LDS Historical Sites

August 22, 2007 | 72 comments
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A couple of months ago I heard a presentation on the general topic of historical sites that the Church owns and manages. I came with a pocketful of snarky questions but left with some appreciation for how tough the task is and (on the whole) how well the sites are set up and managed. I’ll give a couple of paragraphs summarizing the talk, then a couple of paragraphs commenting on historical sites I have visited.

Development and Management

The LDS historical sites under discussion here exclude Temple Square and Nauvoo, which are so large they are administered through their own administrative divisions. LDS.org has a nice map showing all the sites, including overseas sites. Institutionally, there are three departments responsible for the sites: (1) the Historic Sites Committee selects the sites to be developed, manages the restoration of the site, and writes the historical “curriculum” for the site; (2) once the site is open to the public, the Missionary Department manages it and staffs the site with guides; and (3) Physical Facilities maintains the physical side of the site and its operation. Each site has a Site Director who runs the site and reports directly to the Missionary Department in SLC. The missionaries assigned to the site, however, still report to the Mission President for that area.

That sounds like a real organizational mess, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, it seems to work fairly well. Yes, it would be nice if historians ran the sites and gave tours, but there aren’t many historians looking for work as tour guides, while there are 60,000+ missionaries with time on their hands (and they work for free). More to the point, the substantial financial commitment of the Church to purchase, restore, staff, and manage these sites can only be justified if it furthers the mission of the Church. LDS leaders won’t spend millions of tithing bucks to subsidize the equivalent of a county historical museum; they will spend millions of tithing bucks to preserve sites, landmarks, and monuments that witness or testify to the truths of the Restoration.

The Historic Sites Committee actually has a mission statement to guide its work: remember there are many more potential sites than there are resources to develop them. They are to (1) identify locations of historical significance, (2) preserve the actual historical settings of key events of the Restoration, and (3) witness to the truths of the Restoration and create informative and/or spiritually moving experiences for those who visit. Historic Sites selects and provides the historical context; the missionaries staff the sites and bear witness as opportunity presents; and Physical Facilities fixes the things the missionaries break. Something like that.

Specific Sites

My notes have lots of details on specific sites that were discussed, but I’d rather just note a site or two I have visited personally over the years and invite readers to make comments on other sites they are familiar with. About twenty years ago, I was touring Old Town in San Diego while on vacation with the family and wandered into the Mormon Battalion Historic Site. I remember nothing about the exhibits or short film we saw, but I remember it was a pleasantly cool building with lots of nice benches on a blistering hot day in San Diego. This illustrates why Physical Facilities is a key player in this game: they don’t skimp on air conditioning and they build outstanding parking lots that are actually large enough to meet the demand. I suggest these are two signs of the True Church (at least in California).

A couple of years ago I toured the Cove Fort Historic Site. It is about a mile down the road from the Cove Fort Chevron station, which may be the most strategically placed gas station in the world, about 100 feet off the I-15 freeway smack in the middle of Nowhere, like an oasis in the desert. Which explains Cove Fort, about a mile down the country road from the Chevron station. The fort was a rest and resupply station for 19th-century Mormon travelers headed to or from Southern Utah. It was also an actual fort. To protect travelers from all those friendly Native Americans.

We took the tour. I thought the missionary guides (a senior couple) were a little preachy, given they knew we were LDS. That was one of the snarky comments I had lined up but didn’t use. They’re missionaries, so I guess it’s their job to be a little preachy. I thought the rooms were rather cozy and the furniture ample and functional. Let’s just say it was better than some student housing I’ve lived in. And they didn’t have to pay three bucks a gallon to water their horses. Maybe the pioneers didn’t have it so bad.

The bottom line is that the Church devotes substantial resources to identifying, developing, staffing, and maintaining these sites, but the results are fairly impressive. We’re spoiled in that Mormonism has lots of historical sites worth preserving, but they don’t preserve themselves — it takes resources and organizational effort to make it happen.

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72 Responses to LDS Historical Sites

  1. John Mansfield on August 22, 2007 at 7:53 am

    The junction at Cove Fort with Interstate 15 is the western end of Interstate 70. I-70 ends in the east at the Baltimore beltway. As a driver begins his travel from that eastern end, he sees a giant mileage sign:
    Columbus 420 miles
    St. Louis 845 miles
    Denver 1700 miles
    Cove Fort 2200 miles

    The Baltimore Sun ran a story in June on why the state highway administrator put up that sign three years ago. It’s in the paid archive now, but Google has it cached.

    “I think about going to Baltimore one day,” says Kent Jones, a 72-year-old Mormon missionary serving as Cove Fort’s caretaker along with other volunteers from the church. More than a few of their 80,000 yearly visitors have traveled from Baltimore because of the sign. The missionaries, who work in two-year shifts at the fort, have been amused, tickled even, by the continental connection.

  2. John Scherer on August 22, 2007 at 8:25 am

    I used to live near the Aaronic priesthood restoration site in PA. Besides the occasional stake camping trip and bus tour, the place was usually vacant. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. What a great place for reflection, I know of no place more peaceful. The site consists of a statue marking the historical signifigance of the area and a guestbook. The cemetary where the Hales and Joseph and Emma’s first lost child are buried is adjacent. When I left Pennsylvania there were rumors of a visitor’s center to come. I returned last month to the site while visiting family and was relieved to have found that those plans were on hold and the area is as I had remembered. Apparently, the church is making efforts to make the river side more acceptable, which is great. I just hope that nothing is done to take away from the tranquility of the area.

  3. Tanya Spackman on August 22, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I’ve never been interested in history, and Church history is no exception. Bores me to tears. Most LDS historical sites I’ve visited have been interesting for 5 or 10 minutes, and then I’m ready to move on. Nauvoo, however, is the one exception. I adore the place. I’m not sure what about it appeals to me since tours of one old house blend into the tours of every other old house, but I love the feel of the old, historical town. It is at least partly, I suppose, the Spirit. Maybe it is also the extent of the restoration of the old town that is impressive. I love the place, though. The new Nauvoo temple brings tears to my eyes when I drive into the town.

