Well, here it is. The long overdue, hardly anticipated, missing week of my summer vacation! We'll start out with two warnings.
1. I'm warning you up front this is a very Mormon-y post. I don't hide the fact that I'm LDS. I'm Mormon. I know it. I love it. I live it. And even more so after this trip.
2. I'm warning you this is a very, VERY long post and has a crap ton of pictures. You'll see why I've been putting of posting it- because it's freaking long!
Going on a church history tour was amazing. I've learned and read about these places my whole life but to actually go there and see these things made that history become so much more personal to me. A year or so ago my sister, Kim and I decided we wanted to go on a trip. For different reasons the trip never happened. It kept getting put off. But last year, after Melanie died, we decided to just do it. And my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary in March so we decided to take them along with us as an anniversary gift.
We flew out of Salt Lake and landed in Rochester, NY. There we met up with the rest of our tour group.
Little did I know when I took this selfie how much we'd come to love all these cheeseballs sitting behind us. We had a great group- the tour was led by Jack Marshall. He's an institute teacher at the U and just a really fantastic guy.
Our first stop on the tour was the Whitmer Farm in Fayette, NY. This little home is where the church was first organized.
I see how people lived back then and I'm so grateful for what I have now. I mean, this was probably considered a very comfortable home- and I just look at how simple things are and then I look at my own little apartment- I would never have made it living in that time period. I am definitely a 20th/21st century kind of gal.
Our next stop took us to Palmyra. This is where the Smith family lived when Joseph first questioned religion. We stopped at the small cemetery where his brother, Alvin was buried. Having buried my own beloved sister, I can only imagine how hard this was for their family.Alvin was too young- but illness took him.
I found it interesting that a lot of books came without bindings- that way you could choose the binding and all your books would match. That makes sense- and explains a lot about some of the older libraries I've seen.
This is a copy of the original handwritten transcript from the Book of Mormon.
The ink on the walls is the original ink from the Grandin Press. Some of this ink may be splashes off the first edition of the Book of Mormon!
I doubt the fan is original to the house- but it was well placed for one of Kim's hot flashes.
In this upstairs loft, all the children slept. The boys all shared these two beds.
Which means this is where Joseph was- and he was not alone (all his sleeping brothers) when Moroni first visited him.
Mother and Father Smith's bedroom. That "rug" is a painting. I love how frontier families were so creative making their cabins more homey.
This is the original frame home that the Smith family lived in. It was Alvin's idea to build his parent's a house, but he died before it was completed. For years a missionary family lived in the home- just in the area to try to make good relations with the neighborhood and ease the tension against the church that had been there since Joseph first received his mission.
After years of tutelage from Moroni, Joseph received the record. There were several times groups of men would try to steal them. The Smith's had to get pretty imaginative with some of the hiding places to keep the ancient record safe. At one point, they were hidden beneath the hearth stones of this fireplace. These very bricks. This is not a replica.
One night, the family saw a mob coming and had to quickly find a place to hide the plates. In this bedroom, two of Joseph's little sisters were sleeping. He tucked the record in between them and covered it with a blanket. When the mob entered the house and demanded to search- the family stepped aside and let them search. When they approached this room they saw the two sleeping girls and didn't want to disturb them so they left this room alone.
This sink is not original to the house, but it is original to the time.
and this yard...? I can just see the Smith children running, having stick pulls and playing stick ball. It doesn't even take that much imagination. And you know, some of the trees there are so old- I betcha they were there.
These next few are just of the property, the barns and such (replicas).
Finally that brings us to the Sacred Grove. It is not just a clump of trees. It is a beautiful wooded area where sound does not travel. Or maybe it does but people were just being reverent. There is a little group of benches where a group can sit and have a meeting. We sat and listened to Jack tell us the history of this place and some of the things that transpired.
We were then allowed to walk freely through the areas along the trails. I chose a different direction than the crowd so that I could be alone and reflect. Other than the mosquitoes that decided I was lunch, this place felt to me as peaceful as a temple. What a beautiful place for 14 year old Joseph to choose for such an important prayer. I found a bench and sat alone, contemplating and singing the words to Joseph Smith's First Prayer.
