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Ghost Towns and Near Death Experiences

You never know what fascinating stories can be found so close to home, and so appropriately for a season about ghosts and the supernatural.  From the depths of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections come two such examples. Local voices from Utah’s history add to the golden feeling of reminiscence and the strange feeling of the supernatural.

Title: The ghost town of Hillsdale; Author: Naomi A. Jensen; Call # MSS SC 1624

Along US Highway 89, about 9 miles south of Panguitch, lies the old town of Hillsdale, Utah.  Hillsdale got its start when Joel Hills Johnson and George Deliverance Wilson started a saw mill in the 1870s.  They were soon joined by about thirty families.  Over the years, the quaint town eventually fell silent as residents began to move away from the difficult climate and overlapping land claims.  It’s now known as one of Utah’s own ghost towns.

Practically deserted, the haunting charms of a previous life to the town lies in the abandoned schoolhouse, with a bell that still rings; rustic log houses, with sheds and barns adorning the property; and a cemetery on a hill that can be seen from the highway.

The L. Tom Perry Special Collections contains a record of one whose family used to live in the town. The author describes memories and personal connections to the area.  Part of her narrative includes the argument that the town should be maintained as an historical settlement.  It promotes preservation and encourages a visit to days gone by.

Title: A glimpse of the spirit world; Author: James F. Washburn; Call # MSS SC 1061

Another interesting narrative in Special Collections is that of a near death experience told by James F. Washburn, a residence of Blanding, Utah in the 1920s.  Written in his own hand, Washburn begins his story by describing the death of his wife earlier that year.  He also recounts the sudden death of his son a few months later, who at age 15 was accidentally shot in the abdomen.  Finally, he tells of the tragic death of an adult son killed in a wagon accident, leaving behind a wife and six young children.

At the time of his experience, Washburn was severely ill with influenza.  Yet, his emphasis that he was completely lucid illustrates his conviction and the sacredness of the experience.  While struggling to sit up, Washburn has a vision of his wife holding the child they lost at 5 months old.  She greets him and tells him that she and their two sons are all well.  She tells him how each of his sons are doing and what they are up to in the Spirit World.  She tells him about his brother, who died at a young age, and how he is serving his mission among the Lamanites.  Washburn goes on to describe what he learned and saw of the Spirit World with fascinating insight.

As the vision closes, Washburn watches from his make-shift bed as his departing wife’s spirit encounters their son who was entering the room.  He records, “She had to edge around him as he came in, in order to reach the door behind him … [I exclaimed] ‘O Ross I have seen something’ and asked him if he had not seen anybody.  He said ‘no,’ though he had met his mother face to face.”

Similar records can be found in the archives of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections library.  You never know what fascinating stories you may find in its vaults.

Image taken from James F. Washburn, A glimpse of the spirit world 1922; Call # MSS SC 1061

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