Lavender and the Kissing Tree

Story Tours ghost tour guides tell the story of Marilyn Watson, who died in the Salt Lake Valley just three years after the pioneers arrived in 1847. She was part of a Scottish family that converted to Mormonism and moved across the world to help develop the territory that became Utah. She was 19, like any girl her age, she loved dancing and meeting boys—every time she wore a lavender dress.

Eventually, she earned the nickname, Lavender, because of her dress. She didn't mind. It was also her favorite color.

But Marilyn's dancing days were cut short. She caught pneumonia and died a year and a half after moving into the valley at age 20. Her headstone in Salt Lake City Cemetery included her nickname.

Ten years later, the Tanner family arrived in the valley with their 20-year-old son Henry, who also loved the dances. It wasn't hard for Henry to find girls to dance with and take to what's now 600 East, under the kissing tree, to steal a kiss. One night, he saw a girl at a dance who nearly knocked him off his feet. She was wearing a lavender dress, and Henry knew he had to make a move.

He offered to accompany the young lady home and stopped by the kissing tree on the way. It was a cold night, so he offered her his jacket and they shared a kiss. Before he could kiss her again, it started raining and he took her home. The house was dark. No candles, nobody else around. The girl thanked Henry and went in the house.

Henry went home, wishing to see her again. Then he realized she still had his jacket—the perfect excuse for a follow-up date.

The next day, Henry made the trek to the house and the weeds looked higher than the night before, the home was falling apart and nobody was inside. Thinking he had the wrong house, he asked a neighbor where the girl in the lavender dress lived.

The neighbor said Henry could find Lavender under the poplar tree at the far east end of the cemetery. And when he went there, he found his jacket neatly folded over Marilyn's headstone.

We could not find a burial record for Marilyn Watson who died at this time in the area, but we did find the "kissing" tree. Kind of.

A monument is dedicated to the Big Cedar Tree, south of 300 S. 600 East (formerly Emigration Road).

The tree was a meeting place for more than just young lovers. Prayers were said at its base, loggers would meet before going to work and children would play in its shade. The tree was eventually cut down, and the Daughters of Salt Lake County erected a monument over its stump on July 24, 1933.