Ivinson Memorial Hospital

Ivinson Memorial Hospital, about 1960 (Credit: Laramie Plains Museum)

I was born at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie, Wyoming (According to my birth certificate–Mom teases that I was born in a log cabin at Tie Siding, but that’s a different story. She means I was born when we lived on the ranch at Tie Siding.)

I was looking for the CPS coordinates not long ago. (Trying to resolve a question about my natal horoscope, as people do.) I came across an article about the old hospital. The history is about what you’d expect from a small town.

The old hospital was built in 1917 between 10th and 11th Streets on what is today Ivinson Ave. Until 1949, it was managed by nurses “who were not generally trained in administration” That’s when a local businessman took over. (Really? A hospital managed just by nurses? Was that a thing?) A new hospital opened in 1973. The old hospital was purchased by University of Wyoming. They used as offices for the Police Department and for computer facilities. The building was demolished in 2011 and replaced with a parking lot. 

I didn’t grow up in Laramie. The first time I was there was in 1974, when we moved from Ft. Collins to Orem. After that I was there many times, just short visits. I drove by the old hospital in (probably) 1975. I’m glad I got to see it before they tore it down.

Garden Church of Eden

I always loved the Episcopalian church in Eden, Wyoming but I always thought it was called Garden Church of Eden. Guess not. I did a Google search and quickly found it’s really called Oregon Trail Memorial Church. I wonder if the name might have changed.

My grandparents Harry Swanstrom and Vivian (Luce) Swanstrom didn’t belong to any of the local churches, although they contributed to all of them and sent their kids to Bible School.

Oregon Trail Memorial Church, Eden, Wyoming (Source: Facebook)

I can’t remember if I’ve ever been inside. I’d like to think so, but I think I’d remember if I had. I always meant to stop and take a look but never did.

South Pass City

Another Wyoming video. This is drone footage of South Pass City, one my favorite places.

It’s a ghost town on the old Oregon Trail. I lived here in a past life.

When I was a teenage boy in Grand Junction I had some very vivid dreams about dying here as a teenage boy in the late 1800s. I had no idea where it was, just that it was an Old West town.

Then, as an adult I visited here for the first time. Say, about 1992 or 1993. We were driving around, taking in the sights on impulse. I don’t remember exactly but I’d guess we had been to Farson and were headed to Lander. We lived in Farson when I was little and sometimes went shopping in Lander. It would have been a nostalgia leg of the trip.

As soon as we pulled into town, I knew it, knew it without being told, the buildings, the roads. I walked around in a daze, feeling caught between two worlds. I saw the hill that had the shack where I was staying in that other life, and the hill where I tumbled to my death because I was too feverish to be careful. A stupid accident.

Then, as my 20th century visit wore on, the other world began to fade. We spent the afternoon there. I think I had the experience only because I came upon it unexpectedly. My mind wasn’t ready for it at first, but when it had the chance to experience the physical reality, it adjusted.

I’d like to go back again, even though it wouldn’t be the same.


In the novel American Gods, Neil Gaiman quotes Richard Dorson:

“One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember the fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greeek-Americans the vrykólakas, but only in relation to events remembered in the Old County: When I once asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said ‘They’re too scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far,’ pointing out that Christ and the apostles never came to America.” (“A Theory for American Folklore,” American Folklore and the Historian (University of Chicago Press, 1971)

This, of course, is the premise of the novel, that the old gods did in fact come to America, for interesting reasons and with interesting consequences.

Leaving aside, for now, the problem that Mormons believe Christ did come to America, so that doesn’t work well for everyone, I also trip over the idea the fairies and nisser are “demons”. Otherworldly, yes, but surely not demons.

The piece that really stands out for me is the idea our non-human friends didn’t come with us to America. The nisser are the Norwegian equivalent of our Swedish tomten (“house elves”). I don’t know about other families but our tomte came to America in my great grandparents steamer trunk. My mother told me so. Why would he not come? That’s just silly talk.

Cosmic Aeroplane

I have fond memories of the Cosmic Aeroplane in Salt Lake City. Many times, I lived only a block or two away, and years at a time I was there almost every Saturday.

