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Park City Ornaments Offer Glimpses of History

PARK CITY, Utah — Sue and John Gleason’s Park City ornaments cover a special tree in their home each Christmas season. They’re arranged chronologically – the oldest ornaments hang at the bottom and the newest fill the top. The Gleasons own every Park City ornament produced since 1992, a year after the Park City Museum began partnering with local artists to create unique ornaments as an annual fundraiser.

Park City Museum's early ornaments, such as this one from 1992, were stamped metal.
Park City Museum’s early ornaments, such as this one from 1992, were stamped metal.

Peggy Fletcher, a Park City resident since 1963, also has them all. Hers are arrayed around a pine cone wreath in her basement that she keeps up year-round, even though “the ones from the 90s are dusty and cobwebby,” she admitted with a laugh. “I’ve been a member of the museum since day one, and when they started putting the ornaments out I thought, ‘oh I’ll buy one’ and now I have a complete set.”

The Gleasons and Fletcher are among an untold number of locals whose love for the city runs deep and has grown through the decades. The ornaments represent the town’s history, and their own history as well.

“Every year when they come out we get one or two or three, then we use them as gifts,” said John Gleason. “It’s just something that’s uniquely Park City.”

The 2020 Park City ornament, which is nearly sold out.

The Gleasons send local ornaments to their assorted contacts in Courchevel, France, Park City’s sister city. Through their now-grown son’s participation in the French Club exchange program when he was in school, they hosted students visiting from that city, stayed in touch, and love to send a bit of this place over to another very special mountain town.

John Gleason first arrived in Park City in 1976, and Sue moved here five years later. While they were dating, Sue was living in an old miner’s shack across from the Silver King Coalition Building, and the two of them had to race through large burning embers to move their cars to safety when that building burned down on July 20, 1981. (The exact location of the fire is now the Town Lift complex.)

After marrying, they lived in Salt Lake City for work for 14 years, but their hearts belonged up here, and they made their dream come true by moving to Park City in 2000. John Gleason worked in construction and also as a mountain host at PCMR, and until Covid conducted winter mining history tours on skis. Sue Gleason worked to staff physicians in underserved areas worldwide before retiring.

In a typical small-town coincidence, Fletcher and her late husband Mel, who passed away in 2010, lived right next door to the Coalition building and also watched the fire send dangerously large pieces of burning debris into their backyard. Experiencing that tragedy so personally made the Silver King Coalition Building ornament one of Fletcher’s favorites.

Mel Fletcher was as local as they get, being born and raised in Park City to a mother who was also born in Park City – in 1888. When Mel and Peggy married, she was forced to retire from her job as a flight attendant for Western Airlines because the airline prohibited married attendants. She then built a second career as a dental assistant. Mel served 13 years as director of ski patrol for PCMR – called Treasure Mountain at that time – and more tales from his long, storied life are displayed at the Alf Engen Museum.

Diane Knispel, director of education for Park City Museum, said the annual ornaments are a collaboration between local artists and the museum’s executive director. Each year features a new theme and area of focus related to Park City’s history and evolution from rough-cut mining town to sleek resort-anchored community.

The 2020 ornament, Mines to Moguls, is the work of local artist Peg Bodell and features the town bridge and town lift amid colorful swaths of trees and flowers. It’s a considerably more elaborate production than its predecessors. The earliest ornaments featured stamped-out metal renderings of important local buildings. The Gleasons have heard rumors that there was another ornament, made of wood, that pre-dated the metal, and really want to get their hands on one if it exists.

As Park City grows and changes and fills up with new faces and far-flung license plates on cars, it’s like pressing the pause button on life’s quickening pace to remember and celebrate the area’s rich history through these artworks.

Visit the museum at 528 Main Street, call 435-649-7457,  or visit www.parkcityhistory.org for more information or to nab one of the few remaining 2020 ornaments.

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