There are no plastic prosthetic monsters or actors playing ghosts here.
Hidden just 20 minutes west of Lehi is Mercur, a true Old West ghost town, mysterious and frustrating. Frustrating to ghost town buffs because the town has been destroyed and access forbidden. According to Ghosttowns.com, “there is nothing left as the entire town site has been destroyed by modern strip mining.” The town is owned by the Barrick Gold Company, which has closed it to the public. But there is one significant part of this history still open to visitors — the Mercur Cemetery.
Mercur is the real deal, and if you are looking for a spooky outing, a visit to the Mercur historic cemetery offers history, fascination and humanity. And it’s free. Be sure to take water, and be prepared to hike a short but steep hill.
The cemetery is mysterious because only a single grave out of the roughly two dozen found here is marked with an engraved headstone, and even that is now illegible. Who are the men, women, and children buried here? The desert stones originally used to outline boxes around the graves are still intact.
Nestled in a canyon of the Oquirrh Mountains, Mercur became “Utah’s first mining district” after a vein of silver was discovered in 1863, according to the Library of Congress. But the town itself “did not spring to life until 1893, when a new chemical process gave miners the ability to extract gold from the low-grade ore that abounded in the southern Oquirrhs. Within two years, Mercur had boomed; its population swelled to over 5,000, making it one of Utah’s biggest cities. In January 1895, builders completed a high-capacity road that twisted through narrow mountain passes to the town, and three years later the Golden Gate Mill opened, with a daily capacity of 500 tons. The longest single electrical transmission line in the United States carried power to the mill from a plant nearly 50 miles away in Provo.”
In 1902 “a disastrous fire roared through Mercur’s business district, and the town never fully recovered,” according to the Library of Congress. “In subsequent years, profits began to fade, and miners looked elsewhere for riches. The gradual death of the town was documented in the pages of the (Mercur Miner newspaper). The edition of January 6, 1904, under ‘Miner Briefs’ lists two items that presaged Mercur’s demise: ‘The school at Sunshine has closed—too few pupils left in that camp’ and ‘In consequence of the discharge of so many men, a number of families have left Mercur.’” In 1913, the last mine in Mercur closed. “By the end of the year, the once thriving town of nearly 6,000 residents had been reduced to a population of two.”
Today, the ghosts of Mercur are most alive in the editions of the Mercur Miner, one of three newspapers once published here. The Miner “provided news of local and national interest, up-to-date market prices of precious metals, political endorsements, serialized novels, and plenty of advertisements for whiskey,” according to the Library of Congress website, where digital images of the newspaper can be read online. “The colorful world of a turn-of-the-century boomtown was captured in the pages of the Miner in November 1897: ‘Mercur is an incorporated city having…a brass band…a fire department [and] one church…The Opera House Saloon has card and wine rooms and affords the patron a convenient place to go out and ‘see a man’ between acts or dances.’”