Category Archives: Holiday Related

Christmas tune of the day: Peter Cetera

This idea came late in the season, but I think it’ll be fun nonetheless.  Christmas music is a funny thing.  I love it, but timing is key.  There’s something about the big holidays that makes them all-encompassing when they’re upon us, but somehow…wrong… when  they’re out of season.  Not sure what I mean?  Turn on Burl Ives’ “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in June or Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” in December and tell me how it goes over.

But there comes a time late in the year when some mental switch is thrown and Christmas music becomes an absolute must.  For me, Christmas Music Season officially runs from Black Friday to Januaary 2– a pretty standard range, methinks, for most Americans.

My favorite Christmas songs will always be the old-timey standards, but I like to explore the newer stuff too.  I make two playlists for the family car every year– one old-school and one more contemporary.  I’m always looking to mix things up, and maybe you are too.  So every day until Christmas I’ll post a “Christmas tune of the day” that you might check out and add to your own custom playlist.

We’ll start off today with “Deck the Halls” from Peter Cetera’s 2004 album You Just Gotta Love Christmas.

Who wasn’t devastated when Peter Cetera left Chicago?  They replaced him with a decent fake Peter Cetera (no offense, Jason Scheff fans), but it could never be the same.  Thankfully, Peter C added a Christmas album to his solo repertoire in 2004.

You’ll notice a few things on this album– first, that Cetera’s voice almost eerily defies age.  Seriously, the guy sounds exactly the same in his 60’s as he did in his 20’s.  Oh that we could say the same for Brian Wilson or Bono!  Second, the production on this album is flawless.  Saccharin, like his other post-Chicago stuff, but flawless.  Third, if you listen closely to my favorite track, “Deck the Halls,” you’ll hear vocal goddess Alison Krauss singing background.  Exactly what more could you ask for?

So here’s the Christmas tune for today:  Peter Cetera’s “Deck the Halls”


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Ghosts of Mercur Cemetery don’t reveal themselves easily

“In recent years the cemetery has become a popular target for paranormal investigation groups, who document their findings in spine-tingling detail.  There’s the little girl who appreciates the dolls that visitors place on her grave.  There’s the Italian immigrant miner who enjoys a nice graveside conversation via EMF meter.  And let’s not forget the cold spots or the power drains on electronic devices.

Or the would-be voices discovered later on digital recordings, which state with horrific clarity things like ‘You don’t belong here.'”


Mercur Cemetery by day (image source unknown)

The following originally appeared in the October 28, 2010 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

FULL MOON: CHECK. Midnight: check.  Spooky, century-old graveyard: check.  The inexplicable flickering of my LED flashlight: check.  It was the perfect recipe for a Halloween-time adventure.

Granted, the inexplicable flickering of my flashlight might have had less to do with otherworldly phenomena and more with the fact that I bought it at the gas station for $1.99.  But there’s no need to quibble over technicalities, because none of them mattered when the boys and I walked into the old Mercur cemetery and laid our eyes on those first moonlit graves.

Paranormal enthusiasts argue that places marked with high emotion or scarred by traumatic history act as spectral magnets.  They’re “hot spots”—areas of high paranormal activity.  In short, they’re haunted.  Many ghost towns naturally fit the bill—especially those built around mining.

Life in boom-and-bust mining towns was rife with anxiety.  Technology was primitive.  Miner safety was often an afterthought and fatal accidents were commonplace.  Even on the best days, the threat of cave-ins, injury, or an ill-timed blast always loomed.  If you didn’t meet your fate deep in earth’s bowels today, there’s always tomorrow.  And if your business doesn’t go broke when the mine plays out, it’ll probably be destroyed in a freak, town-wide fire.

If such ghost towns attract real haunts, Mercur should be a good candidate.    Its story began in 1870 when prospectors in the Oquirrh Mountains working southward from Ophir discovered gold in Manning Canyon.  Then called Lewiston, the town saw its first boom around 1873.  Its population grew to 1,500, but not for long.  The mines proved unreliable, and by 1880, a single soul called Lewiston home.

