Skip to main content

Murray Journal

Murray Park celebrates 100 years with party and a new book

Jun 04, 2024 12:37PM ● By Ella Joy Olsen

The famous long slide of Murray Park, which was eventually removed. (Photo courtesy of the Murray Museum)

Murray Park will be turning 100 years old this summer, and the city is throwing a birthday bash! All are invited to the park on Saturday, June 15 from 4 to 10 p.m., and if you attend, you can even get yourself a party favor.

A commemorative book titled “Murray Park Centennial - A Hundred Years of Fun” will be available for sale at the event, and later available at the Murray Museum and the Parks and Rec office.

The 150 page (and counting) soft cover book is meant to, “show how the park has always drawn people from around the city together to enjoy a natural environment,” Rebecca Santa Cruz, former chairman of the Murray Historical Board, and who is now a part of the publication committee, said. 

“The park is such an asset to the community and the book will be a stroll down memory lane,” she continued. “It’s not a scholarly treatise, but a representation of and from the community itself.”

There will be recounted memories from longtime residents, images from the old Murray Eagle, and likewise, from the photo albums of residents and their grandparents. 

The book is the continuation of a tradition starting with the publication of “Murray City, 1976” for the country’s bicentennial. It was followed by “A Murray City Centennial Album” and “Faces of Murray,” both published in 2003, for the 100-year anniversary of incorporation for Murray City.  

A teaser: historic photos of Murray Park

This book promises more in-depth photo archives than prior commemorative books, because the old Murray Eagle is now fully digitized and available and searchable through the University of Utah. Here’s a teaser:

Pool: “There have been four pools over the years,” Santa Cruz said. “But the original was filled with water piped directly from the Little Cottonwood Creek. The pool would be filled on Sunday, so cold you could barely swim on Monday, warm and nice by Saturday, then drained and refilled again on Sunday.” Murrayites didn’t get a pool with heated water until 1960.

The photo of the shivering children in the first Murray Park pool was taken some time in the 1920s. In 1945, the Board of Health closed the pool, due to water contamination. At that point, park officials started drawing water from three artesian wells, located near the existing park offices. 

County Fair and Circus: The Salt Lake County Fair debuted at the park in 1939, kicking off a more than 60-year tradition. Until 1999, the park had permanent exhibit halls and stables, and for many years a three-ring circus and lively midway, complete with rides, were a part of the annual celebration. 

In 1940, two elephants, Bunny and Willy, escaped from the traveling circus and were found on the park grounds munching on the lawn and plantings. They are the mascots for this centennial book, because elephants never forget their history. 

Easter: Each year the Home Economics classes at Murray High School would dye over 2,500 eggs for the annual hunt, and children would chase a real bunny around the park as part of the celebration. “That poor put-upon bunny,” laughed Santa Cruz while recounting the story. 

Adults were scolded in the Murray Eagle for trying to outrace the children to the eggs, even calling one woman an “old bag” for her poor sportsmanship. Some eggs could be redeemed for five cents at local stores, but it was also reported that some egg hunters were writing on the eggs themselves, changing the redemption value for more money. Egg hunts were a serious business opportunity, apparently. 

WWII: The park did much during the war years to keep spirits up. Many families had a father overseas and a mother in the workplace. “Murray Park had all sorts of activities for kids,” Santa Cruz said. “During the war years activities became very patriotic. On May Day, they played taps and remembered locals who’d died that year. Even the swimming instruction changed, with a new emphasis on lifesaving.” 

Fish Days: In 1943, the park started stocking the creek with fish for Fish Days. This was a popular activity during the war, as fish were not rationed, and little fisherman could take home fish to feed the family. This activity doesn’t happen anymore, as the creek is shallower than it used to be, and warmer, so it cannot be stocked successfully. 

A teaser: memories of Murray Park

Murray Parks and Rec hires a lot of kids, full-time and seasonally. It’s the place where many Murrayites got their first job. 

“When we started researching the park, we realized that there has long been a great camaraderie between employees. Some, once hired, never leave,” Santa Cruz laughed. “Along with tales from longtime Murray residents, we also used employee stories to piece together memories from the last 50 years.”

Kim Sorenson, the current Parks and Recreation Director, is one of those kids who didn’t leave. 

“I started working at the park in July 1977,” Sorenson recounted. “During the job interview Lynn Pett (former Park Supervisor and later Murray City Mayor) asked me if I was 16. I wasn’t.” 

Sorenson went on to explain that the guilt of the falsehood weighed heavily, so he sheepishly entered Pett’s office and confessed. 

“He [Pett] was quiet for a while, then said, ‘When do you turn?’ I told him two weeks. And he said, ‘You’re fine. Get back to work,’” Sorenson recounted. “He passed away a couple of years ago, but he teased me about the lie for decades.” 

Sorenson started at $2.05 per hour. Each morning he’d show up and do whatever was asked: collect garbage, mow lawns, pull weeds. Pulling weeds was the worst assignment.

“I wasn’t always a follow-the-rules teenager. My boss (Bill Crocker) was a sergeant in the army, and he supervised like a sergeant. As punishment we’d be sent to weed the rose garden or a problem hillside by Ken Price ballfield,” Sorensen said. “It was the worst job because there were more weeds back then. Now we have chemicals that help.”

“Interestingly, the most coveted job was garbage.” Sorenson continued. “You’d think garbage would be the worst job, but driving the truck was novel. It was fun to drive around the city and to the dump.” 

Unlike most park systems, Murray has their own garbage truck which allows for garbage to be collected on demand, and in the case of especially busy days like Murray Fun Days, all day long.

“We need to remember that the park has touched so many people through the years,” Sorensen said. “My generation didn’t have the funding that people have now for extracurricular activities, so they spent a lot of family time in the park. But I think Covid reminded people that there is so much to do at the park, playgrounds and walking paths. It’s great just being outside and being together.”

Come to the party

Again, the party starts at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 15. There will be a car show, old-fashioned games, walking tours, a Lego model of the park, live entertainment, food trucks and ice cream and pie. 

It will be 100 years of fun packed into just one night. And the book “A Hundred Years of Fun” will be available for your reading pleasure. λ