Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ernest Strack and the Inoculation of a Generation

Right next to Kinko's Copies across the street from the old BYU Social Hall was "Grandpa's Bookstore," a two-story building rented by Ernest Strack. When his cash flow was down, he rented the upstairs, and sometimes he had the prime downstairs location. Here the young, black-bearded polygamist historian fed sensitive documents to the Mormon underground in the 1970's and '80's. The famous "Seventh East Press" ran their magazine out of the same building, and used some of his material in their writings. DH and I were students at BYU at the time, and were curious about the establishment. In the Spring, when it was warm, Ernest would stand outside and zealously engage students as they walked by. He would say, "I've got something that you really want to see," and he would take you inside and show you a Second Anointing compilation, Patriarchal Blessings of early Apostles and Prophets, Xeroxed copies of William Clayton's journals, or Brigham Young's press books. If you didn't have the money or couldn't afford his discounted prices, often just the cost of printing, he would just hand you the documents, making you promise to bring him something he didn't have.

Ernest Strack was well known by students and faculty alike. The religion professors made jokes with their graduate research assistants, speaking knowingly of the "Mormon Underground." The professors knew that their assistants could obtain many of Ernie's latest acquisitions for their perusal and use. Documents flowed in and out of Grandpa's Bookstore during this period of openness at the LDS archives in SLC.

Familiar faces in the church today formed this group of student inquirers. They run the gamut from conservative BYU professors, LDS authors, and members of the "September Six." Some of you bloggers of a certain age may also have been frequenters of Ernie's establishment. I would not be exaggerating to state that an entire generation of Church historians got some of their documentary evidence from the clandestine materials being disseminated by Strack.

Strack had his agenda to expose the Church to the light and make known the secrets of Mormon history. But looking back over the past 25 years, Strack's legacy has strengthened individuals as well as the families, students and readers of his adherants. If you've ever read the works of Richard Holtzapfel, David Seeley, Bruce Van Orden, Orson Scott Card, Maxine Hanks, Michael Quinn, Gary Bergera, Elbert Peck, the Toscanos, Lyndon Cook, Andy Ehat, or David Whittaker, you may be the beneficiary of Ernest Strack's legacy.

Grandpa's Bookstore was an inoculation for many of these young LDS students that allowed them to open their minds to the vagaries of Mormon history. The materials Ernest Strack made available gave them an opportunity to examine Mormon history from many angles. Now, many of the recipients of materials from Strack have donated their collections to the University of Utah in order to keep them available to the public.

I know a lot of you bloggers frequented Grandpa's Bookstore back in the day. (Blake Ostler and Jim Faulconer--go on, admit it!) Do any of you have any pics or stories of Ernie Strack himself, Grandpa's Books, or the 7th East Press?

18 comments:

Dr. B said...

My first few experiences with Ernest Strake I blew him off as a kooky fundamentalist. I remember hearing him mentioned when I visited Richard Cowan by his research assistant. Being a history major at BYU I began hearing more about Grandpa's Books. I even had materials
forced on me by fellow students Scott Faulring and Mark Grandstaff . Finally one day Ernie stopped me in the parking lot outside his store and when I refused to go in to his store instead took me in to the copy shop where he pulled out premade copies of L. John Nuttall's diaries. When I went to pay him he told me that was okay. It was like a drug czar giving you a taste to get you hooked. After that time I received many documents from people who claim they got them from Ernest. I think Ernest was a proverbial scapegoat for those who didn't want to admit they were swapping documents like trading cards.

Dr. B said...

Just found this further information for you about Ernest Strack here. Ironically, his collection ended up at BYU after his untimely death from cancer.

Kevin Barney said...

I remember Strack, although I didn't have any extensive experience with him. I used to go into Grandpa's from time to time. I was tangentially involved in the Mormon Underground, but not a big player. And I loved the Seventh East Press. I heard recently that someone was digitizing the run to put them up on a website somewhere; that would be great! Does anyone know any more about that?

Bored in Vernal said...

Yes, it says here that the digitization is an effort by Student Review staffers, whoever they are...

Jake said...

I'm Ernest's son. Thank you all for the kind words. If you need pictures of him or the bookstore I could see what my mother has available. email me strack.jake@gmail.com

Anna said...

Ernest Strack lived his life to help anyone who needed it. That bookstore was his life. I am Ernest Daughter and nothing could be better than to hear that pleople still remember him and his store.
Thanks

Bored in Vernal said...

Wow, it's so cool to hear from some of his children! Jake, I tried to email you but it bounced back. I would love to get some pics--send them to clbruno at hotmail!

-Isaac said...

Hi there-

This is yet another one of Ernest's children.

I'll be happy to send you some pictures of dad, and when I get some time, I'll also write up a bit about him and about the bookstore.

I am the 2nd oldest, and remember a lot about those days.

Drop me an email if I forget to get you some pics soon. strack@gmail.com


-Isaac

Joe Ganci said...

I met Ernest at Grandpa's and had a lot of great talks with him at the bookstore and in his home, along with my BYU boss and a couple of other friends at the time. I moved back East at a certain point and was sad to hear later that he had died of a brain tumor. He was a good man.

Joe Ganci said...

By the way, I saved every copy of the Seventh East Press and have preserved them in a plastic bad. Despite that, they've yellowed somewhat. If nobody else has, I might be able to scan and post them sometime, as long as I'm not violating any copyrights!

Joe Ganci said...

Oops, I meant a plastic baG, not baD. I guess the plastic bag was kind of bad, even though it's zippered, because the pages have yellowed somewhat anyway!

Bored in Vernal said...

Joe, that would be GREAT! I would love to have a scanned copy of the 7th East Presses--even if you don't end up putting then online.
Please email me:
clbruno at hotmail

Anonymous said...

Hello,

My name is Patricia and Ernest Strack (Ernie) and I were very close friends from 6th grade through highschool. Even then, Ernest was a leader and a searcher. He was President of the Student Council, Captain of the football team and an Honors Student. He was loved and highly respected by all who knew him. He and I used to skip German class in highschool and take long walks down the railroad tracks discussing "the meaning of life." I first learned of Ernest's polygamist life in Time Magazine of all places. He came to visit me after that wanting to apologize for all the times he had been selfish or inconsiderate. I couldn't remember one time when that was so. He was so very special and I'm so glad that he is not forgotten.

Bored in Vernal said...

He was really something. Thank you for sharing this remembrance, Patricia.

Anonymous said...

I have never met Ernest Strack but I have been touched by his life. I was best friends with his oldest son, Mike while he was living in New Jersey. It was interesting to read that his father recommended reading Orson Scott Card, since they were the books that Mike always seemed to be reading in his free time; "Son of the Seventh Son." Mike was not always forthcoming with information about his family, I only would get bits and pieces. I am writing because I see that his brothers and sisters have commented and would like to know how Mike is doing. I know this may not be an appropriate place to reconnect, but I'll take the chance. My family and I would like to know how he is doing.

Bored in Vernal said...

Anon:
Jacob Strack is on Facebook, you could try sending him a message.

Anonymous said...

As a variant, yes

SwampTech said...

Mike is great. He lives in Portland. I know this is a little late. But better late then never right.