The Kissing Tree
by Charlene Paul
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it only seems right to share a Utah urban legend about the Kissing Tree. The Kissing Tree was a tall Cedar that grew around what is now 600 East in Salt Lake City, Utah. Weary travelers found respite in its shade. Loggers gathered beneath its branches each day before heading off for the day’s work. Children played in its shadow. Sweethearts carved their names in its sturdy trunk. It became a meeting place for the townsfolk.
Legend has it that young Marilyn Watson, age 19, came from Scotland to the Salt Lake Valley with the Mormon pioneers in 1847. Like most girls of that age, she loved to dance and meet boys. Eventually, she earned the nickname, Lavender because of the purple dress she always wore.
But Marilyn’s dancing days were cut short when she caught pneumonia and died at age 20, just a year and a half after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley.
Ten years after she died, the Tanner family, including their 20-year old son, Henry, arrived in the Salt Lake Valley to settle down. Henry loved to dance, and he had no difficulty finding girls to dance with, and occasionally take to the Kissing Tree.
One night, he saw a girl whose beauty nearly knocked him off his feet. She was wearing a lavender dress and had a beautiful smile. Henry was smitten. He wanted to ask her to dance, and he knew he had better make his move before the other boys laid eyes on her.
After the dance, Henry offered to escort the beautiful girl home, and just happened to stop by the Kissing Tree on the way. It was a cold night and the girl had no jacket, so he took off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders. Then he gently lifted her face and leaned down until their eyes met. They shared a kiss and an embrace. But as luck would have it, there would be no second kiss; it had started to rain.
He walked her home. The house was dark, and it seemed that no one was there. The girl thanked Henry and then went inside the house.
On his way home, Henry thought about her beauty and fantasized about seeing her again. He realized she had not returned his coat, a perfect excuse to go back.
The next day, Henry walked to the house and saw tall weeds and a structure that was falling apart. No one was inside and it looked like it had been vacant for years. He was a little confused, and thought he might have mistaken which house was hers, so he asked a neighbor where the girl with the lavender dress lived. He was told that he could find her under the poplar tree at the east end of the city cemetery. He was confused, but when he got to the cemetery, he found his jacket folded neatly over Lavender’s grave stone.
Sadly, someone chopped down the Kissing Tree leaving only a stump. In 1933, the Daughters of Salt Lake County erected a monument and placed a plaque so visitors would know about the legend of the Kissing Tree.