradini Reign prohibited soliciting on the streets (though it was okay in the suites). City government instructed people to scorn pleas for help, and distributed cards to be given to the hungry (instead of money) telling them where to go.

Traditional Utah attitude toward the dispossessed is, “If we don’t lynch them, we are not mean”. Under Mayor Rocky Anderson Salt Lake City is an oasis of compassion and concern.


   At Pioneer Park

Some lonely decades past
there was an engine, master of trains,
a mummy Iron Horse, exciting
the northeast corner of Pioneer Park.
Children were astounded
to see how big it was--
a broad-shouldered dinosaur of iron,
ready to swing a long and sinuous tail.

     Young folks marveled
at the tall wheels and the massive levers
that kept the wheels married to one another.
Old folks stood near, some even reached to touch
the cold black hide of it, recalling with joy, how
once this monster roared across the countryside,
shouting its message of prosperity
for all the people and peoples of the world.

It was shunted aside by the Oil Age,
that long horror of perverse competition,
the age of take care of number one,
the era of my car is bigger than your car,
the time when the brotherhood of unions matured
and the time that it died.

The monarch locomotives were de-throned
but still were reverenced
by millions who had thrilled
to their incomparable full-throated call.

This King of the Rails had special presence:
its hot belly was cooled down;
it was rolled to this quiet poor people's park,
to sleep, here where history
stretched around the trees
and in the quiet midnights
whispered of suffering and hope.

     But its spirit escaped to the wide world,
racing over wilderness and woods, chanting
and clicking, heartbeat chug-chug, chug-chug,
shattering silence with that poltergeist wail
almost as eerie as the howl of coyotes;
hurtling into depths of darkness,
a ghost train crying disconsolate woes
over the Earth forever, rushing headlong
into the Cosmos.

Ethel C. Hale 2003

Epilogue: One night, thieves came and took the
cherished train engine away.