Ghosts 0.2: The End of the First Saltair / by Nathan Webster


[hw]It started in Ali Baba Cave, the fire. [/hw] Workmen were getting the Saltair ready for the upcoming summer season of children, swimmers, and dancers. In those days, a half million of them came each year by train arriving from downtown Salt Lake City every 45 minutes. The first train unloaded at 9:30 in the morning, the last emptied the dance hall at midnight. Beloved since its opening in 1893, the Saltair was a Moorish style palace designed by architect Richard Kletting. It brought sophistication and prestige to the misunderstood people who settled in the desert at the edge of the inland sea. The Coney Island of the West, they called it. It hovered over the Great Salt Lake atop 2500 wooden pilings and had a pier over 1000 feet-long. It had the world’s largest dance hall, 600 bath houses, a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, merry-go-round, and boat rides. Not too long before it burned, it was so popular that the Charlston was banned "for fear all those people coming hard on the down beat would shake the whole pavilion into the lake," wrote Wallace Stegner.

The workman who discovered the four-foot-tall flames caressing the wall of the cave that day in April 1925, managed to tamp out the fire, but by the time he’d returned with help, the wind had rallied the blaze.

In the end the Ali Baba Cave was lost. The Salt Lake Telegram also reported that the Fun House and Hippodrome were lost, as well as Dinty Moore’s, the Old Scenic Railway, Dodgem, Ship’s café, a shooting gallery, the Automat, a photography gallery, twelve hot dog stands, some concessions stands, and a bathing suit house, as well as the famous dancing pavilion. “The smoke cleared slowly and left a gaunt-like pavilion, once the largest dance hall in the world, nothing but a network of wooden posts gnawed at by the tongues of fire.”

--Amie Tullius