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Home / Articles / News / Cover Story /  Feature | You Can’t Take It With You: Legendary eccentric Stan Sanders’ obsession with Utah’s past knew no limits. Page 1
Cover Story

Feature | You Can’t Take It With You: Legendary eccentric Stan Sanders’ obsession with Utah’s past knew no limits. Page 1

By Stephen Dark
Posted // November 12,2008 -
nIllegal elephant dung: That was the secret to Stan Sanders’ 400 pound-plus giant pumpkins that he raised in a one-and-a-half-acre garden behind his house on Blair Street in South Salt Lake in the 1970s. The fertilizer was illegal because Utah’s Hogle Zoo is nonprofit and legally can’t give it away. So, Sanders would get a tip from a friend at the zoo when the elephant cages were getting cleaned out. He’d take his youngest son, Doug, now 52, to the refuse containers behind the zoo and shovel the dung into the back of their truck. “Tell me those aren’t memories,” Doug Sanders says.
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Such antics were typical of the man who died this past Aug. 27 at the age of 81, known as one of the state’s greatest antique memorabilia and Utah folk art collectors. He was “the black hole of Utah collecting,” his oldest son, antiquarian bookseller Ken Sanders says. Stan Sanders single-handedly created a market for Utah artifacts and collectibles, according to long-time collector Rick Holt. “Stan started buying up anything that was Utah: medicine, pharmacy and soda bottles,” Holt says, effectively underwriting the collecting of much of Utah’s history.

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Stan spent 50 years archiving Utah’s past, not for any altruistic or noble purpose, son Ken says, but “for the sheer pleasure of it.” Ken inherited his father’s collectibles, which he says are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He faces what he terms “the Herculean task” of liquidating tens of thousands of pieces from his father’s vast collection.

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“It’s paralyzing me every time I try to get it done,” he says. Given the sheer scope of Stan’s passion for collecting, it’s not surprising one collector terms that passion “a disease.” But for his sons, Stan was a collector, who, Ken says, simply “took things far farther than anyone else.”

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As Ken dismantles his father’s collections, he is disposing of much more. Stan had a life-consuming love affair with Utah, particularly before it became a liquor-control state back in the 1930s. That pre-DABC Utah, much like the state’s most obsessive collector, has been swallowed by the dust of time. The collections face the same fate.

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For now, Stan’s myriad collections and the rows of loose-leaf binders in which he noted every saloon and brewery Utah has ever known all but spill out of the South Salt Lake family home’s basement, garage and annex. The Sanders family even bought the house next door to provide further space for Stan’s obsessions.

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Wander around the collections, and it’s like peering into the bizarre labyrinths of a highly organized mind splintering off in hundreds of directions at once. The inventory includes late 19th century drug-store signage, fire extinguishers, extremely rare beer trays from the early 1900s and pharmacy bottles embossed with claims to cure drunkenness or to provide an “infallible remedy for consumption.” There are postmarks from every Utah post office on file since its 1896 statehood, old Saltair Resort memorabilia such as locker keys, china, swimsuits and stuffed animals including a deer’s butt with fangs and tongue between its cheeks and a two-bodied, one-eyed lamb that gave Doug and Ken nightmares as children.

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The mounted sailfish above the living room fireplace isn’t part of the taxidermy collection. Stan caught the fish on one of several foreign fishing expeditions he organized as founder of a big-game fishing club in Utah.

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All this just scratches the surface of Stan’s gargantuan appetite for the historic, the mundane and the downright strange. Whether a 1925 denim apron from Utah’s only battleship, the U.S.S. Utah, or the menus, china and napkins from the Sugar House-spawned 1950s fried-chicken food chain Coon Chicken Inn—whose racist depictions of African-Americans are a staple of the black memorabilia market—or 500 photographs of swimmers floating like corks in the Great Salt Lake, Stan Sanders simply hungered for Utah’s past.

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After his father’s funeral, Ken went into the garage where the bottle museum resides. The glass shelves that held some of his insulator collection had all vibrated out half an inch. Insulators are undulating colored-glass devices used in telegraph lines back in the 1850s. They resemble controls from a 1950s science-fiction movie spaceship. Hold them to the light and they give off a warm, otherworldly light. Now some decorate the trees surrounding Ken’s home near the University of Utah.

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Ken jokes he didn’t know if the shelves’ movement was from an earthquake or, he says, only half in jest, “Dad from the grave saying, ‘You better get those bottles taken care of, son.’”

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