Saturday, November 18, 2017

HGB Ep. 232 - Saltair Resort

Moment in Oddity - Pawapicts
(Suggested by listener Annjanette Beth)

There are many tales told in the Utah Valley about Pawapicts, which are also called Water Babies. The stories about these creatures originated with the Ute tribe. They believed the Pawapicts came in various shapes and sizes. Some were described as being the size of a man's hand, the size of a three or four-year-old child or the size and shape of a full- grown woman. Pawapicts had long black hair, were found near water and they cried like babies, which is where the term water babies comes from. The tales of their origins are as varied as their shapes and sizes. One account claims that Pawapicts came into existence as the result of a wrestling match between Pahahpooch, a man, and Wildcat. Pahahpooch had never lost a match. The two opponents met near a large expanse of water. Wildcat managed to throw Pahahpooch into the middle of the lake and said, "You will stay in the water all the time now and people will call you Water Indian." Eventually, Pahapooch convinced other tribal members to come into the water and become Water Indians like him. Then they all would lure more people into the water. A Ute named Red Sunrise who had a friend that did not believe in Water Babies. The two men went fishing in the Utah Valley. They came upon some Water Babies drying their hair on a flat rock. They were crying like babies and the friend became a believer. The men went nearer to get a closer look. The Water Babies saw them and jumped into the river. Their long hair floated on top of the water and then the river started to rise and come nearer to the men. Luckily, the two ran away before the water pulled them in and Red Sunrise never saw a Water Baby again. If Water Babies are not just a legend, they certainly are odd!

This Month in History - First Opium War Starts

In the month of November, on the 3rd, in 1839, the first Opium War between China and Britain began after British frigates blew up several Chinese junks. In the 1830s, China had an isolationist trade policy that created a trade imbalance with Britain and America. British and American merchants decided to fire back by importing the one product that the Chinese did not themselves have, but which many of them wanted: opium. Soon ninety percent of all Chinese males under the age of forty were smoking opium. China decided that it needed to suppress the opium trade. The Chinese government confiscated and destroyed more than 20,000 chests of opium, which angered the British side. Some drunken British sailors killed a Chinese villager in retaliation. The British government would not hand the men over to the Chinese for punishment. British frigates blew up a Chinese blockade and started the first Opium War, which lasted for two years. It ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842.

Saltair Resort (Suggested by and research help from listener Annjanette Beth)

Along the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah stands The Saltair Resort. The resort has three separate incarnations and seems to have been plagued with a curse of sorts, because the first two Saltair resorts were destroyed by fire and the third has suffered flooding. This originally was a family place for fun similar in style to Coney Island with carnival rides and games and today is a place that hosts concerts and other events. Historic events were hosted here and famous people visited. Tragedy has been a part of the story and this seems to have led to spirits. While the first two locations are abandoned, they still seem to host spirits and according to guests and employees, the third version of Saltair is quite haunted. Our listener Annjanette Beth suggested this location and helped with research. She joins us to share the history and hauntings of the Saltair Resort.

To those unfamiliar with the Great Salt Lake, the sight can be both alien and eerie to behold. Sparse grass and sagebrush grow beyond the highest water lines for they cannot handle the high salt content, either. This inland sea is the remnant of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville. It is the largest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere, covering an average of 1700 square miles. The lake located in the middle of a desert, has no outlets and has three major tributaries. The result is a large body of water with a very high mineral content. The Salt content is 3 to 5 times saltier than the Ocean and has second highest salinity content in the world - The Dead Sea having the highest salinity. The salt content is so high, that in the dry season, salt formations can be clearly seen.  The shore lines and salinity of the water can vary greatly from season to season and year to year.  The salty waters do not freeze in the winter season, although fresh water coming from the inlets have been known to create icebergs that float on top.  The saltwater and high winds make it challenging to maintain buildings and equipment.  Its waters are inhospitable to all waterlife other than brinshrimp and brinflies. Thousands of shorebirds dine on these aquatic critters each year during nesting season.  Otherwise, there is very little wildlife.

