Monday, April 16, 2012


Lecture #3in the Garden Park Village Clubhouse
W. Dee Halverson © 2012

Garden Park Clubhouse
            Just the view from my own front porch makes me awestruck by the hard work and accomplishments of thousands of miners who literally changed the landscape of these hills during 100 years of mining. Their subjugation of an 8,000-foot mountain and creation of a very productive open pit mine stand as a monument to their determination.  Today I’m not going to talk about mine profitability or production figures, I want to focus on the lives of the common, everyday miners.  I have now been deeply touched by their sacrifices and the price they have paid.

            I’ll have to admit that my sole purpose for coming up with such outlandish topics for this third historical lecture was for “shock” value.  These three “B” words just rolled off my tongue and onto my computer when I sent in my ideas for the series.  I figured that they would get someone’s interest level up.  Well, I gather from the good attendance here tonight that it worked.
Bingham Main Street  looking up
            I will also have to confess to you that I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into here.  In some cursory reading on Bingham Canyon there was mention of thirty-six saloons, 18 brothels and many ethnic organizations.  As I continued with much more detailed research, it became very clear to me that we weren’t dealing with issues that could be found in any old Daughters of Utah Pioneers record books.  But after all, the settlements in Bingham Canyon were nothing like the Mormon communities in the rest of Utah.  There were hardly any Latter-day Saints living there at all.  (11 families in 1910)

MY E.R. EXPERIENCE AFTER LAST LECTURE   (Nurse Julie and Tom Garahana) 
Tonight’s lecture is solely based upon the facts and experiences I have gathered from dozens of oral-history interviews with men and women now in their 80s who grew up in the Bingham Canyon towns, like Highland Boy, Telegraph, Copperfield, Carr Fork, Leadmine, Frogtown, Winamuck and others.  Men, women and children who made up more than 25,000 residents, who lived in a tightly compacted area along the 7-mile-long Main Street from the mouth of Bingham Canyon to the top of Galena Gulch.   
old Bingham
            During the 1920s and 30s, Bingham Canyon was the third largest city in Utah in terms of population and the area with the highest population density in the western United States.  Not all of them were hardened, unmarried miners, there were also more than 2,000 children who were growing up, attending schools and adapting to 30 different languages, foreign cultures and religious traditions. 
            I came to realize that there were more people living, working and dying in Bingham Canyon during the 1920s and 30s than were living in Provo, Utah where I grew up in the 1950s.  Even Park City at the height of its silver mining boom only had a population of 10,000, less than half of that in Bingham Canyon
The entire Bingham Canyon story was a totally different environment, culture and tradition with very unique circumstances and experiences that are still difficult for me to fully appreciate and understand. 
main street Bingham
In the early days the Old Crow saloon was the largest of Bingham’s thirty-plus bars. A typical scene from the 1870s would show the liquor being stocked by the wagon load; wine barrels stacked to the ceiling from which customers served themselves; a 12-ounce schooner of beer sold for 5-cents and two shots of whiskey for ‘two-bits’ or 25-cents.  Brawling, knifings and shootings were regularly on the menu.  The tone of that time was indicated by the name of the miners’ favorite saloon—‘Bucket of Blood.’
            Later, the German kneipe, the Italian sbarra, the Serbian biltiya, the cantinas and tavernas all served the same function in Bingham Canyon.  These specialized ethnic bars provided the hard-working men with a place to relax, have a drink, socialize with fellow countrymen who spoke the mother tongue. They were places of relief from the sheer monotony of six straight days of ten-hour shifts, week after week, month after month and year after year.  The workers simply needed a break from their unfurnished, unheated shacks, built out of discarded dynamite boxes.
            No matter which nationality or ethnic group, these institutions played a big role in everyday life in Bingham Canyon.  All served the function of a place to socialize with family and friends.  A place decorated a bit like the homeland that they remembered distantly.  A place that unlike their drab, shabby little bedsit, was a common parlor, living room and gathering spot for the mostly single, unmarried miners.  A place they could talk about the old country, sing and dance to traditional music.  A place they could have someone write a letter home for them or read a letter they had received from home.
Balkan Bar, Highland Boy 