"Salt Lake’s Cosmic Aeroplane (1967-1991) was a major nexus of cultural changes that were rippling through the youth culture in America in the mid- to late ’60s. The Civil Rights Movement—an insane war that still had the support of the country at large—the birth of the modern day environmental movement—the call of psychedelics and the mind-opening possibilities they presented—a growing interest in Eastern philosophies—and an abiding interest in the new music of the day: These concerns coalesced in a little store that expanded the minds of many people who walked through its doors."

When we bought The Metaphysical Bookstore in Denver in 2008, we faced a problem of brand identity. Just about every other New Age store in Denver and the world had named themselves [Something] Metaphysical Bookstore. I would have loved to rename ours Cosmic Aeroplane. I knew we wouldn’t, probably wouldn’t, but I tried to find the old owners anyway to see what it would take to license the name. Legally, we wouldn’t have needed to get their permission but it would have made a better story, as well as being more honest and ethical.

Instead we changed the name to Shining Lotus Metaphysical Bookstore, from the Rocky Mountains, which the Utes called the Shining Mountains.

Blizzard of ’49

From time to time Mom mentions a memorable blizzard sometime during her childhood. Her parents took in the Dack family. Ray and Marjorie Dack, with sons Bud and Douglas, were a local family who lived north of the Swanstroms. They were stranded on the highway and couldn’t get home. For a week, the two families ate and slept in shifts. Grandpa had to tie a rope to himself when he went out to feed the cattle, so he could find his way back to the house.

I’ve been curious to find when it was, and tonight I came across it by accident, while listening to a YouTube piece from Wyoming PBS about the Lincoln Highway. It was January 2-5, 1949. Mom would have been 12.

Then, as if that wasn’t a jackpot sufficient for one day, I came across another video about wildlife migrations around Pinedale, Wyoming, where the Swanstroms lived and near where the Luces lived in Big Piney.

I’m pretty sure the word Wyoming is etched on my forehead right now. I attribute it to getting a Wyoming cowboy sticker from Mom last week and putting on my laptop yesterday. 

Now I want to find something about the Blizzard of ’63, the big one I remember from my childhood; and the Blizzard of ’82, when Missey and I were stranded in Denver and coulnd’t get home to Salt Lake City; and maybe the Blizzard of 1887 that changed Wyoming forever.

Revised to add names of the Dack family.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church

Yesterday I wrote about living in Mantua, Utah. I mentioned joining Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Brigham City. That memory sent me off to do some research. I was curious about the church’s history, and also about dates.

I found a little potted history (see below). Founded in 1959. We were there early in its history, then, but not among the first. Originally part of the Augustana Synod, the Swedes. Yes, I knew that. Merged into the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in 1962. I’ve known that as long as I can remember, because that whole thing about LCA vs American Lutheran Church (ALC) was part and parcel of my childhood religious identity. First pastor was Donald Ranstrom. It was his first parish. I remember him, I think, or at least his name. Founded by people who worked at Thiokol Chemical Corp. My parents worked for Thiokol, so that matches my mother’s story that one of the reasons they chose Holy Cross was that they had friends there, particularly Ray and Eleanor Wall. I remember them.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Brigham City, Utah

Holy Cross was a beautiful mid-century building, at the mouth of Box Elder Canyon, on the eastern edge of Brigham City. I remember doing a search several years ago. Back then Holy Cross was Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the 1988 successor to the LCA, ALC, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). This time I was disappointed to see they are now Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), a conservative synod. Not as reactionary as Missouri Synod, but still quite conservative.

I remember they did an outdoor breakfast and worship in the canyon. We did those. And sunrise services in the canyon on Easter. I can picture the turn off, but I don’t know if I could find it again. It was in a forested area right at the western edge of Mantua. If you took that turnoff from U.S. 89 it would lead back in to Mantua. Looking at a modern map, I think it had to have been S. Park Drive, down by Box Elder Creek and the Box Elder Campground. Maybe.

Looking just a bit more, I see that Pastor Ranstrom went on to serve at UC-Davis, a famous bastion of liberalism in the turbulent 1960s. I found an article where he is tolerant of same-sex marriage (2003). I like that, but his career must have had a much more liberal trajectory than Holy Cross. I’m pleased about that but also a little sad that he lived well into my adulthood, so if I had thought to do it I would have been able to meet him and talk to him.

(I had the same chance to meet again with another childhood minister, Steve Ranheim from Grand Junction. We exchanged a few emails, in 2001, I think. He lived here in Denver and was working for a social services agency. We were going to get together for coffee, but we never did and then he died.)

