Heart of the City

Written by  Greg See
Benjamin Franklin Johnson, See's grandfather Benjamin Franklin Johnson, See's grandfather

 An old bearded man said, "This is the place," and even if those were not his exact words, that's what we've been told was said. But maybe this is an urban legend from decades ago, starting from July 24th, 1847. Later, in this place, they built "The House of the Lord": a temple, the Mormon temple, or to some, just a building, but we know that in the beginning, this was the heart of the city.

Tall and majestic, these stone walls once towered over the Salt Lake City skyline, while atop one pinnacle a man of gold watched over the valley's inhabitants. Now dwarfed by taller buildings, the temple still stands in the heart of the city, and even for those who don't understand, or don't believe in what goes on within those walls, it's still part of the city's history. Just like this city, I have grown and changed, and in the process my perspective on the city’s stone heart has changed.

Even though I live far away from it now, my heritage includes the beginnings of this city, and with it, its first wives: Melissa, Mary, Sarah H., Susan, Sarah S., and Harriet. At the time, my great-great-great-great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Johnson and his wives were part of something new. Since that time my family has grown and spread in many different directions, and the same can be said for Salt Lake City. The temple has stood in the center of the city from the beginning, like a beating heart, and from this center the city has grown, with the population spreading throughout the valley, like oxygenated blood being pumped outward from the heart to the body's extremities.

I wasn't born in Utah, but I always knew this place meant something to my family, so when I first stepped onto Temple Square I was filled with wonder, because this was the heart of my family, this city, and  the Church. But each time I returned to Temple Square, that wonder seemed to fade a little until, among its architectural beauties, or its thousands of glittering Christmas lights, I no longer felt anything. The connection I once felt for this place was made when I was an adolescent and still searching for who I was, but, unsure of who I wanted to be, I clung to the ideals of others. Living to make others happy, I built the Temple up in my mind as some sort of emotional Mecca, but as I started to live for myself, those feelings of hope and joy were no longer there.

For me, and I'm sure many others, this heart of the city stopped beating a long time ago, and although it still has meaning to some, it does not make me feel alive. In the past, I felt that the gates and walls surrounding the square were there to protect the beauty that was within, and within those walls I belonged. Years have passed. Times have changed. More importantly, I have changed, and I no longer feel that I belong there, inside the walls of the heart of the city. These walls now seem like they were built to keep me out, for I no longer belong, and to me this is not the heart of my city. For a time I tried to make myself fit in, and to be one of those "happy" people within the gates, but the harder I tried, the less I wanted to be included.

After a time, a heart began to beat for me again, but it wasn't the heart of Salt Lake City, it was my own heart, with a rhythm of its own, and once again I felt alive. Every time I lived for myself, or made my own decisions, I felt my heart beating stronger, and with this found new strength I could venture out on my own, away from Temple Square. I also learned that I wasn't alone, and there were many others that stood outside the square who felt a beating heart within themselves.

I have come to learn that even though they are beautiful and historic, the buildings on Temple Square are not the heart of Salt Lake City. Filled with booming voices that give proclamations and prophecies, this place may beat for some, but the true heart of the city beats within the chest of those you see walking down South Temple, playing basketball on the courts at Liberty Park, and cheering for the Utah Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena. The true heart of the city is not found in its historical beginnings, but within each and every one of us.

Additional Info

  • Location: 50 W North Temple, Salt Lake City