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BYU senior works to create Orem memorial park after discovering infant pioneer graves

Oct 27, 2023, 9:58 PM | Updated: Oct 30, 2023, 11:33 am

OREM — On the corner of 1600 North and State Street in Orem, there is a small empty lot behind a Quick Quack car wash.

The seemingly insignificant lot has sat vacant for at least the past six years and only recently caught the attention of a group of women when they discovered it was the final resting place of two pioneer-era infant baby boys.

Becca Driggs is a senior at Brigham Young University studying history with a minor in Global Women’s Studies. Driggs discovered the story of the pioneer woman who lived on this land while working with her professor, Dr. Julie Allen on a database of Scandinavian women who helped settle Utah.

“I found this story doing that research and fell in love with it,” Driggs said. “We call it the quick-quack lot now because it’s right next to the Quick Quack. I found her name, I used Family Search databases, I searched her name, her story, and then found a little transcription of a biography about her and it gave 1600 North as the address of the lot.”

Eva Carlotta Andersson was born in Julita, Södermanland, Sweden, in 1851. When she was approximately 20 years old, she met missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized by Elder Charles Anderson from Grantsville, Utah. Andersson immigrated to Utah shortly after.

“She kept a really detailed journal of her voyage from Sweden to Utah, which is why I latched on to her. She talks about the mountains in Ogden and how beautiful they were,” Driggs said. “These are her words, ‘You can’t imagine this place until you see it,’ which I thought was peculiar coming from the fjords of Sweden. So then seeing the desert of Utah and thinking that was beautiful, right? So she just had this really compelling language and charm.”

Andersson married Wilhelm Bjork as a second wife.

“I found out that she moved to Orem as a second wife….and there was a lot of legal persecution against polygamy and so she wasn’t allowed to have children.”

Due to the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882 enacted by the federal government, Andersson was not able to live with Bjork and had to live secretly to avoid persecution.

She gave birth to two children while living in Orem — one in 1891 and the other in 1898.

“They died shortly after birth and so she buried them under the cover of night and on this land. So the family has told this story over the past 130 years have these boys that are buried here and so this land is very sacred and important to them,” Driggs said. “But to anybody else, it’s just a lot by Quick Quack.”

Driggs wanted to do something more to memorialize Andersson’s experience, along with her children’s graves so Driggs and her professors met with Lanae Millett with the Orem City Council.

“From there we hatched this plan to turn this lot into a garden, to memorialize women who have either struggled with infertility or experienced child death because that’s kind of a very taboo, even though it’s pretty ubiquitous experience,” Driggs said. “And since Orem is the family’s city, it’s having the space for families and particularly women to mourn that loss.”

“The minute I heard it, I knew it was a good thing and we are all in championing this cause for this women and children’s memorial,” Millett said. “Our city council is working on a resolution to put forth to show our support for this.”

Julie Allen, Professor of comparative arts and letters and Scandinavian studies has been working on creating a database of Scandinavian Mormon women’s histories.

“They’re the largest non-anglo group and in pioneer Utah and they made huge sacrifices to come here,” Allen said. “So hearing Becca find the story was really compelling to me because it aligns so much with this goal of helping us understand all the people that made this community possible.”

Sarah Reed, who teaches Scandinavian family history at BYU, said historically, 40% of Utah women in the 19th century lost a child at some point. Today, while there are fewer child deaths, 30% of pregnancies result in a miscarriage.

“I think having a spot that memorializes this particular woman, but also makes it general for a lot of women who’ve experienced loss and a lot of families that have had that experience, I think it’d be really meaningful for the community,” Reed said.

Jill Jorgensen Barrick first found out about the project from a symposium she attended where Driggs and her two professors, Allen and Reed, were presenting.

“I was deeply moved,” Jorgensen Barrick said.

Barrick lives only blocks from the site of the burial and former pioneer home.

“I was just so deeply moved by this symposium, and I just left thinking, I have to do something. I cannot let these graves that have been here for 130 years go unmarked,” Jorgensen Barrick said.

Upon doing some research, Jorgensen Barrick, who is Scandinavian herself, found she had common ancestors with the pioneer woman, Eva Andersson.

“I don’t know if it’s serendipity, if it’s fate, I don’t know what it is, but I feel moved to do this,” Jorgensen Barrick said. “We have to do this to honor her memory, Eva Carlotta, and also for all the women that will suffer, that have suffered the loss of a baby. It’s so prevalent even in today’s society that we need to do something. I  have two wonderful boys, but I lost three.”

From left to right, Sarah Reed, Julie Allen, Becca Driggs, and Jill Jorgensen Barrick have bonded over learning the story of Eva Andersson. (Eliza Pace, KSL TV) The empty lot in Orem, Utah, where two pioneer infants are buried. (Eliza Pace, KSL TV) The empty lot in Orem, Utah, where two pioneer infants are buried. (Eliza Pace, KSL TV)

These women have become friends – through learning the story of a woman from 130 years ago. They’re hoping her story could do the same thing and connect other women.

“As a woman, I’ve experienced some of these hardships that this Swedish woman did,” Millett said. “To me, I think it connects us as women, it shows our strength as women, and it gives women a place to really vocalize how they feel and how they’ve come through some of these hardships to really hear and connect with other women in that arena.”

“I feel like it kind of validates me, I mean Eva Carlotta Andersson was just a woman who lived here, and I’m just a woman who lives here as well and so it shows that are stories matter — the things that we do have importance,” Driggs said.

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BYU senior works to create Orem memorial park after discovering infant pioneer graves