When wandering the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City you will notice an empty pedestal in front of the John R Park building in presidents circle. You will notice it because the other pedestal is occupied by a statue of Mr. Park himself. So where is the other statue? The short answer is at BYU, but this short answer takes a lot of explaining. So strap in and enjoy a story of money, art, and death, that will also help to bust a few myths.
The first myth you will hear about this empty pedestal will likely come from a campus tour guide, or perhaps some other Ute faithful. They will tell you that a statue of Brigham Young once sat on that pedestal and some rowdy BYU students removed the statue and melted it down into coins. Coins, that were given out to the first graduating class. While this is a fun tale of classic college hijinks run amuck, it is a lie.
Next, there is the true story of the money crisis facing the U of U at the time the statues were supposed to be erected. The monetary struggles are fairly well documented. In 1914 the Parks building was completed but was over budget so both pedestal spots would remain empty until 1941 when one pedestal would be occupied by a statue of Mr. Park made by Mahonri Young. Lost in explanation is the story of the empty pedestal, and the “theft” of the statue in question.
If you are from Utah or are a bit of a history buff the name, Brigham Young means something to you. I will admit I am neither but since having come to this state I have learned all about Mormon history and culture. He was the leader of the Mormon pioneers, LDS church president and founder of the University of Utah. The man mentioned above who designed the Park statue is Mahonri Young, none other than the grandson of Brigham Young himself. Why is this important? Because it was the intention of Mahonri to designing a statue of his grandfather for the University of Utah to occupy that empty space. This picture of the cast for which the statue would be poured into indicates that one was to go to the U of U, and the other to This is the Place, a historical park near Salt Lake City.
What happened to this plan? Mahonri was a prolific artist in Utah and as a native and grandson of the founder of the University of Utah, Brigham Young, so the natural choice to make both the statue of Park and the statue of Young. The money came in at an extremely slow rate to fund the statues. When the first statue was unveiled in 1922 the University of Utah did not have the money to even mount the statue outside until 1941. So it goes without saying that they did not have the money to fund the creation of another statue. Hope came when the state of Utah in 1937 commissioned Mahonri Young to make a different statue for This is the Place historical park that would include Brigham Young. It appears from the note attached in the picture of the cast of the statue, that this statue was to serve a dual purpose as the Brigham Young atop the monument at the park and as the Brigham Young that was to stand beside the other door across from the Park statue made by Mahonri Young.
How did it end up at BYU? this is where death and money intervein in the story. As mentioned above the U of U did not even have the money to mount the first statue outside until 1941 and that was done at a great expense to the school. Even with the cast already made it was hard to come up with a reasonable amount of money to put the action into play and pay Mahonri Young. Time ran out to make a deal with Mahonri on November 2, 1957, when the artist died of an unexpected stroke. In 1961 the estate of Mahonri Young and his family with the mold to cast the statue decided to donate a statue to Brigham Young University.
And that is how BYU stole the University of Utah’s Brigham Young Statue… Sort of.
UPDATE: The case for the “Empty Pedestal” is a hoax carried out by students in the History of Hoaxes class at the University of Utah, Fall semester 2019. The course is an analysis of the many hoaxes perpetrated throughout history, an educational study of hoaxes in general, and an attempt to understand how mis- and disinformation can impact our society at the local, national, and global levels. Our group’s hoax centered on the complete fabrication of a missing statue of Brigham Young that was supposed to be placed on the empty pedestal in the left alcove of the John R. Park Building in President’s Circle at the University of Utah. The purpose of this hoax was to put into practice the things we learned about how hoaxes work and how misinformation spreads, as well as illustrate how important it is to scrutinize the vast amounts of information we encounter on a daily basis.
The information we created to propagate our hoax was this Medium article, the drawing of a statue in the likeness of Brigham Young and the forgery of his signature added onto a copy of one of Mahonri Young’s sketches for the This Is The Place Monument and the Change.org petition. We also created various fake Twitter accounts to spread the hoax on social media. Our group took every precaution to ensure we did not make money or profit from this fabrication. If our hoax grabbed your interest, an authentic publication on its history please can be found The Daily Utah Chronicle website. If our hoax fooled anyone we hope they come away having learned that you really can’t believe everything you see on the internet, at least not without having done some research first.