Utah historian uncovers artifacts from 1983 floods

May 29, 2023, 10:11 PM | Updated: May 30, 2023, 10:49 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Monday marked the 40th anniversary of a significant event in Utah.

On May 29, 1983, over 5,000 Utahns helped fill and line State Street to 400 South with a wall of sandbags. More than 200,000 sandbags were used for weeks.

Beau James Burgess is a museum curator for the state of Utah. He found multiple artifacts from the historic event at a flea market.

“These items popped up in the bottom of a box, and the person says, ‘Oh yeah, the floods of ’83! I got those somewhere years and years ago, and those sat in a storage shed for years, and I’m just clearing stuff out. Here you go,'” he recalled.

Burgess’ collection consists of a copy of the Salt Lake Tribune’s “Spirit of Survival Utah Floods 1983” book, commemorative sandbag keychains and bottled floodwater from that year.

“I was looking and feeling and listening to water sloshing around that’s been on this earth a little bit longer than I have,” Burgess said.

a copy of the Salt Lake Tribune's "Spirit of Survival Utah Floods 1983" book (KSL TV A copy of the Salt Lake Tribune's "Spirit of Survival Utah Floods 1983" book (KSL TV) Commemorative 
 1983 sandbag keychains (KSL TV) A vial of floodwater from the 1983 flooding in Salt Lake City. (KSL TV)

He works at Fort Douglas Military Museum and said several volunteers he works with used the footbridges over the State Street River during the 1983 flood.

“As soon as the water started to flow down State Street, it was instantaneous. The bridges weren’t there, then they were there. It was kind of amazing,” said Patrick Thomas. He worked for Northwest Pipeline at the time.

“Originally, it was fun. This is cool, I’m crossing a bridge to go to lunch. Then it got old,” Thomas said.

He said it’s neat that his friend has commemorative items that date back then.

“It’s one thing to experience history yourself from your perspective, but if you weren’t there, then you rely on things like this,” Burgess expressed.

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Utah historian uncovers artifacts from 1983 floods