    Also, the last time I went to Nauvoo was at the end of September/beginning of October, so the tourist level was much lower, as was the heat and humidity. So much better than going in the summer. I hope to see the place near Christmas sometime.

  4. roland on August 22, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Hi Dave –

    I’m surprised that you made no mention of the early LDS Temples as historic sites. They have their visitor center and get quite a few LDS and non-LDS tourists. And just like other history sites – they are staffed by full-time missionaries.

    http://www.maintour.com/utah/uttemp1.htm

  5. queuno on August 22, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Tanya – When were you in Kirtland last? I grew up in the shadow of Kirtland and popped in to see the temple every year or so while in high school. We could chronicle how much it had “slipped” every year.

    We went there last year with my kids and we were amazed at what they have put together there. The church’s efforts into the non-temple sites has been outstanding, and as a bonus, the CoC now does a good tour in the temple (they are hiring professionals and interns who study museums and restoration to do the tours). Also, the Church and the CoC are banding together on joint education, etc., so that both sets of missionaries have a better understanding of the other’s story.

  6. Adam Greenwood on August 22, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Great post. I thoroughly appreciate the Church history sites I’ve seen, though I remember the missionaries at Cove Fort were a little overbearing, like you said. I think the missionary efforts I saw there and at other sites need to work harder to deliver a missionary or spiritual message that’s tied to the meaning of the site they’re delivered at. The Carthage Jail site is pretty good along those lines.

  7. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    queuno,

    How many millions of dollars do you think it would take for the Community of Christ to sell the Kirtland Temple?

    $50 million?

    $100 million?

    The LDS Church has the resources to buy it…

  8. Dave on August 22, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Condor, the speaker did mention that the LDS Church is on pretty good terms with the CoC in relation to the Kirtland temple, and also how forthcoming the CoC folks have been in providing reasonable access to the LDS folks. The speaker did relate a plea from one of their representatives to the effect that they wish we’d stop offering to buy the Kirtland Temple. It’s sacred to them, too. How would we feel about selling one of our temples?

  9. Peter LLC on August 22, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    the CoC now does a good tour in the temple

    I agree. They are also using the same “make them do something to feel uncomfortable…err, the Spirit” techniques as the Sisters on Temple Square. Last time I was in Kirtland all three of us in that particular tour got to sing “The Spirit of God” to the guide’s accompaniment.

  10. Kevin Barney on August 22, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for the post. I agree that the church in general does a bang up job on historic sites, which I greatly appreciate.

    I’ve only been to Cove Fort once, but the missionaries there were tremendous. My daughter was then a purple-haired teenager, but this old brother found out she was a vegetarian, and he insisted on taking us out back to the huge garden the missionaries maintain, showing us the various plants and filling a large sack of fresh veggies for us. He found a way to connect to our daughter in a way that was meaningful to her, and so I’ve always had fond memories of that place as a result.

  11. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Dave,

    I think you make a good point about the CofC feeling that the Kirtland Temple is sacred. But I have the impression that their church is slowly fading away. They changed their name, they no longer insist that a descendant of Joseph Smith be the prophet, etc. As they fade out, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind a nice cool $100-$200 million for the Kirtland Temple.

  12. Stevie on August 22, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    You know, I have grown up in the church, so maybe I get sick of seeing everything handled so similarly, but I really don’t enjoy church history sites. And I really like history. Here is what I don’t like about them:

    1. They strike me as sterile.

    2. I don’t enjoy the tour guides, as a whole. We get two kinds of docents: Elderly couples, and young women. Both can be nice, and always touch me as sincere, but I don’t think that they usually really understand their own sites. Recently I went to the Peter Whitmer Farm with our stake youth conference. Here are a few things that happened:

    When we arrived we asked if there was a bathroom. The very nice 80 year-old woman told us: “Its right inside, on the southwest corner of the building.” Southwest corner? It is soooo Utah (or western) to describe things like that in N/S/E/W terms. There wasn’t a mountain in sight, and the sun was obscured by clouds. Southwest? Where’s that? We at least learned that there is indeed a bathroom in the building, and that we should concentrate on the corners. We found it. Why couldn’t she say: Its inside, on the left? (That’s were it was.) We chuckled but found that most directions are given in this NSEW which for me only serves to emphasize the “other” nature of the tour guides.

    Next, we were subjected to fairly long lectures on what we already know. On three separate occasions, we were told this story:

    Peter Whitmer’s wife was discouraged during the time of the translation of the BoM. She was walking outside at some point when she was met by a man who showed her the golden plates. It was Moroni. It must have made her feel better.

    That’s the extent of the story. What was odd was this: we were told this story in almost word-for-word similarity by THREE different guides. All of them emphasized the following:

    1. Peter Whitmer’s wife (we never heard her name, by the way, she was described only his wife) was discouraged, but NOT COMPLAINING. All three times we were told this by different people. You could almost hear the committee meeting and read the memo about the importance of emphasizing that the women who supported the men did not complain, and that Peter Whitmer’s wife (whatever her name was) would not be blessed with such a vision/event if she were complaining. The fact that all three so carefully emphasized that distinction was one of those points that make us (Mormons) look very controlled and constrained. The story no longer seemed personal, but a memorized blurb.

