A week ago I visited Mountain Meadows for the first time.
I was surprisingly hard to find. While the site does appear on maps of the area, there aren’t any signs until you get within a mile of the entrance. That is a shame.
The site is actually quite beautiful and peaceful. It includes both a memorial site and an overlook, with plaques that include a brief explanation and maps of the area. The valley seems greener and more pleasant than much of the surrounding area. While it seems to be on private land, it is surrounded by a National Forest. You can see a map of the area surrounding the area here. (Note, mountain meadows is not specifically marked on this map. Directions are available here).
So why did I want to see it?
On the whole, curiosity. It seems natural in any tragedy to wonder how the victims might have felt, to be curious about the details of what happened and how. To wonder how much pain they experienced, what they thought, whether they were confused over what happened or whether they saw clearly what was happening. Perhaps its a morbid curiosity, I don’t know.
I feel the same thing about the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center here in New York. For those of us who live here (if I dare speak for most New Yorkers), we feel a kind of disconnect with the rest of the country. The connection of the tragedy with an attack on our nation and the associated patriotism doesn’t make much sense. I don’t see why I should wave the flag because of the attacks. I feel sad, not patriotic. Does this come from how close I am to the experience?
I think that the desire that so many Americans have to see ‘ground zero’ is similar to my own desire to see Mountain Meadows. We want to connect somehow to these victims, to imagine their feelings and understand what they experienced. I think there is even a desire at times to understand the motivations and feelings of the perpetrators of these tragedies.
Place has a role in making these connections. Going to the place of an event makes it that much more real. The connection is that much stronger because of being in the place.
There is, of course, some real differences between what happened at Mountain Meadows and what happened at the World Trade Center. Shame is part of these differences. Just as there aren’t many signs pointing the way to Mountain Meadows (I presume at least in part because of shame), I don’t think many members are comfortable with facing what happened in Mountain Meadows.
For me, I want to face this issue of shame head on. One of my ancestors is accused by some of having a part in the tragedy, and while I don’t feel responsibile, I can understand the embarrassment many feel when the tragedy is mentioned.
Somewhere in all the musings above are my reasons. LDS Church members should visit Mountain Meadows, I think. The opportunity to connect to those involved and face whatever shame or embarrassment remains should help us, I believe.
I’ll see you there.