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Question

 

Gramps,

i just want to ask how far is the Sacred Grove to the Smith’s house?

rr

 

Answer

 

Dear RR,

It’s been some years since I’ve been myself.  You’ll be pleased to know the sacred grove is just a short walk away from the Smith house (even by today’s standards)! The northern entrance to the Grove is about 100 feet away from the Welcome Center (where you’ll park). The Welcome center is 350 feet from the Frame Home (you’ll pass the log cabin on the way). About 200 feet from there is the southern entrance to the Sacred Grove.

I carry fond memories of the road trip my family took some years ago. We started in Palmyra, drove to Kirkland, headed over to Missouri, before doubling back to Nauvoo (my family already toured parts of Utah). I cannot recommend such a trip highly enough for a family or a couple. I enjoyed the preparation every bit as much as the trip itself. We chose to go during the pageant season (during the summer). It was hot and humid, compressed our schedule a bit, and was a bit more crowded than it would be otherwise; but we got to see some top-notch pageants on the Hill Cumorah and in Nauvoo.

Palmyra, New York

In Palmyra we visited the Sacred Grove (heeding the posts discouraging taking souvenirs) and spent some time in the temple nearby. We saw the kind of farm economy employed by the Smiths. We visited the cemetery where Alvin was buried, who was such a great influence on his younger brothers (and is memorialized in Joseph Smith’s vision of the Celestial Kingdom):

“He … called Hyrum to him and said, ‘Hyrum, I must die, and now I want to say a few things to you that you must remember. I have done all that I could do to make our dear parents comfortable. I now want you to go on and finish the house and take care of them in their old age and do not let them work hard anymore.’

 

… [T]o Joseph he said, ‘Joseph, I am going to die now. The distress which I suffer and the sensations that I have tell me my time is very short. I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the record (the gold plates). Be faithful in receiving instruction and in keeping every commandment that is given you. Your brother Alvin must now leave you, but remember the example which he has set for you, and set a good example for the children that are younger than you. Always be kind to Father and Mother.'” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother).

We also visited the Peter Whitmer Visitors Center which has a modern church built on the site, and a reconstructed log home that you can tour to get an idea of what it was like April 6, 1830, when the Church (soon to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was officially organized. Be sure to ask your guide about “the fourth witness” – Mary Whitmer’s vision of Moroni and the plates.

In the evening we made it to the Hill Cumorah. There’s a visitors center there and a giant Angel Moroni. You can walk the grounds if you get there at the right time. It was closed to us because the hill was serving as stage, dressing room, and green room for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. But getting there early is nice, because the cast comes out in full costume and mingles with the audience before it starts.

I’m told the pageant has since been updated. When we went, it was presented like an old-time radio drama – with a narrator filling in the audience on what we’re viewing. It covers the Nephite/Lamanite history from the journey from Jerusalem (complete with a boat with sails and tempests) to the generational fighting to highlighted sermons to the destruction of the wicked (including volcanic blasts (!)) and the arrival of the resurrected Savior!

If you’re up for a drive, you can also drive down to Pennsylvania and see the memorial for the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood on the banks of the Susquehanna River.

If you’re like myself, you’ll get a lot more out of this leg of the trip by reading The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother before going.

Kirtland, Ohio

In Kirtland, we enjoyed visiting the first temple completed in this dispensation. We even timed our visit such that we were able to attend an event in the building! The temple is owned by the Community of Christ, and as such, they have a different emphasis in doctrine. Although there has been a schism between our two churches, I highly encourage all visitors to be respectful, because 1) I didn’t much enjoy antagonistic persons trying to attack my religion at the Hill Cumorah; and 2) you’ll find the tour guides respond a lot more pleasantly.