    2. It was really neat that a woman got to see the plates. (Dont’ get me started.)

    3. None of the witnesses ever forsook their testimonies of the BoM.

    However, when anyone asked any sort of specific question about them, (like her name) the docents/tour guides were unable to answer. Basic questions about where someone was born or where they died, what they did, etc. Testimonies would invariably be born about their importance, but the guides seemed to know so little. I have always understood that in order to talk about a subject, let’s call it “X” that we need to know more than just X.. We need to know X + Y. We can’t teach up to the limits of our knowledge. I felt like these tour guides had likely never really read a book or even a pamphlet about their site, (Possibly a page: “The bathroom is on the southwest corner of the building. The corn was grown on the east slope of the hill to the north of the south fork of the river.”) because they see their job as entirely spiritual. Its almost like they actively discourage historical understanding and context.

    I find this to be the case in almost all historical sites. In general, the married elderly couples have a better understanding of their historical context of their sites. The young women for me often serve to support almost every stereotype of our public persona. The young women smile, wear just the right amount of make-up, dress very modestly, are frighteningly friendly, and ultimate seem shallow.

    I attended a lecture (on a science subject) once where the lecturer said that in 2 weeks you can learn more about any subject that 99.5% of the world. These docents don’t need to go to graduate school. They should know alot.. a real lot… more about their sites.

  13. Ray on August 22, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    CC, insulting and condescending only begin to say it. If I were a member of the CofC, I would be appalled. Frankly, as a Mormon I am appalled. If we hit a rough stretch financially, should we sell the SLC Temple? (That was rhetorical. I don’t want to continue this further.)

  14. John Mansfield on August 22, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Brigham wanted to sell the Nauvoo Temple. Never knew that the Saints have a special familiarity with compass points, however.

  15. Stevie on August 22, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    By the way, her name was Mary

  16. Ivan Wolfe on August 22, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    I’ve been to Benbow pond in England – http://www.lds.org.uk/benbows_farm.php – It was basically a path and a small area around the pond, as most of the area was a sheep farm. No tour guides, just a plaque. Someone likely maintains it, but its way off the beaten path.

    And despite the bleating of sheep, very peaceful.

    As the church website states:
    Hill Farm is a privately owned working farm and as such has no opening times, however polite visitors to the Pond are welcome.

  17. jrl on August 22, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    First, Nauvoo must be THE must-see Church historical site. It is beautiful and the Spirit there is beautiful too. Next, go to Nauvoo over Spring Break. Pleasant weather, no crowds, have every building to yourself. And make sure to take the Community of Christ Tour. It is a marvelous thing to hear their perspective of the Restoration. It really made me appreciate the LDS understanding of things that much more.

  18. Adam Greenwood on August 22, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Southwest corner? It is soooo Utah (or western) to describe things like that in N/S/E/W terms. There wasn’t a mountain in sight, and the sun was obscured by clouds. Southwest? Where’s that?

    Barbaric. I can recommend a good lawyer, if you like. Sometimes you got to take a stand.

  19. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Ray,

    I could see the Community of Christ selling the Kirtland Temple sometime in the next 50 years if the price was right.

  20. Dave on August 22, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Stevie (#12), quite a story. I think that’s the downside of using missionaries as guides and using a scripted delivery. But I’m sure there is variation between sites based on what direction the Mission President gives; what directives the Site Director gives; and who the particular missionaries happen to be. Making things better would not be difficult. It seems to me they ought to make the missionary-guides learn more and better historical information, given that these are historical sites. If we want people to think the guides know what they’re talking about, they have to know what they’re talking about.

  21. Sam B on August 22, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Stevie,
    FWIW, it’s also soooo New York and Washington, D.C., to describe things in terms of N/S/E/W.

    CC,
    Like Ray said, that is enormously rude to the CoC; unless they suggest that they want to sell the temple, why try to convince them to sell? It’s essentially saying, I know you have a price, and when I hit that price, you’ll give me what I want. There is no polite or socially-acceptable way to interpret that.

  22. Ardis Parshall on August 22, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Anyone who has taken repeated tours of any cultural site — not only LDS history sites, but museums of all kinds — knows that docents work from a script. When docents or missionaries begin to vary from the script, you get folklore, and the more they stray, the more bizarre it gets. So you know more than your volunteer guide — congratulations.

    Guides and docents and missionaries labor under the severe handicap of having to deal with the general public, with its arrogance and boredom and hairy knees and Hawaiian print shirts. Give ‘em a break!

  23. JanetGW on August 22, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    When I visited Kirtland the Community of Christ people were incredibly kind–they gave me and my friend a private tour filled with all sorts of esoterica and humor. It must have taken 2 hours, and it was just us. The old fellow who took us around also gushed about how much they appreciated the LDS church’s help with upkeep and how much he enjoyed meeting random LDS second cousins (we were related as it turns out). I had a similar experience touring the portion of Nauvoo still held by the CoC. It’s nice to see people get along so well.

    So last summer my folks and I stumbled upon a little old pioneer settlement in Idaho which has become a ghost town and is slowly being rehabbed to become a church history stop. Anyone else every been to Chesterfield, Idaho? It lacks the big name drama of a place like Nauvoo, but it’s a lovely spot to spend an afternoon and it lacks the crowds of the other sites I’ve visited. I recommend it.

  24. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    “It’s essentially saying, I know you have a price, and when I hit that price, you’ll give me what I want. There is no polite or socially-acceptable way to interpret that.”

    Sam B., yes, that’s usually called “buying something.” Maybe the leaders of the CoC might be interested if Temple Square floated a number with nine figures.

  25. J.A.T. on August 22, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Agreed, the church does a great job w/ historic sites- Adam-ondi-ohman is wonderful— well maintained NATURAL habitat.

    I wish we* could do something about Haun’s Mill. I was there last year, and it is nearly impossible to find w/o GPS these days. One follows unmarked dirt roads (many of the signs have been shot out or weathered away). No markers exist. There used to be something and it was removed. I think the church owns the land. Most people find it by looking for ‘ski Utah’ plates and fresh tire tracks near the river left by other tourists. At a minimum, it needs signage and a marker. Due to its remote location, something simple (like Far West) might be another option. Is there any way to help get something like that off the ground from the grassroots?