The town saw its second boom when a Bavarian prospector discovered mercury and named his claim Mercur.  The name stuck, even after the focus of mining shifted predominantly back to gold.  By 1898, nearly 6,000 people lived in Mercur.  The town prospered even after a 1902 fire claimed most of its buildings, only to be abandoned again in 1913.

Though limited operations continued in the mines until 1997, Mercur’s real R.I.P date was 1913.  Any remaining structures were razed in the 1980’s and a gate blocks entrance to the area that was once town proper.

All that’s left of the great mining town is its small cemetery, which closed in 1915.  It sits atop a steep hill and is accessible from the canyon road by a narrow trail that must have been a pall-bearer’s nightmare.  The graveyard is the resting place of some 100 souls.  Rock ovals with larger limestone slabs at their heads mark 40 or so graves.  The rest are completely unmarked.   Around 20 of the marked graves are individually enclosed by picket fences.  Of all the graves on the hill, only one bears an actual carved headstone.

SIDE NOTE: The grave is that of Annie C. Jones– born 189(7), died 1898.  Her headstone is mostly illegible.

Tales of paranormal encounters at the cemetery are ubiquitous online.  The stories range from humorous to terrifying.  In recent years the cemetery has become a popular target for paranormal investigation groups who document their findings in spine-tingling detail.  There’s the little girl who appreciates the dolls that visitors place on her grave.  There’s the Italian immigrant miner who enjoys a nice graveside conversation via EMF meter.  And let’s not forget the cold spots or the power drains on electronic devices.

Or the would-be voices discovered later on digital recordings, which state with horrific clarity things like “You don’t belong here.”

I read the stories with interest, but my skepticism was firm.  It’s not that I don’t believe in ghosts—I just don’t see why they’d be hanging out at cemeteries.  Why exactly would a dead miner haunt a place he had little or no connection with in life?  Wouldn’t his afterlife be better spent scaring the tar out of witless teenagers along the canyon road, or stealing campers’ left socks?

Craig Campbell, founder of Salt City Paranormal, shares my skepticism.  Campbell and crew conducted their own investigation of the cemetery several years back with inconclusive results.

“There are just too many variables in that environment,” he told me.  “You’ve got the wind, other interference— it’s just too easy to get a false positive.”

Campbell says he looks at each investigation as a court room case.  Until he finds solid evidence, he’s not convinced.  Solid evidence, as Campbell defines it, would be a documented phenomenon that he is unable to recreate himself.  But the lack of solid evidence of the supernatural at Mercur Cemetery doesn’t mean nothing’s afoot there.

“It’s definitely a hot spot,” Campbell ceded.

In his book, Talking to Yourself in the Dark, Wasatch Paranormal founder Tom Carr recalls leaving the cemetery after a particularly disturbing visit:

“No more than an hour into the investigation, we found ourselves heading back down the hill to our cars.  I would have to say this was the first time in a long time that I was that scared.”

I’m glad I didn’t read that chapter until after our own trip.  The storm clouds parted almost full moon illuminated the picket fenced graves.  I only needed my flashlight to examine the sole carved headstone.

“1898—that’s forever ago, Dad,” pondered 9 year old Bridger.  “Wow,” echoed his 7 year old brother, Weston.  They scampered from plot to plot looking for another legible headstone.  I paused to collect my thoughts.

No voices, cold spots or other disturbances— only a solemn calm, punctuated at times by a slight unease.  Maybe the ghosts had taken the night off.  If so, I wasn’t complaining.  Perhaps they weren’t ghosts at all, but echoes of consciousness—or reflections of our own.

Were we welcome there?  Were we imposing?  Craig Campbell or Tom Carr might have asked out loud.  I didn’t, just in case.