In Bingham Canyon during Prohibition (1920-1933) it was strictly business as usual for the local saloons lining both sides of Main Street.  Although they referred to themselves a “soft-drink parlors,” the bars continued to serve stiff drinks to the thirsty miners twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
            The Italian, Greek and other families could never quite grasp the need for the whole country of the United States to go completely “dry.”  Their cultures and traditions called for wine and spirit-making to meet their family needs was as important as their ethnic cuisine.  Each family’s children, together with friends and neighbors participated in stomping on the annual grape harvest and bottling wine and distilled spirits for their daily consumption.  These activities went right along with their long-standing traditions of sausage-making, ricotta cheese-making and boccie ball.
The following article appeared in the Bingham News, October 31, 1925:  “Italians in Bingham Canyon have been making wine for their personal use since forever.  But now officers of the county sheriff office have arrived with search warrants.  After days of searching not a drop of wine or whiskey was found and no ‘bootleggers’ were arrested.”  As soon as the deputies left town, the red wines and plum brandies flowed freely.  Would you be surprised if I told you that I found myself cheering for the bootleggers? 
The Volstead Act, authorizing the 18th Amendment in 1919 beginning the Prohibition era, was replaced by the 21st Amendment after the State of Utah cast the decisive vote on December 5, 1933 that legalized the consumption of alcohol again.

The FAMOUS  520 Brothel

            Why is it that this particular topic is so interesting to us?  Why do we find ourselves chuckling or lowering our voices while discussing it?  Why was I so delighted to find accounts and events in the lives of my interviewees that touched on the subject?  At the end of my research, however, I have found there was much to revere in the lives of these scarlet women.
This oldest profession holds a long and intriguing position in Utah history.  Morality laws existed mostly to satisfy middle-class and this activity was confined to a specific part of town called a red-light district where it could be observed and controlled.
            As early as the 1870s, Regent Street in downtown Salt Lake City was the center of the red-light district.  Parlor houses along the street were legitimate businesses, usually liquor or tobacco stores, and also housed female boarders in the upper floors.  Miss Helen Blazes and Miss Ada Wilson were well-known operators of these establishments.
Brand new car from Salt Lake
            In Ogden the notorious “Belle London” ran the city’s famous “Electric Alley” not far from the Union Station at the top of 25th Street. Park City had Mother Urban, who owned a row of 16 small houses in that town’s tenderloin area.  Her legend still holds a special place in the town’s memory today.  It turns out she had a heart of gold when it came time to funding the city during hard years.

So was the case of “Big Helen” in Bingham Canyon. 
Her establishment known as the “520” (because of its house number on Main Street) was remembered by most of the twenty-plus men and women whom I interviewed for this lecture.
            Tom Garahana, my E.R. nurse’s father, told me stories about how he and his brother John together with friends would throw their baseballs up against the front door of “520” until Big Helen or Dorothy would come out and give them each a dime for the movies, just to get rid of the noise. 
“Everyone loved Helen because she and her girls would buy all of our raffle tickets for any benefit.  The 520 provided our baseball teams with proper uniforms and better equipment for our summer tournaments,” remembered Tom.  “During the winter months, my brother John and I had a steady job three times a week carrying loads of coal for the heaters in the 520 for 50-cents a load.  We couldn’t help notice how warm and comfortable the entry was and how colorfully painted the interior doors were.  (Later Tom was told it was because many of the clientele couldn’t read names or signs, so Helen gave them colored tags to help them find their way.)

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Betty Contratto Herrick wrote a fascinating book entitled Keep on, Keeping On.
 It is a personal history of her childhood and young adult years in Bingham Canyon.  After reading her incredible first-hand descriptions of growing up in her grandparent’s Knight Hotel, just a couple of doors from the infamous “520,” I just had to call and listen to her stories from her own lips.  Now over 80-years-old, Betty who lives in North Platte, Nebraska was a delight to interview.  Her voice was strong and her memory still sharp.   
Born in 1932, Betty Ann Contratto grew up in Bingham Canyon.  It was a most unusual place to spend a childhood.  People of almost every major race and nationality in the world made up its population of nearly 25,000.  Betty was the daughter of an Italian father and an English mother.  She went to school with Greek, Japanese, German, Serbian, Swedish and Mexican children. 
            “To me the foreign languages that I heard every day, on the streets and in the homes and stores were commonplace,” recalled Betty.  “I might wonder what the funny sounding words meant, but I could still communicate with all of them by friendly smiles and gestures if nothing else.  I didn’t know it then, but growing up in  Bingham Canyon was like growing up in Hong Kong or any other great crossroads city; for men and women from everywhere in the world mingled on its narrow street and sold their wares.  Every day was interesting and exciting.”
            Betty continued, “Like a pudding poured into a mould, the town of Bingham had to fit its location—a long, winding, narrow canyon that gashed the side of a high mountain in the Oquirrh Range.  The town’s single street ran up the middle of the canyon and was lined solidly on both sides with businesses, hotels, apartment houses and bars.  Side by side and almost stacked on top of each other, it almost seemed that the roof of one building was the front porch for another.”