The first Saltair was completed in 1893 on the southern shores of the Great Salt Lake. The leaders of the LDS church built the resort along with the Salt Lake and Los Angeles Railway, with the intent of creating a wholesome getaway for families, friends, and couples to go for entertainment. The structure was designed by architect Richard K.A. Kletting. It had a Moorish styling with onion shaped turrets and was placed atop 2,000 posts and pilings. The railway would run a train every 45 minutes from Salt Lake City to Saltair and back again. Saltair had a funhouse, a ferriswheel, a rollercoaster that was 100 feet tall, pool halls, ping pong parlor, shooting gallery, carnival midway, tunnel of love, hippodrome, bicycles could be rented and there was a large ballroom for dancing. There were restaurants and food carts and hundreds of bath houses. Signs challenged visitors to “Try to Sink. The high salt content made people float like a cork. The Saltair was one of the first amusement parks in America and soon became the most popular family destination west of New York. The Saltair expanded in 1905 with the building of the Ship Cafe. It was 200 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 70 feet tall.  The lower floor held the kitchen, the second floor was for dining and there was a promenade on the the top floor. A San Francisco newspaper dubbed Saltair the “Coney Island of the West” in 1909.

This was a place for fun, but as is the case with these types of places, tragic events, accidents and deaths do occur. The first fatality occurred in 1896 when Charles Monica suffered a heart attack and died while swimming in the lake. With the spotlight on this location, it was the perfect place to host a popular boxing match between Pete Sullivan and “Cyclone” Johnny Thompson in 1910. After the fight, the audience rushed to catch the first train home and the stairs collapsed under the weight. Hundreds of people fell into the lake. Dozens were injured, seven of them seriously, but no one died.   Freakishly high winds destroyed 327 of the bath houses and tore up 100 yards of railroad trestle. The following year, in 1911, a bullfight was held. Several bullfighting experts were brought in from Spain and Mexico for the event and the matadors used wooden swords and spears. Four of the men were gored by the bull and it was declared the winner.

The first fire at Saltair occurred in 1916 and was caused by hot coals spilling from the steam engine. The resort repaired the damage and started looking into electric trains to replace the steam ones. A second fire hit on April 22, 1925 in the Ali Baba Cave concession. The fire spread to the other buildings and burned the Leviathan to the waterline. Most of the pavilion was destroyed. The midway, several bath houses, and some of the railway line were also affected.  In all, the cost of the damage was $750,000.  Because of the cost of the damage and competition from Lagoon, a resort only a few miles to the North, there was no real backing to implement a rebuild at the location. This was the end of what is known as Historic Saltair.

New investors decided to build a bigger and better lakeshore resort with a larger dance floor at the same location. This dance floor brought big name bands in that included Glenn Miller and his band. Saltair II opened on May 29, 1926. Not only was the dance floor better, but the swimming was as well. A permanent dike had been built, along with spillways and waterways that brought water to the swimmers.  Even diving mules were brought in to attract visitors. During the 1920s, half a million visitors came to the resort each year. Even with these crowds, the Depression and other new entertainment avenues like motion pictures, took their toll on the success of Saltair. It struggled to keep operating.

Then in July of 1931, Saltair caught fire again, this time in the Funhouse area. Seven different amusement areas caught fire. A gust of wind pushed the fire to the Great Racer roller coaster. Ten lines from two water pumps were needed to put the fire out. This time the damage cost $100,000. Workmen were repairing the roller coaster the following year when a 70 mile an hour wind blew down the scaffolding. Planks of wood that were 20 feet long were blown more than 100 feet from their location. Many of the workers fell into the lake and two of the men died in the accident.

In the 1930s, multiple sewage companies contaminated the lake, especially near the shore of Saltair. Adding further to its troubles, the water levels dropped significantly in 1933 creating a longer walk to the shoreline. By the beginning of World War II, the resort was closed to visitors. The resort reopened after the war, but struggled further. Another fire broke out in 1957, starting in the boiler room. On August 30, 1957, the remains of the roller coaster was blown down by 70 mile per hour winds, but nobody was riding it at the time. It was devastating for the resort because it was the biggest attraction. The doors closed again and were only opened occasionally for performances and special events. In 1962, director Herk Harvey discovered the shell of Saltair and used it in the filming of the cult-classic, Carnival of Souls.  Herk Harvey claimed that the “place was so scary that he felt as though the ghosts of the place that had been partying there had just left for the night.” The book Lost Landscapes: Utah’s Ghosts, Mysterious Creatures, and Aliens claims that orbs and ecto-mists were caught during the filming process. An arson fire was set on the dance floor and Saltair II burned to the ground. The pylons still remain, along with a section of railway.

