WASHINGTON County and the St. George area may be most noted for having the state's warmest weather, but it has also earned a reputation as a hotbed for pranks and hoaxes over the years.
How about a fake volcano eruption?
Jim McArthur, owner of the Temple View TV Court in St. George, and southern Utah historian Bart Anderson of St. George, said this hoax took place in the volcanic cinder cone between Snow Canyon and Veyo.
Anderson has used the volcano story in some of his historical lectures over the years.
While no one seems to know the exact day, month or year it occurred, McArthur, who said he is pretty sure the event was real, says he has talked to some of the oldest residents in Veyo and believes it happened in the 1920s or 1930s.
There are two versions of the story. One is that some youths hauled some tires and tubes into the top of the volcano and lit them on fire as a large group of dignitaries was headed along nearby U-18. By some accounts, a few sticks of dynamite were added for special effects.
The second version is that some brush and wood were set on fire inside the cone of the volcano just as church in Veyo was letting out one Sunday, sending a shudder through the departing worshippers.
Anderson said he has been told the fake eruption caused such a stir that a team of geologists was called in before it was discovered that it was a hoax, though a very convincing one.
True or not, the story continues to be told by area residents.
Another remembered but unverifiable St. George practical joke involved a staged "mobster attack."
Anderson said he's been unable to determine a date for the incident, but most account say it occurred in the days when St. George had a single bus stop in town.
The story goes that some young people wanted to shock the bus passengers passing through town by faking a mob attack. The kids dressed up in "mobster attire, fired guns loaded with blanks and even used pouches of ketchup for bloody special effects.
"It made quite a stir," Anderson said. It put a lot of people in hysteria until it was determined to be a prank.
Even in pioneer times, practical jokes were in vogue. Anderson tells about an April Fool's stunt from 1869 involving the desecration of one of Washington County's most-prized possessions, its military cannon. It seems the local youth thought it funny to mire the cannon in a manure pile.
Anderson said local authorities didn't take the prank lightly, viewing the cannon as the community's symbol of military strength against Indians and lawlessness.
As penance for the stunt, the youths involved had to clean up the cannon, perform some community service and even ride a jackass in a special public procession. Anderson said he's seen at least one photograph of that procession to back up the story.
The St. George Temple
Another early prank involved the bell in the LDS Tabernacle that had to be rung manually for various community and church gatherings. On one occasion, the local youth locked the sheriff in the Tabernacle tower when he was there to ring the bell.
Legends in the St. George Area:
A modern Three Nephite tale involves a doctor friend of Anderson who was taking a recent trip through the Zion National Park "Subway," a narrow chasm at the west end of the park. As the doctor raced through the area, he offered amazingly timely assistance to a girl with a sprained ankle and told her friends the whereabouts of their missing leader. As he rushed off, he heard a girl proclaim him as one of the Three Nephites.
(-Distilled from an April 1, 2001 article and another July 24, 2000 article, both by Lynn Arave in the Deseret News.)
-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org