“Most of the town’s hotels, including my grandmother’s, rented rooms to sporting girls, remembered Betty.  “Grandma had two.  But I remember thinking how pretty they both were and how very good they were to me, especially the one called Jean.  She used to invite me up to her room on the second floor, where she gave me pretty things and made a fuss over me.   Grandma and Grandpa, being Italians, operated a wine press and whiskey still and often they had a new batch of home brew to serve.  Their business was simply an established way of life in our town, for the miners were always thirsty.

One of my best friends growing up was our Main Street neighbor Big Helen.
She owned the infamous “520” brothel there just a couple of doors down from us,” recalled Betty.  “Helen always welcomed me with smiles and loving hugs when I was old enough to trot around town by myself.  We visited and talked about everything in her big kitchen.  A big, bosomy woman, Helen wore glasses and had straight bobbed hair.  I didn’t know, of course, that she was a ‘madam’ and that her place was the most popular in town.  But even if I had known, it wouldn’t have made any difference.  She was "just dear Big Helen to me.”
            “I’ll never forget her kindness one day after I was married and had two babies of my own,” said Betty.  “It was a hot afternoon and I was struggling up the street from the grocery store to our house.  It was quite a job, carrying Shar and the grocery sack in one arm and dragging my short-legged toddler with my other hand.  About an hour later Casey, the “520’s” handyman, showed up at my door with the biggest and best baby buggy that the Bingham Mercantile carried in stock.  I knew that blessed Big Helen had come to the rescue.  I still visited her as often as she’d let me; and I now understood the reason she kept my visits short. 
4th of JULY

Looking back on those days now, I wonder if Big Helen didn’t keep a watchful eye on just about everything that went on in our town.”


BROTHERHOOD   The word itself means: 1) the quality or state of being brothers. 
2) an association (like a labor union) for a particular purpose.
In the case of Bingham Canyon, these were organized fraternal lodges, orders and societies of mostly foreign-born workers whose common ethnic backgrounds were essential in the complete absence of unions like the United Mine Workers.  All labor unions were forbidden from organizing in Bingham Canyon by the Utah Copper Company and later by the Kennecott Copper Corporation from 1903 until 1944!  Hard to believe!!
Greek, Italian, Scandinavian, Asian and Mexican immigrants who ventured into Utah to work in the mines and mills in Bingham Canyon often faced a very hostile social environment.  As minorities they entered the scene on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.  Because their physical appearance, languages and customs differed so sharply, they faced poverty and inequality.
            Helen Papanikolas remembered, “My parents were immigrants from Greece and we lived among that ethnic group in Bingham Canyon, where the whistles of copper mines and the railroad steam engines drowned out the pandemonium of our school recess.  The first question a new child was asked was not ‘What’s your name?’ but ‘What nationality are you?’  There was a large billboard advertising the “57” varieties of the Heinz Pickle Company, but residents in Bingham maintained it meant that there were that many nationalities in town.”
Managers and straw bosses ruled the lives of immigrants, forcing them to trade at company stores, arbitrarily hiring and firing in alliance with unscrupulous labor agents (padrones) who would extract a cash tribute from a new immigrant in return for employment.  When workers sought to better their lives by joining unions, the mine owners responded with force.  During the famous Bingham Canyon Strike of 1912, Utah National Guard troops were dispatched to protect the interests of the mining companies.   

