Some might call a statue of Joseph Smith in the form a Sphinx sacrilegious, others might call it hysterical, and still others might insist that it’s a statement to his vision. Since 1945 the garden, hidden in downtown Salt Lake City, has entertained visitors, both religious and non-religious. The garden contains 12 original sculptures and more than 70 engraved stones. From quartzite to granite, the collection of religious-themed art is intriguing for visitors.
The garden, at 740 E. 500 South, was the brain-child of Thomas Battersby Child Jr. The eclectic work was done in his back yard over a period of almost two decades and although Child was not a trained artist, he went to great lengths to obtain the perfect stones. Child’s art was not sanctioned by the Mormon Church, although he was a bishop. Child said the artwork was a statement to Smith’s vision and the infinite possibilities of man.
Most of the art, and even the name of the garden, is religiously-themed. Gilgal was a city and a valley in the Mormon scripture, the Book of Mormon. And it’s also a biblical reference to a place where ancient Israelites crossed the Jordan River. However, this is not the typical, Deseret Book approved art. Some of the sculptures include Joseph Smith’s head on a sphinx, a sacrificial alter and a shrine to Child’s wife, Bertha.
The garden was purchased by Child’s neighbors after his death and it began to deteriorate. In 2000, a fund was established to purchase the property and sculptures and turn it over to the city to be turned into a public park. After more than a decade and some major renovations by the city, this park is one of the hidden gems of the state. The park is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and for more information, go to GilgalGarden.org.