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SALT LAKE CITY — Hikers are wondering what happened to a decades-old mailbox monument on top of the well-trafficked Jack's Mountain in Salt Lake City.
No one wants to find out more than the family of the little boy to whom the monument pays tribute.
People who visit Jack's Mountain, or Jack's Peak as it's labeled on some maps, know it's a grueling and intense hike.
Gaining more than 1,300 feet in elevation in less than two miles from base to peak, the journey yields breathtaking views of the Salt Lake Valley. But the reward isn't just what you can see looking out from the top. It's about what hikers find nestled in the rocks that make the trip worth it for many.
"My name's Jack Edwards and I want to welcome you to my mountain," read Mary Thornton from a piece of laminated paper in her driveway Sunday, near the base of Jack's Mountain.
She typed the original note that has greeted countless visitors for over two decades. Tucked inside a mailbox along with a journal, the note is written from the perspective of Jack, who died at 21 months old in 1995 from Leukemia.
The letter compares Jack's journey to climbing a mountain.
"After I was all settled up here in heaven, mom and dad and some of their friends climbed up this big mountain and set me free," it reads.
In the spot where Jack's parents spread his ashes, hikers find mailboxes with Thornton's note, as well as journals filled with stories of grief and triumph.
Thornton estimates the journals contain more than 13,000 entries.
While some have shared deeply personal struggles and challenges, others have written about healing and strength.
This isn't something that was just for us; it's something that a lot of other people took ownership of and took pride in.
Thornton explained that people can come to that spot to reflect and find comfort as they read or write.
"People really wrote from their heart about decisions they were making, about hard things that they had gone through, about things that they hoped to accomplish," she recounted. "And then, someone else would come up and read what they had written, and it would help that person."
She hiked the original mailbox with a single journal up Jack's Mountain with his family shortly after Jack passed away in 1995.
At the time, Thornton described how the mailbox was meant to mimic summit registers found on other mountain peaks, but this one would be different in that it would invite people to share their thoughts with Jack.
In the note, Jack tells the reader that he is their guardian angel and will help people climb their mountains.
Thornton, along with Jack's mom Kim Edwards, never imagined that the mailbox would grow and take on a life of its own over the next 25-plus years.
"I feel like we took something that was very sad, very hard for us, and without even knowing what we were doing, it turned into something wonderful for so many people," Edwards said.
Over the years, the one mailbox grew into a few, and one journal blossomed into 25. At one point, someone set a Buddha near the mailboxes. Someone else placed a custom-made metal jack with a special inscription on top of the rocks.
Edwards now lives out of state but flies back often just to hike Jack's Mountain. She said they've been amazed to see all the entries in the journals.
"We'd go up there and someone brought up new journals, someone would bring up new pens, and new Ziplock bags to put the journals in," Edwards said. "So, this isn't something that was just for us; it's something that a lot of other people took ownership of and took pride in."
They also never imagined that the memorial — after all these years — would suddenly disappear out of nowhere.
"It was devastating," Edwards said. "It was devastating because it was so unexpected."
Based on photos posted on the hiking app AllTrails, it appears the mailboxes and journals vanished between late January and early February.
Hikers have been posting online about how everything disappeared and asking what happened.
The U.S. Forest Service told KSL-TV that their trail crews didn't remove anything. Jack's Peak sits just inside Forest Service boundaries.
After searching social media and asking around, Edwards, Thornton and other neighbors don't have any clue who took everything down, or why.
Edwards is baffled that someone would remove all the journals.
"All we had ever heard from Jack's Mountain, from the journals, was how much people love it up there. They look forward to going back again," she explained. "Never did we think someone would be offended by it."
Edwards said that she, Jack's father, sister and brother are really sad it's gone. They're also hoping whoever took the more than 25-years-worth of thousands of heartbreaking and heartwarming stories brings them back to the mountaintop.
Edwards and Thornton each explained they don't want the mailboxes returned just for them, but for a community that found healing and comfort — thanks to a little boy named Jack.
If anything, she said she may bring a new mailbox up with a single journal, just like they did all those years ago.
In fact, other hikers have already begun to rebuild the memorial that was torn down. On Saturday, a hike to the top revealed new mementos placed on the rocks of the peak.
"They feel his love through it," Edwards said. "It radiates throughout the top of Jack's Mountain."