Thank you so much to Martin Tanner for allowing us to share this story with you. “Henry Tanner’s Dance” is one of Utah’s first urban legend love stories and we are so happy to be able to include it in our selection of ghost stories for you to enjoy. Thank you Martin.
Henry Tanner’s Dance
Martin Tanner, copyright August 17, 2007, all rights reserved
The first Mormon pioneers entered Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847. Among the
Mormon pioneers who came to the Salt Lake Valley the next year, in 1848, was a convert family
from Scotland, the Watsons, who had a beautiful 19 year-old daughter named Marilyn. She was
always happy, despite the hardships of the journey, and looked forward to a new life in the Salt
Marilyn loved to dance, and attended every dance, enjoying herself tremendously and
dancing with every boy who asked her to dance. She didn’t have many clothes, and only one
dress, beautiful lavender in color, with a matching shawl. She wore the dress and shawl to every
dance. Soon her nickname became “Lavender” to all the young men who came to dance with the
beautiful, smiling girl from Scotland who was one of the best dancers they had ever seen.
But Marilyn’s dreams were tragically cut short. After living in the Valley for only a year
and a half, in the dead of winter, Marilyn caught a cold, which became worse and worse, turning
into pneumonia. After fighting the sickness for several months, tragically, Marilyn’s strength
gave out and she died. She was buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery in her favorite Lavender dress
and shawl. She was only twenty years old when she died, with so many unfulfilled dreams. On
her headstone was engraved her name, “Marilyn Watson” along with her nickname, “Lavender”
and the year of her birth, 1829, and her death, 1849.
Ten years later, in 1859, another family came to Salt Lake City. They were the Tanners,
with a 20 year old son named Henry. Henry also loved to dance and soon found himself
attending every dance he could find. By then, Salt Lake City had grown. The boys who attended
the dances, who found a girl they really liked, would often offer them a ride home by a roundabout
way, so they could try for a hug or a kiss at a spot all the youth knew as under the “kissing
tree.” The “kissing tree” was a short way east of town. There is a modest monument describing
the tree and how it was a favorite place for pioneer youth to go to “kiss” after a dance or date.
Where the tree grew is now a paved street in down town Salt Lake, at what is now 6th East,
between 3rd and 4th South. You can see the “kissing tree” monument there on the grass divider in
the middle of the street.
On July 24th 1860, one year after he came to the Valley, Henry Tanner attended what was
the most exciting dance of his life, in a way he could never have imagined. The 24th of July
dance, commemorating Pioneer Day, when the first Mormon Pioneers came into the Valley, was
always the most well attended dance of the year. Henry was amazed to see how many beautiful
young girls were at the dance, which was packed. He dance with several girls, then one really
caught his eye. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She was popular with the boys
and danced every dance. And what a dancer! Such graceful dancing Henry had never before
seen. She had an infectious smile which never left her beautiful lips and she wore a beautiful
dress, light purple in color, the color of lilacs in bloom, with a matching shawl.
Finally, Henry saw his chance and asked her to dance. She was very quiet, but seemed to
enjoy his company. They danced together until the dance ended at midnight. Even with her
shawl, Henry could tell she was cold in the night air. He offered her his jacket and asked her if
he could drive her home in his horse-drawn buggy. She smiled and readily accepted. He became
a bit bolder and asked if she wanted to drive up to the kissing tree. She smiled, blushed and
Henry drove to the kissing tree, talking a great deal along the way to keep up his courage,
because he intended to kiss this beautiful girl. He didn’t have much experience kissing girls, so
he was very nervous. When they got to the kissing tree, it was almost one in the morning and the
night had become cold. But not to be denied, Henry mustered up his courage and stole a kiss
from the beautiful girl. Never before had Henry had such a wonderful kiss. But before he could
try for another, it started to lightly rain.
Henry asked where the beautiful girl lived and briskly drove his buggy in the direction
she pointed. Finally they came to a long lane at the far south end of town. She pointed to the
home at the far end of the lane, which appeared to be in very poor condition and was pitch black,
without even a candle or lamp lighting the interior.
Thanking Henry for a wonderful time, the beautiful girl hopped down from the wagon
and dashed off into the darkness which enveloped the house. “Wait a minute, what’s your
name?” Henry called out, but the rain was coming down steadily now and drowned out his
question. “I’ll ask her name the very next time I see her,” Henry thought. Happy and excited,
but very tired from his night’s experiences, Henry made his way home, and finally fell asleep,
dreaming of the dance and the beautiful girl he met there.
The next morning as woke, he smiled thinking about her and wondering how soon he
might see her again. Then Henry realized he had been so transfixed by her charm and beauty, he
had completely forgotten about his coat which he had given her to keep warm in the cold, rainy
night air. Henry smiled. Retrieving his coat was the perfect excuse to go see her right away and
ask her name, without appearing too forward. Henry saddled his horse and rode out south to the
lane where the lovely girl lived.
But things looked different in the day. Henry thought he had the right lane, but the house
on the end was completely deserted, obviously for a very long time. The front yard was
completely covered with weeds, there were gaping holes in the roof and the sides of the small
house. The door was broken and half open. “This couldn’t be right,” thought Henry, “I must be
mistaken; perhaps it was a different lane.” But no, surely this was the right lane. And this was
the right house, except it was empty and abandoned. Perplexed, Henry knocked on the door of
the closest neighbor. “Did a beautiful girl in a Lavender dress with a matching shawl live in the
last house at the end of the lane?” Henry enquired. “Yes, to be sure she did,” said the old man
who answered the door, “But you don’t seem old enough to have known her” he added. “Known
her? What do you mean?” asked a very puzzled Henry. “Why,” said the old man, “She died ten
years ago of pneumonia, in the winter of ‘49.” “She was about your age then, just 20 years old.”
“She was a real beauty – the best dancer in the valley, with a beautiful smile.” “Every boy
fancied her.” “Her family was poor though, and she only had one dress, with a matching shawl,
both a beautiful lavender color.” “That’s how she got her nickname, ‘Lavender.’” “She’s buried
up in the cemetery, under the poplar tree at the far east end.” “You can’t miss it.”
Henry was incredulous. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He couldn’t think of
what else to do, so he rode his horse up to the far east end of the Salt Lake cemetery. There he
found a poplar tree, under which was a headstone on which he read “Marilyn Watson” and
below, the name “Lavender” along with the year she was born, 1829, and the year she died, 1849.
But the most amazing thing, which made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, was that
there, neatly folded, and carefully placed on Lavender’s grave, was his coat had given the
beautiful girl he danced with the night before.
Henry Tanner’s full name was Henry Martin Tanner. He was my great, great grandfather,
after whom I was named.