When my flashlight finally died, we hiked back to the car and drove up the canyon to the gate.  Mercur was back there, once upon a time.  When we arrived home I emptied my pockets, habitually clicking my flashlight’s power button as I put it away.  It was only after I was half asleep that I realized it was working just fine.


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Ring in the spooky – it’s Halloweentime!

Image source unknown

Some people bristle when I tell them my favorite holiday is Halloween, but I have my reasons.

In theory, there’s no doubt that Christmas is the King of all Holidays.  It’s all encompassing, magical– verdant with lore and deep cultural undercurrents. In practice, though, Christmas is often, sadly, a big ball of stress.

I think of Halloween as Christmas-lite.  That’s not to equate the macabre with the sacred– I’m speaking in practical terms.  It’s all the fun without the steep expectations, much of the magic but with much less stress.

Plus, how often does civilized society get to dress its kids up as vampires and skeletons and send them into the streets to beg for candy?

So in honor of this enchanted holiday, I’ll be dedicating most of my posts for the rest of the month to the eerie, the mysterious, and the spooky.  From now until November, consider this blog your online Halloweentime fix!


Needed: Halloween writing ideas

Dear reader, I need to pick your brain.

This is more a question for local readers of my newspaper column (who, according to analytics, make up roughly a third of visitors here), but I invite anybody’s input.

For the past couple years I’ve dedicated my last column of October to a Halloween-ish topic.  I plan to do the same this year, but I need a good idea.  There are some parameters– It needs to be outdoor-related and unique to Tooele County, Utah.  But don’t let those restrictions discourage you from chyming in with general thoughts.

What kind of spooky story would you like to read?  Do you prefer tongue-in-cheek scary or serious scary?  Straight documentary type investigations or “neurotic first-person” stories?

For an idea of what I’ve done in the past, check out my previous Halloween columns:

‘There’s a body in there!’ (2008)
Ghosts in the desert? Past and paranormal meet in Old River Bed (2009)

So what tickles your Halloween fancy?  Feel free to comment here, Twitter, or send me an email.


Posted by on October 12, 2010 in Holiday Related


I smell like campfire smoke today

At work today, an Air Force color guard retired four United States flags in honor of Flag Day.  Watching a flag retirement always touches my heart.  If you’ve ever participated or watched this ceremony before, you know how I feel.  I returned to my cubicle with a full heart and clothes that smelled like campfire smoke.

Thank you, Old Glory.

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Posted by on June 14, 2010 in Americana, Holiday Related


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Valentines reminiscence: Our first date disaster

I’m amazed I ever saw her again after that night. Maybe some things are just meant to be- no matter how hard you try to screw them up. Till the day I die, being in the mountains at night with her will always remind me of that ill-fated date.

Yep, that's where I stranded us (photo by

The following is a reworked version of a Valentines Day TTB article I wrote a couple years back.

It was an impromptu Valentines jaunt to the mountains.  I had hoped to take my sweetheart on a short hike, but the snow-choked canyons were still impassable.  Luckily, Settlement Canyon Road was plowed for a mile, and we drove up to watch the sunset.

The thermometer in our dash read 29 degrees. We turned the heater on and rolled the windows down to listen to Settlement Creek course into the mostly frozen reservoir below.

We talked about the kids and how we hoped they hadn’t burned my mom ’s house down yet. We talked about the things we needed to buy at Wal-Mart the next morning.

We reminisced about the night we first met at a gathering of friends in Skull Valley- how she broke the ice by offering me a fruit punch Capri Sun- how we sat by the campfire talking until the sun came up, and how that almost a decade later we still can’t get enough of the wilderness.

The conversation eventually turned to the disaster that was our first date. We laugh about it now, but at the time it couldn’t have been more embarrassing. I’m amazed I ever saw her again after that night. Maybe some things are just meant to be- no matter how hard you try to screw them up. Till the day I die, being in the mountains at night with her will always remind me of that ill-fated date.