Before heading to the pageant, we had time to swing by the Palmyra Temple.
I'm not sure who is the bigger cheese- me or my dad.
That evening we spent at the Hill Cumorah. No one is exactly sure where the plates were buried, but a statue of Moroni stands on the top of the hill.
That evening we attended the Hill Cumorah Pageant. It was really fun to see scenes from the Book of Mormon reenacted. The kid on the left is from Idaho Falls and goes to school with my niece Sadie. Small world, innit? I've always wanted to see the Cumorah Pageant and it was awesome- but is it bad that the things I'm going to remember the most from that night are the Salt Potatoes that we bought from the Lion's Club? Oh my gosh! So amazing! A heart attack on a paper plate- but what a way to go!
That's the end of Day One.
On Day Two we woke up and drove to Niagra. Let me give you a little background. The first time I went to the Grand Canyon I was extremely underwhelmed. I remember thinking, "This is it? it's just a hole in the ground." I pretended to be impressed, but really I thought that was a long drive for nothing. I think seeing it in photos and movies and stuff had just made it so much grander in my head. (This was back when I was dumb and didn't appreciate the beauty of nature. Believe me, I've changed)
Anyway, I was really afraid the same thing was going to happen with Niagra Falls. You've seen one waterfall, you've seen 'em all, right? I mean, waterfalls are always impressive to me- and majestic. But nothing to take your breath away. Again, I thought perhaps Hollywood had spoiled the grandeur for me. And when I finally saw it...
I was right.
JUUUUUUUST kidding! As we drove up to it we could see the mist coming off the falls so I knew it was going to be big. But still, when I first saw it- I thought, well... ok, it's a big waterfall. that's pretty cool, I guess.
But what you don't know, is that from the American side you can't really see the whole thing. So we got tickets to take a little ride on the Maid of the Mist.
We donned our super awesome Smurf suits and boarded the boat.
It's not until the boat takes you out and around the bend that you get the full effect and see the famous part of the falls. And yes. It took my breath away. Not just because it was hard to breath in all that mist- but because it was truly fantastic to see. Absolutely beautiful. My pictures don't do it justice because all that mist blocked out so much of the picture!
On the Canadian side you can walk behind the falls. We didn't have time to go to Canada. We just had to yell a hello from the boat.
Kim and Canada
The 'rents and Canada
Seriusly, he was pretty happy to be back near his mission.
Some of us had more trouble than others extracting ourselves from the ponchos.
Like, a lot of trouble. Did we help her? Oh, no. We stood back and laughed at her.
From the American side.
Me and my mommy.
The little trail of blue is all the people hiking up. I didn't go because it was too crowded. (that sounds better than saying because I was too lazy.)
After the boat, we wandered around the grounds park for a while, shopped and ate Dipp'n Dots. We thought we had to be back to the bus at 12:30 so we started meandering that way around 12. I got us fully and utterly lost. We were not even close to where we were to meet the bus and we backtracked a lot. But we didn't rush because we thought we still had time. Wrong-o! When we finally saw our bus, we saw Jack waving his yellow flag and rushing off into the park. We knew that was the symbol that he was looking for someone. "poor schmucks" we thought as we got on the bus. Little did we know that it was us he'd been looking for. He'd called me, but I left my phone on the bus, Kim never answers hers and he didn't have my parent's numbers.
This particular day we were occupying the last row of the bus- so that walk of shame all the way to the back of the bus was really long. We were never late again.
We hit the road and drove to Ohio. Kim was very excited about this leg of the trip because this was her mission. She said a lot has changed since she was there- but there was a lot that she remembered.
Our first stop was the John Johnson Home in Hiram, OH.
A lot of significant things happened in this house. Joseph and Emma lived here for a while with the Johnsons and for a time, this home was the location of the church headquarters. It was in this house that a mob broke in, dragged Joseph out into the cold, beat him, tried to force him to drink poison, tarred and feathered him, and left him for dead.
I think this is the room- they called the "sick room" It was most likely in this room that Joseph was sleeping with his young adopted son, Joseph Smith Murdock. Because the baby was already sick, when the mob left the door open, the baby got worse and eventually died from exposure.