Copperfield, Dinkeyville 
Later the Ku Klux Klan of Utah sponsored a large parade in Magna down Main Street en route to the Gem Theater for a gathering.  As the robed and hooded order passed by, some children recognized a local resident who walked with a distinctive limp.  They shouted out, You can’t fool us!  There goes old Joe Ferris.
            The prejudice that fueled these actions existed in abundance in Utah, keeping ethnic minorities at the bottom of the economic ladder.  In turn, these groups found ways to deal with the hostile atmosphere and work toward basic survival.  In the words of two Basque brothers, Tom and John Garahana, “We had to help ourselves.” 
            Labeled as foreigners, aliens or non-believers, the minority groups in Bingham Canyon clustered into separate neighborhoods.  These distinct communities functioned primarily as a means of self-preservation as a way of avoiding the structure of the dominant group of white superintendents and upper management.  Little Italy, Greek Town, Jap Town and Bohunk Town all flourished  in Bingham Canyon in spite of the opposition. 
Writing about the divisions in the copper camps of Bingham Canyon, one observer noted that with the help of the mine owners stirring things up,  “The Finns dislike the Greeks, the Greeks hate the Slavonians, the Slavonians distrust the Americans and the Americans proudly flout the whole batch of ‘ignorant foreigners’ and stand on their American birthright and supremacy.”

The Greeks were by far the largest majority of workers in Bingham, but Leonidas Skliris, the head labor agent, was the dark force in their lives.  His humiliating padrone system that exacted huge fees from the miners and that forced them to trade exclusively at the Pan Hellenic Grocery, was hard to overthrow.  The Greek miners bitterly resented their suave, well-dressed countryman who lived in the amazing luxury of the newly built Hotel Utah on the money he coerced from them.  A direct result of the 1912 strike was the immediate dismissal of Skliris and his system by Governor William Spry.  The Greek strikers became better organized and formed their own organization to deal with the mine owners.
The Italians in Bingham Canyon used their mutual aid society La Societa Di Beneficenza to provide members with health insurance, death benefits and opportunities for savings and sociality. 
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For several years the Serbs and Croatians of Highland Boy waged a guerrilla war of sorts.  The fighting often gave rise to blood feuds and loss of property among both groups.  The mining companies showed little concern as long as the miners restricted their activities to areas outside the mines.  But two events provided the common grounds for a lasting peace in Highland Boy finally—the ravages of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and later the Great Depression.  Both disasters were no respecter of persons in Bingham Canyon and its cemetery is full of the victims.
The Croatian Fraternal Union was led by John Dunoskovic and the Serbian Benevolent Society was organized by Joseph Bogdanovic (Melich).  His son Mitch Melich was nearly elected governor of Utah in 1964.  Unlike the ethnic saloons within Bingham Canyon these fraternal groups functioned in a formal way in order to be recognized and respected by the national organizations.
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That was just two weeks after the D-Day landing in Normandy!


            This past week I have explored the Bingham Canyon Cemetery extensively and have been amazed by the story of an Eagle Scout named Brad Jencks of South Jordan who has dedicated five years of his life to improving its physical appearance and researching the lives of those buried there.  What began as a typical Eagle project of 100 hours in 2004, grew exponentially as Brad organized more than 2,000 volunteers.  Working with community and corporate sponsors, Brad and his troops replaced and preserved grave markers, discovered the identities of some 1,100 unknown burials, wrote a 1,500-page historical record of his findings and installed a new fence, an information center and a permanent monument honoring military veterans.
            In 2009 Brad was named the top high school student in the country for his “Save Our History Project.”  He was awarded several college scholarships and is currently serving as an LDS missionary in Peru.

PLEASE, TAKE A STROLL THROUGH THIS UNIQUE CEMETERY            When you think about it.  The people buried there braved crossing the ocean and then found their way across the United States in search of employment at the Utah copper mines.  They helped settle the valley and build the American empire from the ground up.
            You will be surprised by the variety of languages and names on the headstones that have survived.  You will also notice that parents buried several babies and small children due to epidemics like Typhoid Fever and Diphtheria.  Young men lost their lives from miner’s lung, mining accidents and other violent deaths.  In addition, you will see that some died from common diseases which are totally curable today. 
            It will break your heart, as it did mine, to see the hundreds of graves of men, women and children all under the age of thirty.

For me personally, it is now a tossup between burial in the Bingham Canyon Cemetery next to PETE RUBCIC from Croatia or in the Midway town cemetery next to EUGENE LEVIGNEUR from France.


  1. Such great work. Thank you for your website. I am doing my senior seminar project on the red light district and prostitution in SLC and Ogden Utah. I will email you my paper in case you wanted to read it when I am done.

  2. My dear step sister Milagros is in the Bingham City Cemetery. We looked for her grave while on a nostalgia trip, did not find it. I worked in the mine at age 16 before going to Korea. IIRC, the 520 was across the street from city hall. I only used the back door to the establishment. In my opinion, "Big Helen" was a kind hearted Lady!