Museums, memorials, historic sites and houses of worship across America shed light on the history of Mormonism, its founders and its principles. As they moved westward, Mormon pioneers left their mark in many communities. Here are some of the top visitor attractions that preserve the legacy of the early followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
Palmyra, New York:
This town in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York was the birthplace of Mormonism and the early home of Joseph Smith, founder of the religion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized here. Mormon sites include the Joseph Smith Home and Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site. A 40-foot-tall monument crowns Hill Cumorah, where Smith is said to have received from an angel the golden plates inscribed with the history of ancient Americans, from which he translated the Book of Mormon. The visitor center offers an audiovisual tour centering on the life of Jesus Christ.
The annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, presented in July by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is taken straight from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Seven performances are presented on the beautiful Cumorah hillside on a gigantic 10-level stage with 12-tower lighting, state-of-the-art sound and a cast of over 650. The production consists of 10 short story scenes on topics including the visions of Christ, a voyage to ancient America, the resurrected Christ and the restoration of Christ’s kingdom. Dates in 2013 are July 12-13 and 16-20. Admission and parking are free. (www.hillcumorah.org/pageant)
Mormon leader Joseph Smith and his followers arrived in 1831 and lived here until they moved westward in 1838. Smith wrote much of the doctrine of the Church of Latter-day Saints in this northern Ohio town. Visitors can get a taste of that era at Historic Kirtland, a village that contains the Newel K.Whitney General Store, Whitney Home, John Johnson Inn, a sawmill, schoolhouse and two farms. Many of the early Mormons worshipped at Kirtland Temple, where tours begin with an audiovisual presentation.
Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers settled the Mississippi River town of Nauvoo in 1839. The town became the largest in Illinois (pop. 15,000) and flourished until 1846, when Brigham Young led many church members to Utah, leaving behind violent anti-Mormonism. Some of the members remained in the Midwest and reorganized years later.
Historic Nauvoo contains more than 25 original brick homes and shops furnished with 1840s-era artifacts. Tourists can take a walking tour and see a 20-minute film on the town’s Mormon roots at the Historic Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. There are hands-on demonstrations of weaving, bread making, blacksmithing and other pioneer crafts, plus rides on oxen- and horse-drawn wagons. A highlight is the Monument to Women Garden. The Joseph Smith Historic Site, adjacent to Historic Nauvoo, preserves the cabin, mansion and gravesite of Smith, who was shot and killed while in jail in nearby Carthage. The Nauvoo Temple, a huge limestone building dedicated in 2002 on the site of the original Mormon temple (burned in 1848), does not offer tours, but a video is shown in its visitor center.
For evening entertainment, groups enjoy the musical Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo (year-round) and Sunset on the Mississippi (summer). Children’s plays and annual visits of Brigham Young University performers add to the array of entertainment. The annual Nauvoo Pageant (July 9-Aug. 13, 2013) is a tribute to Joseph Smith. (www.historicnauvoo.net)
Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, opens its world headquarters to visitors, offering audio tours for individuals and small groups. The 1994 Temple, noted for its soaring spire in the shape of a nautilus seashell, has a museum, two theaters, a bookstore and a 1,600-seat sanctuary. Organ recitals are given daily in summer (on Sundays the rest of the year) in the green-domed Auditorium building, designed in the 1920s, and the Temple. (www.cofchrist.org)
Across the street from the Community of Christ Auditorium is the Missouri Mormon Walking Trail. One mile long, it features 14 plaques depicting key early Mormon sites.
Free tours at the Mormon Visitors Center chronicle how the early Latter-Day Saints pioneers came from the East to the frontier lands to establish their communities. There are re-creations of an 1830s cabin and the first printing press east of the Mississippi River.
Salt Lake City:
Utah’s capital is the center of Mormonism. In 1847 Brigham Young led a group of followers west in search of a place to worship without persecution. Upon seeing the area at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and along the Great Salt Lake, he announced, “This is the place.” Today the Brigham Young Monument at the heart of the city stands in honor of the second president of the Mormon Church. Visitors can also see his official residence, the Beehive House. At the Lion House, Young’s second home, they can dine in the Pantry Restaurant. Other sites include Brigham Young’s Grave, where a monument honors those Mormon pioneers who died on their journey to Utah in 1847-49.
The Mormon Temple in Temple Square is the symbol of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The temple is closed to the public, but the Tabernacle on Temple Square offers daily tours. The renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs weekly with accompaniment from an 11,623-pipe organ. The Brigham Young Monument tells the story of the early Mormon pioneers. Exhibits include covered wagons and log homes that reflect early Mormon life in Salt Lake City.
“This is the Place” Heritage Park, at the entrance of Emigration Canyon, features Heritage Village, a re-created 19th century pioneer village with over 40 original and replica structures. Visitors can watch costumed tradesmen demonstrate pioneer trades and crafts.
Las Vegas, Nevada:
Old Las Vegas Brigham Young Monument is a site where Mormons built an adobe fort in 1855 as a refuge for California-bound settlers. It later was a ranch and railroad stop. Guided tours are available.
For more information on Mormon historic sites around the country, visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ website, www.lds.org.
−By Randy Mink