COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — A high wall encloses the Colorado City Leroy S. Johnson meeting house of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in stark contrast to an open gathering of residents, past and present, streaming into nearby Cottonwood Park on Academy Avenue Saturday for the biggest celebration the town has seen in 13 years.
Large numbers of men and boys of the FLDS church that yet answers to its now imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs worked throughout the week to construct the new wall around the meeting house.
Some speculated the wall was built in response to the forthcoming Independence Day Celebration organized for the Short Creek largely polygamous community of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City.
Community volunteers put in countless hours over the last few months putting together the Independence Day Celebration themed “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Independence Day Celebration
The celebration started at 6:30 a.m. with a flag raising ceremony, followed by breakfast and then lunch. There were bounce houses set up and the small train around the park gave kids rides throughout the day.
While the organizers originally thought 200 or 300 people might attend, the final count ended up at about 3,500, event volunteers said.
Attendees traveled from as far as Canada and Mexico to attend, Jesse Barlow, a community volunteer, said. This includes people who left the community and thought they would never return, he said.
“It’s been a time to heal for a lot of people,” Jesse Barlow said. “… A lot of people that were from this community have come back to see friends and family, some that haven’t seen people for 15, 20, even 25 years.”
The theme of the day seemed to be healing and unity, as a community torn apart by religious differences came back together.
It was an opportunity for the community to learn to love and respect each other, Jesse Barlow said.
In fact, while Colorado City resident George Jessop and his wife, Miriam Jessop, organized everyone, Jesse Barlow said, the celebration was the product of volunteer work and donations from people all around the town.
Park visitors before the event
Not everyone in the town was as open to the gathering it seems, as bouts of vandalism plagued the set-up of the event in the days leading up to the holiday.
On multiple occasions, someone snuck into Cottonwood Park at night, and performed acts of vandalism such as smashing in windows on the small kiddie train that surrounds the park.
There were even late-night visitors to the park the night before Independence Day, Henry Barlow, a volunteer with the event, said.
“We made a few new friends in the middle of the night,” he said. “… It’s just somebody stretching out where they can under cover of darkness; but they’re not bad people, they just need to have a chance to do a little bit of good in the world.”
Many believe members of the FLDS church built the wall around the nearby meeting house in response to the party.
Hundreds of men and boys worked tirelessly tearing down an existing wall around the Leroy S. Johnson meeting house since Wednesday night, and replacing it with the now higher and more foreboding block wall.
The wall might have been in response to the popularity the party gained, Isaac Wyler, a consultant with the United Effort Plan trust, said.
However, Willie Jessop, ex-FLDS member and former bodyguard for Warren Jeffs, said the wall was a reaction to his plans to get ownership of the building in partial settlement of a $30 million judgment he won against FLDS church leaders in 2011.
Wyler said he guessed, however, that they would try to have the wall built by July 4, and his prediction proved true. While a few men were still doing some final work on the wall the afternoon of the party, the wall was built and gates were up around it.
There is no doubt, however, that the event was a success overall.
For Colorado City resident Cynthia Wayman Barlow, the most important part was seeing people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs come together and celebrate.
“In coming back together, they’re finding out … that we’re all the same,” she said. “… There was such an intense feeling of camaraderie. There was a friendly air and I didn’t see there being any tension.”
- Hundreds of FLDS members work to build wall around meeting house
- 1st senior graduates from school Warren Jeffs forced into closure 14 years ago
- FLDS ‘concentration camp’ goes up in Colorado City; UEP must evict or lose land
- Sheriff deputies assist wife of Warren Jeffs in leaving Colorado City home after being called to ‘keep the peace’
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