In the temple, we saw the pulpits where Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith to accept the temple and confer priesthood keys. We read about the experience on the temple grounds afterwards. I’m told if you go in the off-season, you can get a more comprehensive tour. The Community of Christ has done an excellent job preserving historic records, and they wish to continue to do so with historic sites. As such, they limit the tourist traffic that comes through the temple. Worthy of note, the sign on the temple states it was built by the “Church of the Latter Day Saints” because the Church had not yet settled on the full name (as designated by revelation). My favorite question in the tour was “where were the mummies kept”, which was answered “in the basement”. If you don’t know why there were mummies in the basement, you should ask.

The other star attraction here is the Newell Whitney store. This was the first bishop’s storehouse, the prophet’s translation room, and the school of the prophets. If you go in the summer, the upstairs room where the school met will be sweltering. Still, try to pay attention with the Spirit as you listen to some of the sacred experiences witnessed there.

One hidden gem is the ashery, where you can hear about the saints economy (and get a great parable on the worth of souls). Another treasure that I enjoyed was visiting the grave of Thankful Pratt (what a name!).

“A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: ‘Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.’ It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon as she had fulfilled the prophecy in relation to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz:– twelve o’clock. She was filled with joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. She longed to be gone, and anticipated the time as a hireling counts the days of his servitude, or the prisoner the term of his imprisonment.

 

“Farewell, my dear Thankful, thou wife of my youth, and mother of my first born; the beginning of my strength–farewell. Yet a few more lingering years of sorrow, pain and toil, and I shall be with thee, and clasp thee to my bosom, and thou shalt sit down on my throne, as a queen and priestess unto thy lord, arrayed in white robes of dazzling splendor, and decked with precious stones and gold, while thy queen sisters shall minister before thee and bless thee, and thy sons and daughters innumerable shall call thee blessed, and hold thy name in everlasting remembrance.”

Later, when Parley was in Richmond Jail (and the Prophet was in Liberty), Thankful visited and comforted him. Parley prayed to know if he would ever be free again, and his wife came to him as an angel to deliver the Lord’s message (The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt pg 164-5, 207-209, and 295-296).

Missouri

Adam-ondi-Ahman was well worth the stop. Although it was once a settlement of the saints, today it is open fields and farmland. We walked a little ways and read exerpts from the scriptures, Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Bruce R. McConkie about the history witnessed in this valley and the glorious events to unfold there. We read about Adam’s altar that survived to Joseph’s day. We pondered Adam’s role in God’s plan and the special keys he holds. Of course we sang the hymn sharing the same name. The next time I make such a trip, I would like to schedule more time here to walk the grounds and ponder. If it’s of interest, ask me about the quotes I brought with us, and I’ll post it for you to enjoy as well.

We did not spend nearly enough time at Independence for my liking (I vastly underestimated how much I would enjoy it (it’s such a depressing time in our history)). Most of the sites of interest are owned by other churches, and they keep banker hours (9-5 or thereabouts). So you’ll want to visit them before it’s too late in the day. The LDS visitor center is open later. Again, I must emphasize that if you are courteous to your guides, you’ll get a lot more out of your tours. I found the Community of Christ temple interesting, because it has functional elements inspired from Joseph’s early understandings of temples (it was to be more than an ordinance house, and would also serve as a place of learning and ministry and administration). I will also admit that some elements of it were saddening for me, simply because of some aspects of my testimony that I hold very dear.

The real gem of Missouri though was the replica of the Liberty Jail. The building looks something like a shrine (I laughingly referred to it as the “dome of the jail” when I first saw it). It’s unusual architecture for the Church, but very fitting when you hear about the circumstances the led the Prophet here and the suffering that made it sacred. Looking into the confines, you hear added pathos in the Prophet’s plea:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

 

O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us. Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs. Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.”

Here Joseph desperately sought God. And here he found Him! It is, in my heart, holy land.

The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt is good reading to prepare for tihs visit.