  26. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    “Hawaiian print shirts”

    Here’s some free advice to everyone reading this: don’t wear these types of shirts.

  27. Sam B on August 22, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    CC,
    No, that’s called flaunting your wealth/power to somebody, probably to make yourself feel better. (Sometimes it’s also called a hostile takeover.) Buying (except, of course, in the case of said hostile takeover) is the result of a negotiation, coming to an ultimate price, between a party who wants to sell and a party who wants to buy. Saying “You have a price” and trying to flog someone into accepting it is not socially graceful. (Wall Street raiders are not beloved people, nor do they show—in their professions, at least—the type of social grace and interaction that I, at least, want to exhibit in my interreligious dialogue.)

  28. Ben There on August 22, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Dave (8): We already did try to sell a temple, the Nauvoo temple. Brigham Young sold it to the Catholics, but they backed out of the deal due to title defects. For quite some time Brigham tried to lease or sell it “for literary or religious purposes”. Several other sales nearly happened, too.

    Also, Heber J. Grant mortgaged the Salt Lake Temple in the 40’s, to bail the church out of deep debt, I believe.

  29. Ben There on August 22, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Oops, sorry John Mansfield (14). Didn’t see that you had already mentioned the attempted sale of the Nauvoo temple.

  30. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    Sam B.,

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be civilized about it. That’s fine. But you have to admit that a number with nine figures might at least be a little eye-catching for the Community of Christ.

  31. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    “Wall Street raiders are not beloved people, nor do they show—in their professions, at least—the type of social grace and interaction that I, at least, want to exhibit in my interreligious dialogue”

    I think it’s poor taste to put labels on investors.

  32. Adam Greenwood on August 22, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    (except, of course, in the case of said hostile takeover) is the result of a negotiation, coming to an ultimate price, between a party who wants to sell and a party who wants to buy.

    Sure. And negotiations start with an offer.

  33. DavidH on August 22, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    I am not sure I would want the Kirtland temple to become owned by the LDS church. If our Church owned it, I fear the temple might: 1. become closed to the public and only open to recommend holders, and 2. be gutted and “renovated” to accommodate the modern endowment.

  34. Sam B on August 22, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    Adam,
    True. But the context here is this: “The speaker did relate a plea from one of their representatives to the effect that they wish we’d stop offering to buy the Kirtland Temple. It’s sacred to them, too.”

    An offer is an offer. But once the offeror has been told that it’s not for sale (and it doesn’t seem to be a negotiating ploy which, in this case, I don’t get the impression it is), either the offeror respectfully stops, or pushes on anyway. Even in the Wall Street world, hostile takeovers aren’t called “hostile” for nothing; they’re not necessarily immoral, but they aren’t exercises in bridge-buildings.

    And CC, there is a difference between investors, activist investors, hostile bidders, etc. The labels are common, and are, in some cases, self-imposed. See, e.g., the W$J and the NYTimes coverage of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Journal, as well as any business coverage of Carl Ichan’s activist hedge funds. And maybe check out Portfolio.com, for a fairly celebratory (or at least chummy) look at various types of Wall Streeters. Slate and Salon discuss these things on a fairly regular basis, too, as do many legal and business blogs. So, while you may think it’s bad taste to label investors, those in the field don’t seem to agree. Most would agree, I submit, that it’s bad manners to hector people of other religions, though (or, frankly, people of your own).

  35. John on August 22, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I don\’t know if I know of another group that engages itself in ancestor worship quite like the Mormons! That said, I thoroughly enjoy visiting church history sites. As I get older, I believe I appreciate and \’get it\” more. I may not be able to relate physically to their sufferings and trials, but spiritually I feel more akin to them with each passing year. Sitting in Liberty Jail and reading Section 121 means much more to me after the trials and tribulations (er, faith-building experiences) of the past 30 or so years. (Thanks, Sister Berber, for giving us a few minutes). Pulling a handcart at Martin\’s Cove, I prayed I might endure and conquer my own personal blizzards and so be counted one with them.

    We just returned from Nauvoo, Independence, etc. Yes, we heard the same stories from different missionaries. Some were enthusiastic, some were obviously just learning, and all were great. We particularly enjoyed the tour and sites of the Community of Christ. We loved talking with the elderly brother at the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). My youngest (age 13) afterward wanted to know why he talked about Joseph Smith. It was a good opportunity to explain about common origins, differences of opinions, and the role of the Spirit in our lives.

    So it\’s more than ancestor-worship, it\’s admiration for their devotion to a cause, the building of Zion, and commitment to Jesus Christ. I hope that every country will have a spot, or spots, where people can go to connect with the Gospel past in their area that will help them as they face the Gospel future.

  36. California Condor on August 22, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    DavidH,

    I think you have a good point. Maybe if the LDS Church bought the Kirtland Temple, it would keep it as is since Joseph Smith did not introduce the endowment ceremony during the Kirtland era.

    Sam B, I’m fine with the CofC not being forced to sell if it doesn’t want to.

  37. Adam Greenwood on August 22, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    be gutted and “renovated” to accommodate the modern endowment.

    Good point.

  38. Clark on August 22, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    John, I think for places in Missouri it’s more than “ancestor worship.” In a sense a lot of the Church history sites are no better than general American history sites. (Or as worse – do I really care where George Washington lived?) However Missouri is different because it is the place of the return. I enjoyed being there years ago not because of the past but because of the future. The LDS visitor center at the general site of the temple to be catches this with a rather large (and to most Mormons famous) painting of Jesus returning in glory.

  39. Nick Literski on August 22, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Okay, with this being a thread on missionary tour guides at historical sites, I simply must trot out my favorite “historical site missionary” story ever. :-)

    A few years back, I took my family through the Missouri historical sites. We arrived at Liberty Jail, thinking the kids would enjoy the diorama presentation, etc. We were welcomed by a young sister missionary, who did an admirable job of presenting her script. We were part of a larger group going through the tour, all of whom were active LDS. For those who have never been to Liberty Jail, it’s important to know that the “tour” takes place in an enclosed “theatre in the round” of sorts. You are guided in, and guided out.