In 1983, Saltair III was built as a concert house about 2 miles West of the original sites. Salvaged Air Force aircraft hanger parts were used to build the new resort. Moorish style turrets reminiscent of the original Saltair were apart of the architecture on this one as well. Unfortunately, the resort had the bad luck of flooding shortly after construction was complete. Concerts and raves are held here during the summer months. Most days, the only human life are a handful of tourists and one or two employees.  The beach is over a mile away as of August 2017. At night, when the concerts and raves are not being held, there is very little around to make noise.

Annji talked to several employees to get reports of hauntings. She shared several on the episode. In 2000, the skeletal remains of a woman were found near Interstate 80. She was the apparent victim of a homicide and was dubbed Saltair Sally. It took 12 years before she was identified. The employees told me that Saltair Sally had been seen haunting the place, until she was identified and finally laid to rest. An older woman’s ghost is seen walking between the two Saltair locations. A little boy’s ghost bounces a ball against the wall of the men’s restroom. Children ghosts play hide-and-seek outside during Raves. A demon is said to reside on the third floor of the building. Ghost hunters have said that that this entity never lived a human life. A man’s ghost spends time at the top of the stairs that came from the downtown hotel.  Did he follow the staircase here?

Many employees refuse to be in the building alone because of what they have experienced.
One employee told me that she was cleaning the woman’s restroom late one night and thought someone was banging the bathroom doors in the men’s restroom.  She went to investigate and found no one was there.  She returned to cleaning only to have the experience repeat.  Eventually, she realized that someone was running along the walkway that is directly above the bathrooms.  No one else was there with her that night. Ghost hunters often visit near Halloween and successfully communicate with the entities there. Annji is convinced that the employees believe these hauntings are real, though it was difficult to get details. Her young son Jarod joined us to tell about an experience he had at Saltair where he thought he saw a pair of red eyes staring at him from the window in the kitchen door. When he looked back at the window later, those eyes were gone.
I will say that my visit to the ladies room did give me an eerie and uncomfortable feeling.

Annji shared the story of Jean Baptiste with us:

In 1862, a man came to Salt Lake City to claim the body of his brother, intending to transport it back East to be reburied in the family plot.  After exhuming his brother’s body, they opened the coffin to find something quite shocking.  His brother had apparently been dumped into the coffin unceremoniously, face down and… naked.  The local authorities decided to keep an eye on the a gravedigger by the name of Jean Baptiste.  They discovered him coming out of a shed with a body naked and face down in a wheelbarrow.  After further investigation, they discovered barrels of clothing waiting to be boiled and either worn or sold to second hand stores. The jewelry of the dead had been sold off. And worst of all, this man had necrophilia. He was having intercourse with dead bodies. Over 350 bodies of men, women, and children had been mishandled by this man.

The community was obviously very upset.  Not only was the public threatening to form a lynch mob, but his prison mates were also very upset with him.  For his safety, they decided to exile him. 
First, they put him onto Antelope Island, but a few days later they moved him because they were worried that he would easily get on the lake’s shores due to low water levels.  They moved him to Fremont Island.  Two weeks later, some cattle ranchers found he had helped himself to one of their herd.  Three weeks later, he had disappeared all together.  They found signs that Jean Baptiste had tanned some of the hide and stolen planks of wood from their ranch house.  Some theorize that he built a raft to escape.  He was never seen again… or was he?  Several have reported to see his ghost on the Southern shores of the lake, wearing wet clothing and looking for redemption.  He is most likely to be seen during a full moon.

Do all the tragedies that have struck Saltair indicate some kind of curse? Have the ghosts from the other Saltair location traveled to Saltair III? Did a ghost travel to Saltair III with the staircase from downtown Salt Lake City? Has the energy from the past imprinted itself here? Is Saltair and the surrounding area haunted? That is for you to decide!


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  3. I was curious about this place since seeing the creepy abandoned amusement pavilion in Carnival of Souls as a kid. It definitely terrified me. It looked like a delightful place in it's heyday. Seeing the photo back in 1893 of those people in the water knowing they're all dead is very haunting.