They had a loom and were always very industrious.
This is the room that Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were in when the heavens opened and they received a vision that is now section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, concerning the 3 degrees of glory. Joseph received several other revelations while living in this house.
The night after Joseph was ravaged by the mob, he stood on this very porch and preached to a crowd that had come to listen to him- proving to the mob that they could not stop the work from progressing.
End of Day 2.
If this were a talk in church this is where we'd stop and have a musical number or something to get you to stand up and stretch. Go ahead, go have a bathroom break, get a snack...
Day 3 we headed into Kirtland. Our first stop was Historic Kirtland. It did not look anything like I had it in my head. I've heard the stories, read books and seen movies depicting the area- and seeing the real thing was nothing like what I imagined. I'm sure it looks a lot different now than it did then, but still...
The first place we visited in the neighborhood was Newell K Whitney's home. When Joseph and Emma first arrived in Kirtland, the first place they went was to the Whitney store. After years of study and searching for the truth, Brother and sister Whitney came across the Book of Mormon and were taught and baptized. Shortly thereafter Newel was praying to meet the prophet Joseph.
In February of 1831 a man walked in to NK Whitney's store and said, "Thou art the man." Never having met the man before, Newel asked who he was. "I am Joseph the Prophet. You prayed me here; now what do you want of me?"
Remember the Johnsons? When they moved to Kirtland they opened an Inn next to the NK Whitney store.
Also in the area was a sawmill. Most of the work for the Kirtland temple happened here.
That takes us to the NK Whitney Store. A lot of incredible things happened here. They have a book of all the customers who frequented the store. It was kind of fun to browse and see if any relations had shopped there in its day.
my great great great great uncle, Zebedee Coltrin was a member of the school of the prophets and had this experience:
I saw a person passing through the room as plainly as I see you now. Joseph asked us if we knew who it was and answered himself, ‘That is Jesus our Elder Brother, the Son of God!’ After the vision closed, Joseph then told those present to resume their former position of prayer. Again I saw passing through the same room, a personage whose glory and brightness was so great, that I can liken it to nothing but the burning bush that Moses saw, and its power was so great that had it continued much longer I believe it would have consumed us. After this personage had disappeared from the room, Joseph announced that the men had seen the father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pretty incredible if you ask me. It was also where the Word of Wisdom was revealed.
Also in the little historic area is a rebuilt schoolhouse. We stopped there for a while for some instruction from Jack. No, we were not praying- everyone was just worn out from wandering through all those buildings and it was a hot, humid day!
Finally we were able to take a bus down the street and see the temple. I've been dreaming my whole life of seeing this temple. The first temple built in our dispensation. It's very different from the temples built today- but it was built with a different purpose. It was built for education and restoration of keys. Today's temples are built for education and saving ordinances.
A decent one of the temple- and a decent one of me- not in the same picture. Photoshop anyone?
You all know that I'm a bit of a taphophile (I really like cemeteries) and this one was no exception. Right across from the temple is a cemetery filled with names I recognized from church history. This particular monument- though not someone I was familiar with, was one of the strangest headstones I've ever seen.
I had to prove that I was there and that these aren't just photos that I stole from online.
That night we headed in to Amish territory and went to an amazing restaurant called Mary Yoder's. Oh my goodness. I ate till my head fell off- and that lemonade? amaaazing! It's always fun to be amongst those who are different. As Mormons we're always accused of being peculiar- so it was fun to be in Amish territory where I felt we weren't the only peculiar people around (and I mean that in the nicest way).
That night when we went back to our hotel we were all tired and worn out- but I made mom go outside with me once it got properly dark. She had never seen a firefly...er... lightening bug in her life. I love them so much and I remember the first time I saw one on my mission- it was amazing. So I took her outside and we watched for fireflies.
It took a while to see them, but once we walked out near the bushes they were all over the place. Mom was so giggly and cute about finally seeing a firefly. By the end of our trip outside we had a little bit of a crowd with us. Some people from our group had seen us and asked what we were doing. They hadn't realized that there would be fireflies out so they'd run and get others in their group who had never seen one. It was fun, all of outside catching magical little bugs.
End of day 3
How ya doin? Still with me?