    As we entered, the sister missionary handed each of us a blank referral card. At the end of the presentation, she informed us that we would now have a “quiet time” in which to ponder, pray, and fill out the cards with the names and contact information for our non-LDS neighbors and friends back home. We then sat there, for a full ten minutes of silence, under the watchful gaze of this sister missionary. This, together with the physical structure, created a situation where there was no way to just get up and leave without significant embarassment. I was irritated, but hey, I’m good at being irritated. More to the point, my very faithfully-LDS then-wife was irritated. We simply felt unduly pressured. Finally, we were released, but only after handing our clearly-blank cards back to the sister missionary.

    Apparently our blank cards were not satisfactory, so the sister missionary followed us. We honestly just wanted to get out of the visitor center as quickly as possible, but she wanted to talk. “So,” she said, “five daughters and no boys? How sad!” I confess, I turned around and looked at her as if she’d just given birth to seven ostriches. She realized her faux pas, and then tried to dig herself out. We’ve all been in those situations—the times when we’ve said or done something immensely stupid or offensive, and trying to “fix” it just seems to make it worse? We continued to try to make a beeline for the door, but she continued to follow us. “Oh, I just mean I really enjoyed growing up with my brothers, and…”

    My youngest daughter, all of 4 years old at the time looked up into the face of this sister missionary, and with all the indignation a four-year-old can muster, she said “I DO TOO have a brother!” My then-wife and I tried to hush her, thinking that she was referring to recent family discussions about possible adoption, but she wouldn’t be hushed. “I DO TOO have a brother—JESUS!”

    And with that, I looked at the sister missionary and said, “So there!” and we walked out the door. I don’t know that I was ever more proud of one of my children. ;-)

  40. Darrell on August 22, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    My story (though it doesn’t match the intent of this post) also occurs at Liberty Jail. We had enjoyed the tour and were returning to our car when we realized that we had locked the keys in the car. After several attempts to open the door using the coat hanger method we finally gave up and called a local locksmith. The response to the request was an incredulous, “you want us to send a locksmith to the Liberty Jail?”

  41. J.A.T. on August 22, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Ok, somebody needs to say it . . .
    The last cobbler, blacksmith and gunsmith missionaries I met at Nauvoo (elderly men) were FANTASTIC walking indexes of an astounding volume of publications. (They had been reading voraciously during the quieter seasons to ‘magnify their calling’). They also had the family trees memorized for the home/museum they were docenting. (Some missionaries in the past have even contributed to family history AND mass produced publications for LDS markets.) To top it off, they were getting to be pretty darned skilled at the trade, not just the tourist demos. I’d match their knowledge and energy to the civil war reinacting enthusiasts anyday.

    And to put a cherry on the top of all that, they also sang in the evening’s musicals for the tourists.

    Bravo.

  42. Dave on August 22, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    JAT (#41), the “magnify your calling” idea sounds great for this scenario. Uh, I wonder whether proselyting missionaries assigned to historical sites are prohibited from reading books or articles pertaining to their historical site? Senior missionaries probably have the good sense to ignore such a rule and read what they need to in order to be effective — how can a “gunsmith missionary” be a gunsmith missionary without learning quite a bit about gunsmithing? I’m not sure younger missionaries would make the same leap or decide that in order to be a historical site missionary one needs to read and study the historical details (and the general historical context) related to that historical site.

  43. Bob on August 22, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    I like my History silent! My wife and I usually split up on these tours. She loves in the front, the guide talk, etc. I like hanging back, hoping to be the last out of the room. And maybe. such maybe, being along with the room , as it again fills with it’s true history and spirits.

  44. Bob on August 22, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    That’s just maybe,,messed up great line again.

  45. John Mansfield on August 22, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    In 1993, I drove from New Mexico to Baltimore and talked a friend into driving with me. On the way we hit Missouri, Illinois and Iowa: the RLDS temple, Liberty Jail, Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman on the first day; Nauvoo and Carthage on the second; the Kirtland temple, the Whitney store, and the Johnson farm on the third.

    A few highlights: The temple site in Far West was just perfect, a cemetery without graves, surrounded by empty fields where hundreds of homes once were. The never built temple, the desolate former city of saints, and the late summer sunset combined for a perfectly tuned mournfulness.

    A few hours later, we pulled off the highway at Adam-ondi-Ahman. We decided we wouldn’t be that way again, and walked around the gate to the site. After a quarter hour watching the stars and being bit by mosquitoes, my friend said “Something really important happened here, and something important will happen here in the future, but right now, nothing’s happening.

    The last place we visited in Nauvoo was Joseph Smith’s grave. I felt as though I had been tracking after him a couple days and had finally caught up, but he was dead. I was too late.

    At the Whitney store, the sister missionary asked what we knew of the place, and my friend responded “Newel K. Whitney, thou art the man!” She was delighted to have some guests who knew a bit about Church history and led a fun tour competing with us to bring up historical details.

  46. Amanda on August 22, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    re: 25

    I believe Haun’s Mill is still owned by the COC.

    re: 38

    The painting has been removed from the Independence visitors center, and replaced with a statue of Jesus with giant hands.

  47. Clark on August 23, 2007 at 12:14 am

    What!?! They took that painting out? (I’m not sure I can even call it just a painting considering the size) Wow. I’m pretty surprised about that.

  48. Ray on August 23, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Amen, Clark. That was exactly my response when I read Amanda’s comment. That painting was the highlight of my wife’s visit as a teenager.

