Odd Park City facts are tucked into every abandoned mine cart and old ski lodge in town. But few are more noisy than the nightly 10:00 p.m. siren. 

Theories behind the reliable nocturnal alarm abound. Is it a Cold War-era air raid siren? Did it signal the end of the mining day? While everyone can hear it, few know the true story behind the siren. But we know, and so can you.

If you’ve ever been lounging in your balcony hot tub at The Caledonian, moonbathing in your bubbly paradise, only to be suddenly interrupted by the keening of a distant alarm around 10:00 p.m., you’ve heard The Downtown Siren. Don’t worry, though! The siren doesn’t signal Soviet air raids, impending invasions, mine collapses, or anything like that. No, the truth behind The Downtown Siren is decidedly mundane.

The Origin Of The “Ten O’Clock Whistle”

The story behind the siren starts in 1901. The Main Street Bell Tower housed—big surprise—a brand new bell weighing nearly a ton. The bell was intended to alert Parkites to emergencies, particularly fires (because, after all, the entirety of Main Street did burn down just three years earlier). To make sure it worked, the fire department started the daily 10:00 p.m. test. As you might imagine, 1,500 pounds of bell make quite a racket. 

Downtown Park City was not-so-gently rung to sleep each night courtesy of the fire department. Needless to say, it wasn’t particularly popular. It did become the de-facto curfew notice for local kids, and was quickly called the “ten o’clock whistle” by frustrated Parkites.

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

Fortunately, the bell didn’t last long. By April 1902, the bell was replaced with a compressed-air whistle. No one was happy about it. The whistle was way worse than the bell. It also had a big problem. The compressor froze in cold weather. That’s not very helpful for an emergency system in a mountain town that experiences a long and freezing winter.

Instead, the system was replaced again in 1905 by an electrically powered system operated by the phone company. Unfortunately, that system wasn’t perfect either. The phone company didn’t communicate perfectly with the fire department. On at least one occasion, a building burned to the ground without the alarm making a peep. 

That wasn’t the last system, either. In 1916, the whistle got another update. That update didn’t work at all. The city fathers had to immediately order new parts and appointed a night watchman in the meantime. It finally reached functional status in 1917, and has continued to sound faithfully at 10:00 p.m. each and every night.

New Systems, Old Habits

Of course, Park City doesn’t rely on a mere whistle to communicate emergencies anymore. In our modern age, complex real-time advisory systems and satellite communications provide public safety updates. The nightly alert is the last vestige of an outdated public service.

Despite the relatively mundane explanation, The Downtown Siren remains a bizarre artifact of Park City history. There is still some mystery behind the alarm. Why does it still go off each night? Why hasn’t the system been decommissioned entirely? Maybe it’s just the weight of tradition and the inertia of habit. Maybe it’s kept around as an analog backup in case more sophisticated systems fail.

In any case, The Downtown Siren is just one more piece of Park City’s unique culture and history. It has been alerting the residents of downtown Park City of disasters since 1901. Mostly, it has been keeping everyone up at night for more than 100 years.

If you want to experience The Downtown Siren, All Seasons Resort Lodging offers an array of downtown Park City lodging for all tastes and budgets. Just as the siren sounds year-round, our selection of condos and townhomes is perfect for adventure any time of the year. When you book with All Seasons Resort Lodging, you’ll always get the Lowest Rate, Guaranteed.

August 18, 2020

Written by Michael Purser

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