Having moved here from the utterly flat state of Texas the day before we met, she had never hiked a mountain trail or watched the Milky Way from an alpine meadow.

“I’ll take her hiking,” I thought. “One breath of crisp mountain air, one look at the city from a canyon overlook and she’ll be mine.”

Initially things went well—a nice drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon and a romantic couple-mile hike along the Broad’s Fork Twin Peaks trail.

Of course that was before we walked back to the car and I couldn’t find my keys. Before we hiked all the way back up and spent an hour looking for them.

Before we got back down again and I realized I must have locked my keys in my trunk.

“We’re not too far away from the city, are we?” She asked. It was getting close to midnight.  “Nah,” I reassured her, as if 4.5 miles wasn’t too far.

Plan A: Somehow break into my Dodge Spirit without shattering the windows and before she starts getting cold.

No dice.

Plan B: Start Walking. Stay upbeat. Avoid mountain lions and “helpful” serial killers offering us rides. Pick up the pieces of my shattered pride at the bottom. “Hey, at least it’s downhill,” I told her.  She didn’t seem amused.

We joked about our misfortune, but our guarded laughter dwindled as we rounded curve after curve of quiet road. We walked at least a mile before a normal-looking couple in a pickup offered to drive us to a pay phone (my cell phone was with my keys in the trunk). The awkward chitchat made the ride seem much longer than it was, but I was glad to be out of the mountains.

“So what are you going to do now?” The guy driving asked with all the compassion he could muster and still keep a straight face.

“Probably call a friend,” I said as we climbed out of his cab at a grocery store, knowing that calling a friend would be even more tragic than locking my keys in my car 4.5 miles up a canyon on a first date. The only thing worse than scaring a girl off is seeing her the next week at Leatherby’s, sharing a Banana Split with your friend that so nobly rescued her from her nightmare first date with you.

No, friends were definitely not an option. I picked up the pay phone and dialed the only person who could look past my idiocy and get me out of this mess. My mom arrived in short order, and we were soon driving back up the canyon with my backup key.

When we retrieved my keys and pulled out of the trailhead parking lot, I looked at the girl I was certain I’d never see again.

“I’m at a loss,” I blabbered, feeling about an inch tall. “I just don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she assured me, obviously glad the ordeal was finally over. The uneasiness had worn off and her playful sense of humor had resurfaced. “This will be a great story!”

9 years and 4 kids later, we sat at the mouth of Settlement Canyon, laughing about that night and searching the sky for constellations. We got out and hiked past the gate and down to the Dark Trail trailhead. When it was time to walk back, I took my glove off and felt my right front pocket.

Oh, good—the keys were there.

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Posted by on February 12, 2010 in Holiday Related, Humor


Top ten posts of 2009

Well, it’s the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and I’ve failed so far to come up with a poignant year-end post for the blog.  I wrote sort of a year-ender for the newspaper, which I’ll post here tomorrow.  But since most media outlets are highlighting their top ten stories for the year, I’ll list’s top ten posts of 2009.

Mind you, I’m going strictly by number of views over the year.  Here they are:

10. Friday Funnies: Jimmy Dean Sausage complaint call

9. Old Saltair: Ruins are all that remain of “Coney Island of the West”

8. Search for Hawaiian petroglyphs in Skull Valley ends in discovery

7. Introducing Stacy Grubb: Songs from a West Virginia wildflower

6. Forgotten ghost town of Clifton reminds visitors of mining’s boom-and-bust times

5. Zee Avi’s debut album a vocal and instrumental masterpiece

4. Dispatches from the Gulf Coast: The Honey Island Swamp

3. Zee Avi’s “Bitter Heart” brightens mine

2. Remote geode beds allow rockhounds to search for buried treasure

Drumroll, please…

1. Perfect tinfoil dinner requires simplicity – plus a few tricks


Posted by on December 31, 2009 in Holiday Related