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For week ended January 3, 1999 Posted 19 20 Jan 1999
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Mormon Historian Harold Schindler dies

By Will Bagley

So Long, Old Friend
Saturday, 2 January 1999, Salt Lake City
By Will Bagley

Today I watched a grieving family bury a dear friend, a wonderful historian, and a great father. Harold M. Schindler died Monday of heart failure, and for many of us, his passing has left a big hole in the world.

It took such an unfortunate event to get Hal to a funeral, but it was a good send off. The service was held in the wardhouse of his Salt Lake City neighborhood. Given those who attended, this afternoon a well-placed bomb could have solved many of Utah's problems with history and journalism. Son-in-law Kirk Silver read the obituary, and Utah Westerners President Verne Gorzitze saluted an old friend he first met on the way to the 1936 Olympics. David Bigler eulogized Hal's integrity and singular gifts--and noted what an inspiration he has been to those he so unselfishly mentored. I count myself among that fortunate number.

Although born to emigrant parents in Chicago and raised in "New Yawk"--his spelling--it is hard to imagine a truer son of the Great Basin he so loved. Hal worked at the Salt Lake Tribune for more than half a century, starting as the worst copyboy sportswriter John Mooney had ever met. From such inauspicious beginnings, Hal became a journalistic legend, managing the religion and art beats at the paper for decades, and writing a TV column for some 27 years--not bad for a man who hated TV. Early in his career he scripted episodes of "Death Valley Days" and "Gunsmoke." Schindler left his indelible mark on Western History with Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1966. Second edition, 1983). In 1994, editor James Shelledy persuaded a reluctant Schindler--who didn't believe the public could appreciate straight-up history--to write a series for Utah's statehood centennial and pioneer sesquicentennial. The results were published as Harold Schindler, Crossing the Plains: New and fascinating accounts of the hardships, controversies and courage experienced and chronicled by the 1847 pioneers on the Mormon Trail (S.L.C: The Salt Lake Tribune, 1997); and In Another Time: Sketches of Utah History (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1998). Hal for once was wrong: the series was a phenomenal hit.

Besides being an accomplished writer, Schindler was a meticulous editor and a walking encyclopedia--a "histomorph," as I like to say, someone who has a vast knowledge of obscure but sometimes surprisingly useful "dead history." As a former police reporter, Hal had an appreciation of the usefulness of facts and would laugh when weighter minds announced that "truth" and "fact" are mere illusions. As David Bigler observed, Hal had no doubt about what the meaning of "is" is. His friend Dale Morgan was his hero, and he was indefatigable in his search to "get at the right of it."

Hal once asked me when I graduated from the University of Utah. "I didn't," I said. Hal smiled and said, "Neither did I." While formal training and degrees are fortunate blessings of the academic establishment, Hal proved that they are not essential to being a good student of history. Over the past few days I have heard a dozen stories about how Hal's work inspired a lifelong love of history--a legacy any of us would cherish. And how many historians have received annual Christmas cards from Liberace, or got the first call from Robert Redford after he won his first Oscar?

Hal's daughter Caroline gave a farewell that any father would cherish. She once asked Hal if he looked forward to meeting Porter Rockwell. Not really, he replied. "What if he disappoints me?" Caroline brought to life our memories of a unique character whose passing leaves an unfillable emptiness in the lives of those who loved him.

Happy Trails, old friend. I hope you knew how much you mean to those you leave behind.

Will Bagley
The Arthur H. Clark Co.

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