By Michael H. Brown
In Salt Lake, Wonderment Is Expressed Over A Convergence Of Strange Events
I’ve got to wonder what’s going on in Salt Lake. I guess I’m especially attuned to that city because it’s where I got stranded after the attacks on the World Trade Center. But maybe it’s more than that. There is first the issue of a tornado: a couple years back a twister that not even sophisticated radar saw coming suddenly materialized near the downtown, sweeping through the seedy part of the city and right into the major sports arena before hopping over the famous Mormon Temple and aiming for the ritzy hillside homes.
Of course, the temple itself is enough to make Salt Lake City unique. I’m not one to condemn the way others believe. I try to find common ground. The fellow who does our carpet cleaning is a Mormon — and one of the nicest, most conscientious men we know. I try to find good parts of even the most problematic religions. But I have to say that the temple leaves a cold, eerie feeling, with a very strange statue of Jesus they call “Christus.” When I went to see what it was like, I was happy to leave.
There have been other dynamics. Was the temple protected during that tornado? Or does it draw things? During the week of September 11, 2001, five Arab men reportedly left the apartment complex where they were staying in Salt Lake and did so the day before the World Trade Center — casting the city again as a focus of concern. That week a mysterious train crash occurred in the area while I was trying to get out of there. Salt Lake was also home to the Olympics this year and was in the news as the tragedy of abducted kids was set off by the disappearance of a local girl named Elizabeth Smart.
What goes on here?
Now comes word that for years a strange and possibly miraculous fluid has been exuding from a tree in town.
The tree is at the corner of 300 East and 700 South. It was spotted by Graciela Garcia — an elderly woman who saw an image of the Guadalupe Virgin on the stump of a limb that city groomers had cut from the elm.
That was several years ago. Since then, thousands of others have seen it. And felt the Holy Spirit. “Candles brought by the devout have burned at the base of the tree,” noted the Salt Lake City Tribune. “Steps and a platform were built by city crews to replace rickety wooden ladders devotees had initially used to view the image. The candles, holy pictures, even locks of hair and pictures of ailing loved ones gradually became part of the shrine.”
Hundreds of Utahans flocked to see the image that formed on a flat knothole, many saying it closely resembles Our Lady of Guadalupe. Why was it there? Why Salt Lake City? “This park is infested with drug dealing,” Garcia said of the neighborhood. “Maybe she wants all of them to be reformed.”
Indeed, crime dramatically dropped once the pilgrims came, and the Virgin, Garcia speculated, may also have been trying to protect the unborn children (from a nearby abortion clinic).
Looking at a photograph of the tree, one pilgrim discovered there also was an image of Christ in the bark.
But the image of Mary has suffered from adoration — gradually fading from the thousands who chipped away bits of the strange fluid that reportedly oozed from the Virgin’s face. To believers, they were tears — physical evidence of their faith, tangible hope for their prayers. To one of our correspondents who visited there, took pictures, and even sent us a bit of the bark, the liquid flowing so oddly is decidedly unlike typical sap. “Our Lady’s image is almost obliterated, but the water continues to drip a little at a time,” she wrote us. “On this trip, I took my Protestant husband. I had him look at the image, and feel the water; he agreed that it was water, not sap or some other substance.”
It reminds us of the statue in Medjugorje that has likewise oozed a strange watery substance. And now we hear of a weeping Madonna in Australia!
There are signs everywhere. Heaven is watching. As for Salt Lake, when asked by a reporter why the image was there, why God would do a miracle like that, a local priest made a comment I now find very odd — odd for me, at any rate, having spent September 11 there. “Who knows God’s will,” this priest had said years before. “His will could be a building falling.”