Nauvoo, Illinois

One of the nice things about visiting Nauvoo during the pageant season is the little vignettes the actors perform. The actor playing Joseph delivered excerpts from the King Follett Discourse and the Sermon in the Grove. Elsewhere, the actresses playing Emma Smith, Eliza Snow, and Sarah Granger Kimball meet together and discuss the founding of the Relief Society. Brigham Young and the Twelve meet together before going off to preach the gospel overseas.

The pageant itself is also quite enjoyable, focusing on the efforts to build the temple, and ending with a quote from President Hinckley placing the Nauvoo and Salt Lake temples as bookends to our foundational history. And on the subject of theatricality, there are a few shows you can catch in the visitors’ center, including one that is the grandaddy of all roadshow skits.

The Nauvoo temple exterior is a faithful replication of the original (with the exception of a modern Moroni replacing the generic “angel of the restoration”). The inside also matches the original intent, as the floor plan is largely the same, except the one formerly unfinished floor has been properly finished with ordinance rooms for the endowment. I would consider my experience in this city incomplete without a visit to the temple. We were given some good advice, which I’ll pass on. We Mormons love to do the most important things first and then use the less-important things as filler. This means in Nauvoo, the temple is filled in the morning and relatively empty in the afternoon. We scheduled a nice relaxing afternoon session in the temple and spent the hottest part of the day inside. We also enjoyed taking a moment to sit by the Mississippi where the first baptisms for the dead were performed in this dispensation.

In Nauvoo you can see the mansion house that served as Joseph Smith’s campaign headquarters for his presidential bid. You’ll see the women’s garden, commemorating the organization of the Relief Society and the value righteous women bring us. You’ll come into the Seventy’s Hall which served as the original Missionary Training Center before there was even a Language Traininng Mission. It was intended to include something of a museum, carrying souvenirs from foreign lands brought back by missionaries and used in training missionaries about to leave. It serves as a museum today. You are sadly missing out if you do not take the opportunity to have your picture taken preaching a firey sermon at the pulpit. One other honorable mention is the smithy, where you can get your diamond ring. They just hand them out now, but you should ask your guide about the apocryphal story behind them.

We also really got a lot out of visiting the cleverly-named Red Brick Store. It is well advertised that the Female Relief Society was organized here (as Grams pointed out, the men can have their restorations in the woods or some cabins; but when it came time to restore a women’s organization, nothing short of a sturdy brick structure would do). In addition to that, the upper room was also used for city council meetings. So the fateful meeting where it was decided that The Expositor was a nuisance worthy of destruction would have been held in here as well. In addition, Masonic Lodge meetings were conducted in this same space. When the Endowment was revealed to Joseph Smith, they were presented here until enough of the Nauvoo Temple was completed.

Of course, Nauvoo also has the graves of Hyrum and Joseph Smith. which invariably leads us to Carthage where they were martyred. We really enjoyed reading up about Hyrum Smith and his relationship with Joseph and especially his position in the Church. The obituary John Taylor wrote was not just for Joseph, their prophet and mayor, but also for Hyrum, the Patriarch and Assistant President.

“Henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century … They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.

 

“They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; and their innocent blood on the floor of Carthage jail is a broad seal affixed to ‘Mormonism’ that cannot be rejected by any court on earth, and their innocent blood … is a witness to the truth of the everlasting gospel that all the world cannot impeach; and their innocent blood … is an ambassador for the religion of Jesus Christ, that will touch the hearts of honest men among all nations; and their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth.”

Other historic sites

Another stop you may enjoy on a cross-country trip is the Kanesville Tabernacle. This is a replica of the tabernacle that was constructed specifically so the Latter-day Saints could hold a solemn assembly to once again form the First Presidency with Brigham Young at the head. Before going, I would recommend reading up on the succession crisis and the steps for forming the First Presidency today. I find it extremely faith-promoting as a contrast to how leadership is selected in the world.

A number of other sites deserve an honorable mention. Sites like Winter QuartersMartin’s Cove, and the Mormon Battalion. And can I really leave out Temple Square? Of course not.

 

 

Gramps

 

 

 

 

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