Whale of a Tale
Artists Christine Baczek and David Hyams use a Utah Enquirer article published in 1890 as inspiration for Whale of a Tale. According to the article, two juvenile Australian whales, one female and one male, were placed in Great Salt Lake in 1873. The artists use period-correct photography (wet plate collodion) to document this story as if it actually happened. “Fake news” of whales in Great Salt Lake continues to this day.
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Who is Mr. Wickham?
An article published in The Utah Enquirer in 1890 tells the story of Mr. James Wickham. Born in England, Mr. Wickham believed that the Great Salt Lake was the perfect habitat for breeding and raising whales to meet the oil and bone market demands of the late 1800s. He imported 2 juvenile whales to San Francisco from Australia and further transported them to Great Salt Lake via the transcontinental railroad in 1873. This tintype is the only known portrait of Mr. Wickham.
Whale in the Mail
In order to move two Australian whales from San Francisco to Great Salt Lake, Mr. Wickham commissioned two special railcars to hold 30,000 gallons of sea water and safely transport the animals to their new lake habitat. This tintype is the only known photograph of Mr. Wickham’s commissioned railcars. The ability to “mail” the whales by train made this experiment possible as the travel time was much faster and the cargo too heavy for other modes.
Whales on the Rails
The path to Great Salt Lake was set forth by the Central Pacific Railroad from northern California to Corinne, Utah. Mr. Wickham determined that the ideal location to “plant” the whales was a small bay where Bear River met the lake. Situated just west of this confluence, Corinne was known at the time as the “Gentile Capital of Utah.” At it’s peak, the town boasted 1,000 permanent residents, none of whom were Mormon. This tintype of the train carrying the whales just north of Great Salt Lake, roughly 35 miles from Corinne, was taken at quite a distance from the train for unknown reasons. But, it is believed to be the only tintype of the train transporting the Australian whales to Great Salt Lake.
There Be Whales Here!
Mr. Wickham “planted” the whales in a small bay with fencing he installed to keep the animals corralled. After a few minutes of inactivity the whales broke free and swam to deeper waters. Within minutes they were out of sight and Mr. Wickham gazed helplessly at the salty sea. Six months later, an associate of Mr. Wickham’s spotted the whales not fifty miles from their intended home in Great Salt Lake. This tintype is the only known photograph (and the only known underwater tintype!) of the original Australian whales Mr. Wickham “planted” in Great Salt Lake.