I was baptized at Holy Cross on June 28, 1964, along with my mother and two sisters. (St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon — although as good Protestants we pretend we don’t know about saints days.) I have my baptism certificate. I will have to pull it out and look at it. If you had asked me, I would have been sure I was baptized by “Pastor Nilsson”. Looking at the list of former clergy, there was no Nilsson. It must have been Pastor Nielsen, who served from May 1, 1964 to April 30, 1967.

It’s a good thing my mother kept the baptismal certificates. When I converted officially to Episcopalian in, say 1982, Holy Cross had no record of my baptism. The records from those years are lost, they say, or maybe never kept. As a Good Samaritan, I got copies from my mother, and sent them to the offices at Holy Cross. Sometimes I wonder if they really kept them.

Nowadays, I live almost directly across the street from another Lutheran Church, Prince of Peace in Denver. Some days I think I ought to wander over for services. I think I was probably about 12 or 13 when I noticed most people in most Lutheran churches have German or Scandinavian surnames. No surprise there. I’d fit right in.

More Information

Mantua, Utah

When I was little, we lived in Mantua, Utah. We moved down from Logan when Mom married my step-father Carroll Place in 1961, and lived there until we moved to Las Vegas in January 1965. I don’t think my parents sold the house there until 1969 or 1970; sometime after we moved to Grand Junction, anyway. 

We were talking about Mantua a few weeks ago. Mom mentioned that we lived there during its centennial. I have a lot of memories of Mantua, but I don’t think I remember that. She said there was a parade of sorts, with wooden oxen fixed to the front of cars to represent the pioneer wagons. Actually, I do remember that but I didn’t connect it with the town’s centennial.

Mom also told a story I’ve heard so many times. The centennial commission recommended that everyone paint their houses white, to make it look like a quaint and quiet New England village. But, Mom and Daddy put turquoise siding on the house, and there was a lot of fuss about it. The only church in town was the Mormon church. We had been going there. They threatened to excommunicate Daddy because of his defiance, then they found out we weren’t Mormon.

I always thought the commission that recommended white houses was the Utah centennial commission, which would have been 1947. (Honestly though, I’ve been saying sesquicentennial for years. but we weren’t in Mantua for the sesquicentennial of anything, so it makes no sense.) And because I thought it was recommendation made some 14 or 15 years before we even moved there, the whole thing seemed like a rather pointless dispute.

When we were re-hashing the story this time, Mom corrected me. It was the Mantua centennial, not the Utah centennial (1947), and not the Utah sesquicentennial (1997).

So, I had to look it up. Mantua was founded in 1863. (I didn’t know that.) Its centennial would have been 1963, which is smack in the middle of when we lived there, and would also be about right for the parade I remember. The whole story comes rushing together for me.

It was just now, tonight, that I realized this dispute about the color of the house probably led to my parents joining the Lutheran church in Brigham City. I remember Mom coming in to talk to me in bed one night. On Tuesdays, the bus left us all off at church so all the kids could go to Primary. Now, Evonne and I were supposed to just come home. The Mormons had the only church in Mantua. We started going to Holy Cross Lutheran Church on the eastern edge of Brigham City. In other words, the closest non-Mormon church. I was baptized there in June 1964, with Mom and my sisters. Daddy was Episcopalian, but the rest of us weren’t anything yet. Mom would have been taking inquirer classes for several months, so the timing is exactly right,

If that’s what happened, it’s ironic. We were probably all on our way to becoming Mormon and integrating into the community until someone decided to get pissy about house color.

History of Mantua

Mantua was settled in 1863 by 12 Danish families. Even before I started looking, I knew they would be the families who were our neighbors — the Jepsens and Jensens on either side of us, the Johnsons at the north end of town, and others.

In the old days, Mantua was called Little Valley, Flax Ville, Geneva, Hunsaker Valley, Little Copenhagen, and Box Elder Valley. The town is 5 miles north of Brigham City, on the west side of U.S. 89 coming down from Logan. Main Street in Mantua runs north – south. Mantua Reservoir is on one side of the street, houses on the other.

Our House

If you turn off U.S. 89 on to 500 North toward Mantua, the Mormon church is on the right side of the intersection with Main Street, then the Jepsens lived on the left side of the intersection, across from the church. We lived next to (north of) the Jepsens. When we lived there the address was something like Box 424. On Google maps it looks like it would now be about 525 N. Main.

