Joe Prokop is a producer at KUED. A native of Connecticut, Prokop settled in Utah for the powdery snow-skiing and red-rock desert and has since become fascinated with local history. "The Spirit of Fort Douglas" was his first documentary.
Q. Why is Fort Douglas the subject of your first documentary?
A. The history of Fort Douglas is not just the story of a place near the University of Utah, nor the simple tale of an abandoned fort. Fort Douglas is stationed at the crossroads of several major historical events-the federal surveillance of early Mormon pioneers; the joining of the transcontinental railroad; the internment of aliens during WWI and WWII; and the lodging of Olympic athletes from around the world. The Fort has always had a way of redefining itself and adapting to the modern world. It's a historic landmark that has remained vital to the community and to the country.
Q. Why should viewers care about Fort Douglas?
A. The history and development of Fort Douglas mirrors that of the nation. When it comes to Native American issues, military training and war internment, the fort's past plays an integral role in understanding U.S. history. Few people know that it was a training ground for African-American soldiers leaving for the Spanish-American War. Additionally, it served as the central base of operations for soldiers leaving to fight in the most significant battles with Native Americans. Prisoners of war and aliens from Germany, Italy, Japan and other countries that inspired xenophobic response after WWI were interred there at different times during the two World Wars.
Q. What about soldiers who fought in World Wars?
A. After WWI, the fort was garrisoned with the 38th infantry, an outfit whose efforts to stop the Germans at the Second battle of the Marne became the turning point in the war. It was quite an honor to have such a celebrated regiment stationed at the fort. During WWII the fort became an important base of operations-and an induction center for the western U.S.-as the military installations were moved inland from the coast. Thousands of men passed through the fort as they went off to fight in that war, many of whom are buried in the Fort Douglas Cemetery.
Q. How is the fort relevant today?
A. Thanks to renovation and reconstruction, Heritage Commons at Fort Douglas is now home to diverse students from around the world who come to study at the University of Utah. And, of course, the fort is playing host to the international athletes gathering for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. A portion of the Fort still operates as a recruitment center for all branches of the military.
Q. What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?
A. I hope viewers have an "a-ha" moment, when they learn something interesting they didn't know before. This collection of buildings has a rich past and a bright future. While the events that have unfolded at Fort Douglas over the last century live on in the hearts of veterans, I hope my film will bring these details to light for generations to come. With the renovations and recent changes in ownership, new life has been breathed into the fort. My film is a reminder of the rich and colorful stories that comprise its foundation.