  49. Ardis Parshall on August 23, 2007 at 6:04 am

    Amanda is right. This from “News of the Church” in the July 2006 Ensign: “Many who visit the [Independence] center comment about a replica of the Christus statue standing at the entrance. It replaces the 28-foot (8.5-m) mural that once stood in the entryway.”

    So we have yet another copy of a copy of a much over-exposed artwork. /sigh/

  50. John Mansfield on August 23, 2007 at 7:26 am

    So that’s why in March of 2006 when my family pulled off I-70 to spend a morning in Independence, the LDS visitor center was closed leaving no LDS representation to passing tourists! There was the consolation that we were able to spend an hour at the temple lot with one of the Church of Christ’s apostles before continuing on to Colorado. (The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where my wife studied and our two oldest were born, also has a copy of Thorvaldsen’s Christus. The base bears the inscription “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I shall give you rest.” Nice thought to find in a hospital. Hey, maybe if we offer the Danish Lutherans a nine-digit sum, they’ll sell us the original. Along with the cathedral it’s in.)

  51. Marjorie Conder on August 23, 2007 at 9:54 am

    If the Missionary Department spent half the time training their missionaries at historic sites about the history of their specific site as they do training them (weekly) on getting referal cards signed, everyone would have a better experience and they might get more (legitimate) cards signed besides. Actually, it is well known that many of the cards collected at historic sites from members are bogus. They just put something down to get out of there. The worst experience we had with this at a historic site was in the School of the Prophets room in Kirtland. After handing out the cards, the missionary stood in front of the closed door to the room–the only way out of the room unless you wanted to jump out of the second story window. For a while it appeared nobody was leaving until we had all written something.

    I also have first hand knowledge that the MD seriously minimizes the historical materials missionaries have available and which they are therefore at least theorhetically allowed to read. (Of course people can and do read other things–especially some senior missionaries.) On the plus side there has been a real effort in the last few years to get historically accurate site guides to the missionaries.

    As to Haun’s Mill, since the folk there should not have been there and they had been counseled several times to leave before the tragedy, I see no point in celebrating or commemorating disobedience. I hope we never do any more with it and that it remains obscure and hard to find and maybe eventually passes out of our collective memory. (Although we do seem to prefer our pioneers dying, no matter what the cause!)

  52. John Mansfield on August 23, 2007 at 10:20 am

    Although we do seem to prefer our pioneers dying, no matter what the cause!

    One month, I handed the families I home teach index cards with the names of all ten handcart companies. I wanted them to have heard on least one occasion of a company other than the Martin and the Willie.

    My second visit to Kirtland around 2002 felt different than my earlier one nine years before. My strongest memory of the second visit is a building with air conditioning and hi-def flat panel screens that felt a lot like a temple visitors’ center.

  53. Bob on August 23, 2007 at 10:47 am

    #51: “Although we do seem to prefer our pioneers dying, no matter what the cause!”: “And should we die,,,,,,,All is well, all is well” I guess the pioneers felt the same way.

  54. Adam Greenwood on August 23, 2007 at 11:33 am

    As to Haun’s Mill, since the folk there should not have been there and they had been counseled several times to leave before the tragedy, I see no point in celebrating or commemorating disobedience. I hope we never do any more with it and that it remains obscure and hard to find and maybe eventually passes out of our collective memory.

    We can’t remember the consequences of disobedience? Why not? And even if they found it hard to abandon their homes and their hopes, they died for the faith. Very worth remembering and not at all worth the level of animus you manifest.

  55. Mark IV on August 23, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    John Mansfield:

    The temple site in Far West was just perfect, a cemetery without graves, surrounded by empty fields where hundreds of homes once were. The never built temple, the desolate former city of saints, and the late summer sunset combined for a perfectly tuned mournfulness.

    Exactly. Far West is one of my favorite sites, and your description matches my own experience. Although the temple was never built, the cornerstone is still there.

  56. Ardis Parshall on August 23, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    “[N]othing that any of the emigrants purportedly did or said, even if all of it were true, came close to justifying their deaths.” — Richard E. Turley, “The Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Ensign, Sept. 2007.

    It doesn’t take much imagination to reword that to be applicable to Haun’s Mill. Regardless of whether or not the little Mormon colony could have avoided its fate by listening to counsel, those men and boys died as innocent victims of the same murderous bigotry that killed others. They died because they were Mormons, and the old well is the final resting place of early Latter-day Saints. That’s what we remember when we make the effort to locate the Haun’s Mill site.

  57. Marjorie Conder on August 23, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Except–The real story, especially of the pioneer era, is one of remarkable safety and peace in the face of daunting challenges which should have led to a higher than normal overall plains crossing death rate. There seems to be a perception that Mormon Trail death rates were unusual. This is true, however not in the way it is usually presented. Latter-day-Saint trail death rates seem to have been unusually low. The most important evidence for this claim is that in records written at the time of the migration, by both Mormons and others traveling at the same time, reported that the Mormon migration was better organized and healthier than the usual emigrating groups at every step of the process.

    When I was working on a trail project, one time I was confronted by some Oregon Trail buffs who were discounting the LDS trail experience since so few (relatively) had died. So I think the much more interesting question is why did they succeed when by all rights they shouldn’t have.

    Latter-day Saints pioneers were a most unlikely bunch. The usual gentile pioneer headed west was a young, healthy male form a farming background. Fewer women and children came and virtually no elderly nor handicapped. The Mormon pioneers were different on all counts. The Latter-day Saints included the very young, the very old and the halt, the blind and the lame (at least 2 men successfully made the trek on wooden legs!). Most Latter-day Saint groups were disproportionately made up of women and children. Particularly after the European emigration was in full swing, the companies were also disproportionately made up of poor and illiterate people without experience with yoking or driving animals or virtually any of the other common trail skills. Walter Stegner said of a particular Mormon group, “They looked more like the population of the poor farm on a picnic than like pioneers about to cross the plains.” Had the Latter-day Saint pioneers died in numbers equal to or greater than other pioneering groups it would not have been strange or remarkable. Perhaps the more interesting and compelling story is why so many unlikely pioneers were able to come through in relative safety and peace.

