Deep End | Temples of Terror: A professor explains some spooky rumors about Mormonism’s holiest places. | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

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Deep End | Temples of Terror: A professor explains some spooky rumors about Mormonism’s holiest places.

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Everyone is familiar by now with the rumor that pops up this time of year. The details may vary, but the gist of the rumor remains the same: A Mormon temple—usually the one in Salt Lake City, but sometimes the one in Manti, and in recent years, the temple in Manhattan—will be, or has been turned into a haunted house for Halloween enthusiasts. Sometimes, it’s just for one night, sometimes it’s for a whole week, and sometimes it’s turned into a haunted house for the entire month of October. n

The very thought of a temple being used as a haunted house is, of course, not merely ludicrous, but sacrilegious as well. Mormon temples are the holiest places on earth, and what goes on inside stays inside. Nevertheless, the rumor, or if you prefer, urban legend, persists. We thought it would be in the public interest to run down the rumor once and for all, so we contacted Dr. Ejner Skaargaard, a professor of folklore at Snow College and a noted expert on urban legends, to gain some insight into the rumor and see if we could put it to bed, or even better, smother it with a pillow.

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On a crisp autumn afternoon, we drove down to Ephraim for a four-o’clock meeting with Dr. Skaargaard in his cluttered office at the end of a dim corridor in the old humanities building. After recovering from the shock to our system when the professor jumped from behind a file cabinet wearing nothing but his Speedo and a Dick Cheney mask (he had just been for a swim), we settled down for our interview.

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Deep End: Thank you, Dr. Skaargaard, for taking time out from your busy schedule to talk with us.

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Dr. Skaargaard: My pleasure. I hope you don’t mind—Look out! There’s a tarantula crawling on your head!

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DE: Yikes!

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Dr. S: Just kidding! You know, I just love Halloween. It’s the happiest time of the year.

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DE: As you know, we’d like to pick your brain about the rumor that temples are used as haunted houses at this time of year, but before we do, maybe you can talk a little bit about why Halloween is the happiest holiday.

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Dr. S: Look out! There’s a severed hand crawling up your leg!

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DE: Thanks for alerting us.

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Dr. S: Let me correct you. Halloween is not just the happiest holiday, it’s the happiest time of the year.

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DE: But how can that be? There’s Christmas, Easter—

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Dr. S: I know, I know. Let me qualify my assertion. Halloween is the happiest time of the year in Utah, not necessarily in other parts of the civilized world.

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DE: But Dr. Skaargaard, Halloween celebrates bloodlust, violence, death, demons, the Devil and other unpleasant things.

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Dr. S: Precisely! That’s why it’s so popular in Utah. We Mormons don’t believe in original sin—you no doubt are familiar with the second article of faith that states we will be punished for our own sins and not Adam’s transgression—so we don’t know how to handle all that bloodlust seething inside us. The very popular deer hunt works pretty well for a lot of folks so far as discharging all that bloodlust, but for your run-of-the-mill folks who don’t like shooting animals, or in some cases, members of their hunting party, Halloween is just the ticket.

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DE: Look out! There’s a snake in your Speedo!

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Dr. S: Ha, ha. Very funny. So it all just fits. Folks can give vent to all their bloodlust and libido on Halloween, and then take the sacrament on Sunday. As for those persistent rumors, well, they’re connected with what I’ve been talking about, only on the level of one of those—to put it quite simply—displaced Freudian guilt-complex reaction-formations.

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DE: That’s easy for you to say.

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Dr. S: Furthermore, because outsiders don’t know what goes on in the temples—though you can Google it in about two seconds—they imagine weird stuff, you know, costumes, hocus-pocus, etc. And another thing, some of my students come back after being married in the Manti temple, just up the street here, and tell me some of the stuff scared the bejeebers out of them.

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DE: If you keep talking like this, you’ll get excommunicated.

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Dr. S: Well, so far I’ve still got my temple recommend. I played ward basketball as a kid with H. David Burton, by the way, and he looks after me.

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D.P. Sorensen writes satire for City Weekly.

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