Daddy had just bought the house, and was building a garage when he married Mom. It was originally a little 4-room house, with the back bedroom divided to create a bathroom sometime back when they still had claw foot tubs. It had a columned porch across the front that was the main entrance. Then, there was an addition along the back side of the house. Even though it was an enclosed and heated room, we called it the “back porch” (It’s a Utah thing). And there was a little addition to the back porch that we called the “little back porch.” The little back porch was the back entrance and mud room. From there, you went into the back porch, which was the laundry room, as well as my bedroom, From there you went into the kitchen. My parents remodeled the kitchen, finishing the new kitchen cabinets the same day we left for Las Vegas.

The house sat on 3 acres. As I remember it, Highway 89 was our back property line. That would have been true for all the houses along Main Street. Besides the new garage, we had a barn and attached tool shed, two cows, and a zillion cats. People from Brigham City were always dropping off unwanted pets up on Highway 89 and Mom was always adopting them while she looked for new homes.

I started school right after we moved to Mantua. We were bused to Mountain View Elementary in Brigham City. There had been a school in Mantua itself. We sometimes went down to play in the playground there, but it had closed, I think, just the year before I started, so say 1960.

Two summers when we lived there, Daddy joined the volunteer fire crews fighting fires on the hills around Mantua. One was in the hills on the other side of 89, and the other was in the hills south of town.

I drove through Mantua probably about 1980 or 1981. The house was still there but almost hidden behind all the trees. Mom was always planting trees. Now (2019), looking at Google Street View, it looks like the garage has been connected to the house, the front porch torn off or substantially remodeled, and a big new addition on the north side. All the trees are gone.

I have many more memories of Mantua. I hope I will find time to write more about them someday.

More Information

  • Chasing Blue Sky, “Mantua “Little Valley” – Mantua, UT,” Waymarking.com, February 20, 2013, accessed October 22, 2019 https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMGDZN_Mantua_Little_Valley_Mantua_UT
  • Josie Manwill, Brigham Young University, “Mantua’s Danish Heritage,” Intermountain Histories, accessed September 30, 2021, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/444 (love the church picture at the top of this page; such a familiar childhood memory)
  • Town of Mantua, “Mantua History,” August 29, 2014, accessed October 22, 2019, http://www.townofmantua.com/4952.html

Edited July 10, 2020 to remove dead link; Sept. 30, 2021 to add link.

Mabel (Eberle) Romish

Grandma Vivian Swanstrom’s best friend from nursing school, and maybe earlier, was Mabel Eberle. It was Mabel who went on the day trip to Rawlins on the day Grandma and Grandpa ended up getting married.

Over the years, in the back of my mind, I always kind of wondered what happened to Mabel. I thought she and Grandma must have had some kind of falling out, else she ought to have been still around somewhere when I was growing up.

But no. That wasn’t it at all. I decided a few weeks ago to see what I could find out. In our modern world of computerized databases she was easy enough to find: Mabel (Eberle) Romish. I had remembered only her maiden name. I knew but had forgotten she was Mabel Romish.

Mabel was born in 1898, so she was three years older than Grandma. She graduated from nurses’ training in 1928, the year after Grandma. I think*. I’ll have to look it up. The way I remember the story, at Grandma’s graduation Grandma looked out at the audience and saw Harry Swanstrom, whom Grandma knew from childhood. He had just come home that day from his time in the army, and was sitting with his mother Josephine who was Grandma’s landlady. Grandma later married him, on a dare from Mabel. The three of them had taken Grandma’s brand new DeSoto Roadster (yellow with red wheels) to Rawlins for the day. So, that would be 1927.

Mabel died suddenly of a heart attack in 1939, when Mom was three. And that’s why I never met her. The story reminds me what a private person Grandma was. She would mention Mabel in passing, for example in stories about rock hunting, but never once did she tell the story about Mabel’s death.

* My sense of the chronology here must be mistaken. Grandpa Swanstrom enlisted on 23 Dec. 1921, served in the Philippines, and was discharged on 22 Dec. 1924. If indeed he appeared at Grandma’s graduation on his first day home, she must have graduated in 1924 or perhaps, more likely, in the spring of 1925.

Updated May 17, 2020 to add link. Updated May 23, 2020 to add note about the chronology.