    When the Latter-day Saints started their trek west, the “road” west, along the south side of the Platt River, was already well traveled by others going to Oregon and California. Since the gentile travelers in 1847 were disproportionably from Missouri and Illinois, the Latter-day Saints did not want to mix it up with them. So they followed the north side of the Platt. The trail here was more difficult and had less grass. It took more skill and faith to go this way. The people on the two sides of the river knew about each other and could see each other, but they had very little to do with each other. Ultimately the travelers on the north had fewer deaths and other problems even though it was harder overall. The Latter-day Saints who individually chose the “easier” route on the south suffered at the same rates as other southern travelers. This is not to say that everyone on the south side died or that nobody on the north side did. But the difference was obvious to those traveling at the time. The lesson seems to be, if you travel “with the world” you take your chances “with the world.” This is an interesting metaphor for now with issues such as Sabbath observance or choices of media. This is a much better and more important message than “join the Mormons and you too can suffer.”

    Certainly there were tragedies during the Mormon migration, but they were not the typical experience. There were ten handcart companies. Only two—the Willie and Martin Companies got into trouble. The other eight came through in relative safety and peace. One handcart company recorded but one death and another handcart company reported no deaths. Some Latter-day Saint wagon trains had very few, if any, deaths. But we never hear about or celebrate these groups.

    As a parent and grandparent I am much more interested in a model of safety and peace. It is much more compelling. But this is not the way we tell Church History. Obedience means you live your life with much less drama. For example when did you ever hear about the bulk of the pioneers who left Nauvoo in May? We only hear about crossing on the ice (when most of those people shouldn’t have been there at all) and the only group truly “driven” out of Nauvoo was in the Fall, long after virtually everyone else had left. The people who followed counsel have, ironically, been largely lost to our collective memory. For some odd reason we greatly prefer to focus on tragedy rather than what created the great success of the 19th century Latter-day Saint experience.

    Too bad! This is the story we should all know!

  58. NorthboundZax on August 23, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Good points! It seems that there is something deeply embedded in the human psyche that says my (or my tribe’s) right to complain is much more justified than yours (or your tribe’s). Coupling that with a message that what we have is worth dying for, we are more strongly drawn to those that did die for it – no matter the reason, because it helps us justify our privilidged position in both in our own minds and to others.

    Little Big Horn played more than a minor part as a western expansion pilgrimidge site for many years. Even though Custer and the Cavalry was totally out of line, the emotional attachment to “our people” dying for “our cause” was powerful and meant something deep to many pilgrims. Unfortunately, that kind of attachment can easily lead to missing the larger picture and forgetting things such as how it could have been avoided or how we have sometimes been guilty of similar injustices. The importance of creating an environment of safety, peace, and a genuine concern that we don’t inflict the same kinds of injustices that we feel we have been dealt on others would be far more useful lessons to take home.

  59. Bob on August 23, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    #58: That’s way too high a comment for the day. Just let us enjoy OUR history.

  60. Marjorie Conder on August 23, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    But it is OUR history. My folk left Nauvoo in May (when instructed by prophetic counsel–along with most of the others from Nauvoo–maybe your folk too) and nobody REMEMBERS them–we only remember the ones who lived high drama because they did not follow counsel. You can celebrate the others all you want, but lets give obedience its due.

  61. Bob on August 23, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    #60: I share your respect for those who lived simply and obediently as did most of my pioneer ancestors. But it did not ‘save’ them from suffering the bad the judgments of some of their leaders. Why did the Willie or Martin Handcart Co. get into trouble? Was it lack of obedience or because of it? I celebrate them all, especially the simple ones, just trying for a better life. You are welcome anytime to my home office… to see their photos on walls.

  62. queuno on August 23, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    The question of RLDS/CoC selling the temple has been a topic of conversation in Northeast Ohio for a couple of decades. What you generally hear, in a moment of candor, is that the Church has no interest in the building.

    I’m not the best historical resource on this, but the guy to ask about Kirtland is Karl Anderson. He’s the local who has written the most books, given the most seminars and conferences and firesides and what have you. What I remember is that when the “Brigham Young faction”, as the CoC calls us, left, there were a lot of years of dispute over the title to the building. The LDS Church actually helped the RLDS church gain title to the building. We’ve helped with maintenance, but we have shown zero interest — public or private — in getting the building. For the CoC folks, it’s really their last hold to their past. The would only sell if it meant the absolute preservation of their faith (and doctrinally, they have other issues). Anyone who has been in Kirtland recently knows that the building is in terrible shape, compared to a decade ago. They won’t let large groups into the upper rooms anymore. We’ve had every opportunity to make a play for it when it was in good and haven’t bitten. I think the only way we’d get it now was if it were offered to us.

    A common theme amongst the Mormon cognoscenti in Kirtland is that, “hey, Nauvoo was a great historical place without the temple, so is Kirtland.”

    By the way, the blacksmiths in Nauvoo no longer give out the prairie diamond iron rings. Too much of a financial “drain” (as the blacksmith put it) on the Church — not from a cost, but a human resource (aka missionary) perspective.

  63. queuno on August 23, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    It doesn’t matter to me if my ancestors written on the walls at Nauvoo died because they were momentarily disobedient, or if their leaders erred, or if they just suffered dumb luck. It matters to me that they believed and made the sacrifice. The specific circumstances aren’t as important.

  64. queuno on August 23, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    One other note about Kirtland — when we were there last year, someone in the large family group that piggybacked onto our tour bluntly asked the college-intern tour guide (she was very, very good) “when will your church give us back the Kirtland Temple”. (cringe).

    Her response was classic: “Your Church left Kirtland when they went west. We stayed. We feel we have as much right to it as you do.”

