Tale of Two Cities

by Jewel Punzalan Allen
Philippine News, December 2000

Manila, Utah photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr
Manila, Philippines photo from chachasconeyisland.com

MANILA, Utah – Every week, postmaster Lenita Steinaker receives at least one piece of mail addressed to another Manila.

Manila, Philippines, that is.

She said, “Sometimes, postal workers will sort mail by city name instead of by zip code. When we receive mail for Manila, Philippines, why, we just send it on its way.”

Except for a shared name, no two cities could be more different from each other. The contrast is about as wide as the oceans between the two continents.

Look up Manila, Utah, on the web and you might get a paragraph or two. For lodging, there are three local inns and a campground. In the winter, you’re out of luck if you want to eat dinner past 8 p.m. That’s when their family restaurant closes down for the night. About 400 reside here year-round.

Mayor Chuck Dickison said that in Manila – about 190 miles northeast of Salt Lake City – “when two cars are moving, that is a traffic jam. The sky is clear. The air is fresh.”

A Philippine guidebook, on the other hand, devotes 20 pages to this Utah town’s namesake. Twelve million people call Manila, Philippines, home. Over a dozen five-star hotels rise above the sprawling, smog-filled city. Its charmingly colorful and chaotic ambience inspired “Manila, Manila,” a song made popular in the 1970s by the Philippine band Hotdog.

The closest sea to Manila, Utah, is over a thousand miles. It is situated nearly 6,400 feet above sea level.

The Philippine city’s picturesque Manila Bay flows along a narrow channel into the South China Sea.

The historic fame of that same Manila Bay, site of the first battle of the Spanish-American War, led to the naming of this Utah town “Manila”.

Dewey’s Doing

In April 1898, U.S. Admiral George Dewey sailed for the Philippines with a squadron of four armored cruisers, three smaller warships, and two unarmed coal tenders.

In his book The Spanish-American War, Alden R. Carter writes of Dewey’s decisive victory. “At the cost of only eight wounded, Dewey had destroyed the Spanish fleet, killed or wounded nearly 400 Spanish sailors, and broken Spanish power in the Philippines.”

Albert Marrin who also authored a siimilarly titled book, writes, “The American victory at Manila Bay took the United States by surprise. Few Americans had ever heard of the Philippines, let alone knew anything about them.”

Even then-U.S. President William McKinley admitted to a White House guest, “Before the battle I could not have told where those darmed islands were within two thousand miles!”

Leodivico Cruz Lacsamana, author of Philippine History and Government writes, “(Americans) pored over the maps and geography books to locate Manila Bay, the scene of America’s great naval victory.”

Marrin further recalled that Dewey became the hero of the hour, inspiring countless Dewey souvenirs and merchandise. Songs like Dewey’s duty done, What did Dewey do to them? and How did Dewey do it? became hits.

Hundreds of poems, mostly awful, celebrated Dewey’s accomplishment. Marrin quotes a famous poem, written by Ironquill, which first appeared in a Topeka, Kansas, newspaper:

Oh, dewy was the morning,
Upon the first of May,
And Dewey was the admiral,
Down in Manila Bay.
And dewy were the Spaniards’ eyes,
Them orbs of royal blue,
And dew we feel discouraged?
I dew not think we dew!

Manila “Fever” Reaches Utah

The celebration ultimately reached even the rugged lands in northeast Utah, where engineer Adolf Jessen was completing a territorial survey.

Historian Dale Morgan writes that “the name Chambers had been decided on for (a) settlement, and Jessen had the plats all packed and ready for mailing to Washington DC, when news was received that Admiral Dewey had just won the battle of Manila Bay. To commemorate this victory, Jessen unpacked the plats and changed the name to Manila.”

At the weekly Senior Center dinner, cook Connie Reed said the origina of the town’s name “was never brought up in school. I guess I was told about it by some old-timers.”

Mayor Dickison said, to his knowledge, there are no Filipinos residing here.

Town office employee Betty Twitchell said she recalls one Filipino family who lived here about 20 years ago, and who stayed for maybe a year or two. “I remember being impressed at that time that they came from the Philippines,” she said.

Although Filipino visitors in Manila, Utah, are few and far between, Dickison told Philippine News he hopes more will come and visit. He said he would also love to exchange ideas with his Philippine counterpart, Manila Mayor Jose L. Atienza.

That way, the two Manilas can exchange more than just mail.