Wirth Watching - A visit to Gilgal Gardens

Who was Thomas Child, the man behind the gardens?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – It all started as an unusual backyard project. Then it kind of grew. Thomas Child loved to see carved rocks and named his backyard Gilgal Gardens. It took decades to make it all and people started coming from all over to visit his creation.

There is great history behind this once hidden secret garden that is a treasure in the Trolley Square neighborhood.  The dozen main sculptures, the flowers and Thomas Child in his brick pants. It was all so close to being plowed under for condominiums about 15 years ago.

Historian Lisa Thompson tells us, “The Gilgal Gardens is part of a larger group called visionary art environments .These are created all over the country by individuals who have an incredible passion to express a religious or moral belief in physical form.”

It seems most of these projects are destroyed when the creator dies. 

Thompson and others in ‘The Friends of Gilgal’ and lots of other civic groups saved it and now it's a city park.

Most parks claim to be unique. Well this one is. Thompson says, “Unique is really an overused word but it really applies to Gilgal. There is nothing else like it.”

So, lets back up to the 1940's. Thomas Child traveled the state looking for giant rocks. I mean 30 to 60 ton rocks. Such as the one towering over the biblical story of beating the plowshares into swords.

Thompson tells us, “A 16 wheel truck brought it down from Willard. A scaffolding and platform were built at the rail yard to pick it up and then tipped it onto a set of concrete piers that is under the mound and then built up the mound around that.”

He combined his love and devotion of his LDS faith with his love of masonry and rocks. He hired sculptor Maurice Brooks and hoped people would think.

Says Thompson, “Thomas Child felt the sphinx was the center which the rest of the garden revolved and the sphinx is the ancient symbol of mystery and riddles and big questions that can’t be answered”

He saw Joseph Smith as his path to those answers. He also saw lots of philosophy to combine with scripture writings. There are 70 stones of writings.

It was a passion. It occupied his life from when he was 57 years old in 1945 to his death in 1963. He also hired gardeners to make the place come alive around the sculptures. He picked out his biblical stories such as Daniel 2 and the slaying of the giant. Plus of course the boulders to tell the story.

Thompson says, “Child knew some people might find the garden strange. You might think I am a nut. You don't have to agree with me. All I want you to do is accept the challenge and arouse your curiosity about the big things in life.”

And there is the monument to the trade. His trade as a mason. It is his self-portrait. Oh, but, what about the brick pants?

Thompson explains, “Seems appropriate he should have brick pants in his self-portrait and there is a great story about them how they were assembled with unfired brick and each brick was carefully numbered and put in the kiln, but in the firing all the numbers burned off so they were left with this puzzle of bricks.”

But then again. You get the idea Thomas Child preferred you had questions rather than all the answers.

However, after years of her own passion about the history of the garden, Lisa Thompson would have liked to have asked Thomas Child one question. “I would have loved to know at the end what drove him. What drove his passion? “

So maybe it's the theology, or it could be the art and sculptures, or the history of what went on here. Or maybe it’s just a great place to spend an afternoon. Whatever the reason, Gilgal Gardens is and amazing and unique place

In the old days you had to climb over the fence behind the old bakery to get to Gilgal Gardens. Now, you don't.  There is a fancy public entrance on 5th South between 7th and 8th east in Salt Lake City. 

It is also free to visit. And again, it is a Salt Lake City park.


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