Gilgal Sculpture Garden is one of those places you’ll never find unless you know where to look. It would be possible to walk past the entrance without noticing or dine at the Chuck-a-Rama buffet restaurant on the opposite side of the block without realizing that one of Salt Lake City’s treasures is tucked between a Wonder Bread factory and historic homes at 749 East 500 South.
This small, free public park was once the backyard of an LDS (Mormon) bishop, Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., who used sculpture as an expression of his faith. It dates back to the mid-twentieth century. After Child’s passing in 1963, the garden was maintained for decades by a group of volunteers and eventually became a public city park, after it was saved from developers.
We have visited Gilgal Garden a couple of times as a family. It’s a quiet place to spend a few thoughtful minutes wondering what Thomas Child was thinking (seriously, what was he thinking?), or to ponder one’s own feelings about art and faith. Children should not climb on the sculptures, but at the same time, this is an outdoor museum where kids can feel free to run around and use outdoor voices. My 8-year-old daughter says that Gilgal Garden is “cool.” She’s impressed by what one ordinary man was able to create.
Gilgal Garden has 12 original sculptures depicting themes from the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Child’s own life as a stonemason and volunteer leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Child collected large boulders from throughout the area to create his sculptures, some weighing more than 100,000 pounds. The name “Gilgal” is Hebrew, meaning “circle of stones.”
Many of the stones in the walking paths are engraved with scripture, poetry and literary texts. One of the most memorable sculptures in the garden is the Sphinx with the face of Joseph Smith. Some of the sculptures are just baffling. Bible scholars and members of the LDS church may understand some of the symbols better than the average visitor, but the meanings of some of the sculptures were personal to Thomas Child. Printed guides are often available at the entrance.
Whether you spend a few minutes to say you’ve been there, or a few hours reading and pondering about Thomas Child’s legacy and faith, Gilgal Garden is worth a visit.