    Incidentally – here’s a good interview with Karl Anderson and his experiences with Kirtland, when there were NO members there and NO Church presence (scroll about halfway down): http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/030604details.html . There’s an interesting story about when the Kirtland Stake Center burned down and how the RLDS church responded.

  65. John Taber on August 23, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Driving east after our wedding (in 2004), my wife and I stopped at Winter Quarters, Independence, Liberty, Far West, Adam-ondi-Ahman, Nauvoo, and Carthage. We did get hit up for referrals once, at Winter Quarters, and it was a much softer approach than some of you have described. (Then there was the time the elders knocked on our door Saturday night looking for referrals . . . ) Other than that I thought it was about the right approach at each place, though the blond Joseph Smith in the new First Vision film (we saw it at Independence) put me off a bit. Far West reminded me of the Nauvoo temple site when I’d passed through the other way in 1996 – I clearly felt that there was going to be more history there, someday. (Someday in Nauvoo came much sooner than I expected, and seeing “new and improved” Nauvoo made it all the better.)

    About nine months later, for Memorial Day weekend, we drove up to Harmony, Fayette, Palmyra and Kirtland. Harmony was good, but buggy. At Fayette the senior couple were both wearing bit flag lapel pins but otherwise it was good. Palmyra was of course wonderful but next time I’d like to know how to get to the parking lot at the top of Hill Cumorah.

    Then Saturday night we got to Kirtland. We were disappointed to say the least. We didn’t try to go in the temple and I didn’t have the best feeling about that part of town. (It seemed really contentious, and not just because a CofC offshoot has built a church down the road.) What they did to bypass the old town was creative – no having to cross busy highways – but somehow made it a bit more bland.

    Maybe it was having been at Harmony and the Sacred Grove the day before, but Alisa and I would not recommend going out of one’s way just to go to Kirtland. We don’t see ourselves going back any time soon. We would love to make it up to the Joseph Smith and Brigham Young birthplaces in Vermont one of these days.

  66. Marjorie Conder on August 23, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Re 61–And Bob, I invite you to my home to see photos of every pioneer ancestor of our children, for whom pictures are availabale, on the walls of our “family room”. Our children all grew up under these family pictures which have hung on our walls for over 35 years. These photos include the three Martin Handcart ancestors of my husband and my own 1848 plains crossers. I am not diminishing the hardships and sacrifice involved but I also cheer for success. Actually my husband’s entire Mellor family, including 3 year old twins made the Martin crossing with no deaths.

  67. CW on August 24, 2007 at 10:31 am

    I really enjoyed visiting Kirtland. I liked the store and enjoyed looking at the log where I was able to see the record of business some of my ancestors had done in the store. I enjoyed our visit to the ashery, where we had a very knowledgeable guide. I thought the CofC did a fine job in our tour of the Kirtland Temple. We also had a very nice visit to the JS birthplace in Vermont. We were the only visitors there at the time and it was a peaceful, beautiful place. The couple that were there had really done a lot of research especially into the genealogy of the Smith family. They also took us on a tour of the residence, which has some beautiful paintings. I remember being a little less impressed on my tour of Cove Fort, though I thought the senior couples there looked like they were having a fun time and had a nice community aspect to their service. Does anybody else remember kind of chuckling when Pres. Hinckley announced the opening of Cove Fort and said he wanted it to be a tourist destination to rival anything in the nation (or something like that)? It has a ways to go to compete with DisneyWorld.

  68. Bob on August 24, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    #66: This is just for Marjorie from Bob..so none of you others read it. Marjorie (My mother’s name), we are not at odds! We are bonded by our feelings about Family History. I also keep handy a quote of Delbert Draper, one of my Family Historians “…it has been a difficult, but rewarding undertaking ( his research). Too many thought nothing of important had ever happen in their families. In the end, the author proved to his own satisfaction that there is drama in the humblest of lives if one has time and opportunity to draw it out,”

  69. Marjorie Conder on August 24, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    To Bob (and I don’t care if the rest of you read it)–The plot thickens! We are almost certainly more closely related than simply “coming over on the ark together”. I recognize your quote from The Mormon Drapers by Delbert Draper. I own a copy and it sounds like you do to. My father’s name was Terry Parshall Draper, which just about corrals all the family last names for a long ways back except for all the endless Swedes. If you (or anyone else) would like help figure out how we connect, e-mail me at mdconder at aol dot com. I have stacks and stacks (actually all on the computer) of geneaogy, none of which I am responsible for collecting.

  70. queuno on August 25, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Call me a softie, but I get emotional every time I’m in the upper room of the Whitney Store / School of the Prophets, and think of everything that may have been discussed/decided there.

    The last time we were there, they mentioned how Christ appeared their, which was something I hadn’t heard before.

  71. Brian Terrill on September 3, 2007 at 2:26 am

    The Community of Christ church has another temple. According to their doctrine only one temple is really needed. The Kirtland Temple is sacred to them now but as all things of Mormon heritage, they are begining to fade from it. It would not suprize me if they do sell us the Kirtland Temple soon.

    We should be careful to suggest that the term sacred is the same in their vocabulary. They would let the whole world tour the Kirtland Temple, instead of keeping it Holy. It is not sacred to them like the Salt Lake Temple is sacred to us. In fact neither is the temple in Independence. They have a gift shop in their temple, does that help you realize how sacred temples are to them.

  72. It\'s Me! on April 15, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Re Comment by queuno (below): Our family visited the blacksmith\’s shop in Nauvoo late February 2008 and we all received free prairie diamond rings.

    \”By the way, the blacksmiths in Nauvoo no longer give out the prairie diamond iron rings. Too much of a financial “drain” (as the blacksmith put it) on the Church — not from a cost, but a human resource (aka missionary) perspective.\”

    Comment by queuno — 8/23/2007 @ 9:38 pm