It’s time to dig up Ogden’s true history and quit hiding our past

Mar 23 2013 - 11:10pm

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I'm not saying we should throw "George Segal Days," with re-enactments and a parade.

Too tacky. The guy was lynched, hung from the county bell tower in front of the Ogden courthouse, after all.

On the other hand, the bar for local festival tackiness is pretty low. Nederland, Colo. has Frozen Dead Guy Days complete with coffin races, frozen-T-shirt contests, ice-turkey bowling and, yes, a real frozen dead guy.

So commemorating a lynching isn't that far off.

Nobody commemorates any of Utah's estimated dozen lynchings -- Corinne had one, too -- but I've grown fond of Mr. Segal, Ogden's one and only. He is Exhibit A in the Ogden history nobody wants to remember.

George was hung by a committee of Ogden residents on April 20, 1884, for (a) shooting a local restaurant manager and (b) being Japanese. Five whole hours passed between crime and hanging. George died before his victim did.

Then the whole thing was forgotten. Lynching? What lynching?

Which is the problem.

Segal's demise might not be worth a party, but the era in which he died not only shouldn't be forgotten, but also has marketing possibilities Ogden seems anxious to overlook. Hollywood has pushed the Wild West theme to great effect for years. Half the cities in Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada have promotions built around their lawless pasts. Park City promotes its mining past in the snowless summer months.

But not Ogden. It's as if the pioneers got here in 1847 and the next thing anyone knew it was 1950. All that gambling, drinking, racial discrimination, labor unrest, political corruption and religiously inspired political rebellion never happened.

Any hint that Ogden was not always prim and proper must be stomped out, and the attitude lives on. I'm still sore about the street festival Ogden used to hold every July. It had hot tub competitions, art shows, square dancing, hundreds of dealers selling stuff, multiple sound stages and a crowd estimated at 70,000.

Then someone noticed beer at the festival. One year 17 whole drunks got arrested.

The town fathers took action, first with fenced prison yards called "beer gardens" and then "family friendly" entertainment, which even families ignored.

There are signs people are loosening up. When the Dew Tour was here, local brews flowed.

Last year's Farmer's Market opening on 25th Street featured cowboy shoot 'em-ups, complete with distressed damsels dolled up like dance hall girls. Dance halls, in the Wild West, are where they served alcohol, so we may have pushed a limit here.

Ogden has done a masterful job of promoting itself as an outdoor recreation and arts location. Downtown Ogden is a gem, with car shows, art strolls, the Harvest Moon Festival, the giant Halloween party and more. Great strides have been made, more are coming.

But the historian in me rebels. To pretend the past did not happen is to live a lie. Ogden had mad bombers, blackmail rings, organized crime, fierce racial discrimination and even, once, threats of federal troops because the local police couldn't or wouldn't control things. Like it or not, that's the history that built this town.

I don't want to re-hang Segal. Once was enough. But he was hung, anD frankly, a lot of Ogden's leading lights approved.

None were identified because, as the local paper reported, "it was a dark night." It would be interesting to see if descendents of the gang are willing to talk about it, or even know.

Just one more piece of Ogden's amazing history that we're trying, way too hard, to keep buried.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can contact him at 801-625-4232 or email him at ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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