Arriving in Salt Lake City in 1898, a young preacher named James Hart tested the generosity of the people among whom he had landed. He called upon a hotelkeeper and introduced himself as a minister of the gospel, newly arrived from Tennessee. He had met a number of Mormon missionaries who relied on the generosity of strangers, and he had adopted the same method of preaching without purse or scrip. â€œMr. Hampton,â€ he said, â€œI should like to obtain entertainment from you for the night, if you can provide for me on these terms.â€ The Salt Lake innkeeper agreed to provide a room to the preacher.
Hart explored downtown Salt Lake, introducing himself to a number of businessmen as a minister dependant upon the kindness of strangers. Several merchants chatted with him about their own views of the gospel. A barber gave him a shave and a haircut. A jeweler repaired his watch, and a dentist repaired his tooth. One man gave him $2.50 for train fare. A manager at ZCMI fitted him with a $5 pair of shoes. Wherever he asked, the Mormon businessmen of Salt Lake readily filled his needs.
The thing is, Hart was no Protestant minister come to proselytize among the Mormons of Utah. He was a Mormon himself, who had served more than two years as a missionary in Tennessee and North Carolina. â€œBe it said to the credit and kind hospitality of the people of the south,â€ he said, â€œI never had occasion to sleep out of doors, and very seldom lacked for food. Friends were raised up through the kind providence of God. … Nor was it the poor alone whose hearts were opened to provide for us. We had free access to the best hotels in some of the larger cities, and were entertained by the wealthiest and most influential citizens wherever we chose to travel. I had conductors on the railroad take me free of charge and pay my hotel bill on reaching my destination.â€
He wondered whether his own people would be so generous to a stranger, so, on his way home to Idaho, he stopped in Salt Lake where he was unknown, and conducted his experiment. Everything he asked for, he reported, was freely given. (To Elder Hart’s credit, after each merchant had agreed to provide assistance, Hart identified himself for who he really was.)