My family moved to Illinois in 1965 when I was seven years old. Every year for vacation we drove back to visit relatives in Utah, and every year on the way we spent a couple of days in Nauvoo and Carthage. I continue to live in Illinois, so I’ve been there at least a couple of dozen times now.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard about sparking lamps, where a boy courting his girl had to go home once the lamp went out, and the father got to control how much oil to put in the lamp (a lot for a boy he liked, a little for one he didn’t care for). The senior missionaries there have always been terrific at bringing the place alive for me.
When I was just a boy our family got a personal tour conducted by T. Edgar Lyon (my father had been a student of his). He showed us where my father’s ancestor, Samuel Lee (also an ancestor of Harold B. Lee), once lived, on a lot that has never been restored.
I thought I would share a little Nauvoo trivia:
1. When I was a boy and you took the tour at Carthage Jail, in the upper bedroom they actually had a model of a pepperbox pistol, the kind Joseph used to fire blindly into the hallway at the rushing mob. You can get a sense for what one looked like here. It was an early form of six shooter, but there were six barrels that rotated instead of one barrel with a rotating chamber. These things looked like toys and were notoriously unreliable, which perhaps is why only three chambers fired, the others misfiring. I always get a chuckle when critics portray the events at Carthage as a shootout at the OK Corral rather than the assassination that it was.
2. Also when I was a boy, they would point out to you the stain on the floor from Hyrum’s blood where he fell. For many years it was actually under glass. Then they removed the glass and stopped referring to it. As it turns out, the stain wasn’t of Hyrum’s blood after all. When the Church acquired the jail, the son of the former owner said that the floor had been replaced, and the floorboards that are there now were cut with a type of saw that didn’t exist at the time the jail was first constructed.
3. My source for 2 above is Don Enders. Don also told me that they did tests of the John Taylor watch that supposedly was struck by a ball, saving his life. Think CSI. Well, it turns out that the damage to the watch wasn’t caused by a bullet. They think that Taylor fell from the impact of being hit by a ball and fell against the window sill, and that the force of that impact was what damaged the watch to record for time immemorial the time of the attack.
4. Willard Richards was the only one wearing his garments that day. The story has always been that the others put theirs aside to protect them from being desecrated by the mob. But according to John Taylor, who is our best informant on these events, that is not the case. In reality, they weren’t wearing their garments because it was so dang hot. (And if you’ve ever been to Nauvoo on a hot and humid day, like when my wife and I parked cars for the temple dedication, you surely will not blame these brethren for their eminently good sense.)
5. A few times I’ve encountered Colleen Ralson of the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center. Once she was handing out facsimile reprints of the Nauvoo Expositor at the gates to the City of Joseph pageant. I appreciated receiving this gift very much, and used it as an exhibit when I gave a presentation on the suppression of the Expositor to our Chicago J. Reuben Clark Law Society (based on the Oaks Utah Law Review article). A few years ago the FARMS traveling Dead Sea Scroll exhibit was at Nauvoo, and at their request I went and gave a series of lectures and Q&A sessions on the Scrolls. I noticed Colleen in the audience at one of these sessions, and was sort of hoping she would take me to task on something in my presentation, but she never did.
6. Finally, here is a little piece I wrote once on the meaning of the name “Nauvoo.”
Do you have any Nauvoo experiences or trivia you would like to share?