The next day we flew to Independence, MO. We visited the CoC temple, but I didn't take any pictures of it.
Right across the street from it though is this rather unassuming stretch of lawn. But this is actually dedicated land. This is the space Joseph dedicated to be the site for the Independence temple.
There may have been some verses of "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City" sung on this day.
End of day 4
Day 5 was the longest day of the trip. We started out on a little jaunt to Far West. Here is the site of another temple.
The bus driver (bless his heart) decided that it would be faster to take the back country roads rather than travel all the way to the interstate. It may have been shorter from like, point A to B, but with all the windy and hilly roads, it would have been better for my stomach if he'd taken the freeway. Plus it's not like there was anything to look at. It was corn. All you could see for the entire day was corn. CORN! Corn is boring!
That night we gratefully entered the beautiful city Nauvoo. We had planned that night to see a pageant. It is a newer pageant about the British saints and how the church was introduced in England and their emigration from the British Isles. By the time we got there it was pretty dismal and rainy- but I was not about to let that upset me. Several people we trying to talk me into giving up the pageant because of the rain. I simply stated, "No. I want to see the pageant and I'm going to see the pageant The rain is going to clear up and they are going to perform it."
We went to the visitor center and they put on a little show for us there starring the senior missionaries and a few of the performing missionaries. It was called Moonlight on the Mississippi. It was just fun singing and dancing. They did a very lovely tribute to all those who have served in our military. It was fantastic.
And when it was over, we walked outside and the sun had come out. Poo on those who doubted me. I'm a lucky traveler and I get what I want!
End of Day 5
The following morning we were up bright and early. Because it had been too dark the night before, this was my frist real experience seeing the Mighty Mississippi river.
It's almost impossible to try to imagine that vast river, frozen over solid enough to walk across with horse and carts. But the saints did it. And that is amazing. I may or may not have sung a few verses of "Old Man River" that day.
The first was the Smith homestead. I don't know if you've noticed that I've said a lot that Joseph and Emma stayed here or there in all of these towns- but this home- was finally their first home that was all their own. It also served as the headquarters of the church for a couple of years.
This is the view they had from their backyard. It looked out over this field on onto the Mississippi.
And not far from the house are the burial sites of Joseph, Emma and Joseph's brother, Hyrum. It was very emotional to be there at their resting place. I said a very heartfelt thank you to them. I'm sure that they can hear it wherever you are, but it's still something else to be there. That family went through so much hardship.
Another project the Smith family had going on (as if they weren't busy enough) was the Red Brick Store. The store was a dry goods store, and then upstairs was used as a meeting area. It was here that Joseph organized the Relief Society and was given the revelation about the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.
After that tour we were cut free and sent out on our own. My family chose to take the time and visit the Nauvoo temple. There is a little building across the street where we could change our clothes so we were a little more fit to enter the temple. I looked like a wrinkled mess, all my stuff shoved in my backpack, but the worker there said that was a common look so I didn't feel so bad.
After our session at the temple, we wandered down into the old part of Nauvoo to check out a few of the buildings. This was the Cultural hall where I learned that Brigham Young was a bit of a performer.
The performance was wonderful. The story was touching and the Spirit was great. I highly recommend it.
End of Day 6
Do you feel it? we're in the homestretch here!
The last day we drove to Carthage, Il.
The men were not held in the holding cell
But instead allowed to stay in the upstairs bedroom.
It was here that Joseph and Hyrum (along with John Taylor and Willard Richards) were imprisoned under false charges. John Taylor, who had a lovely singing voice sang Joseph's favorite hymn, A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief to comfort his friend and prophet.
Suddenly, a mob of men who had painted their faces black- as not to be recognized- charged up the stairs to the upper room.
They were calling for the life of the prophet. They wanted his blood. He had done nothing to them but they cried for vengeance. They tried to force open the door. Hyrum, putting all his strength into keeping the door closed, was the first one shot.
The bullet that made this hole hit him in the face. He cried, "I am a dead man!" and fell to the floor.
With his his brother dead, Joseph probably thought his best bet to save the others was to take the violence elsewhere. He went to this window and attempted to jump. He was shot from both front and behind. As he fell from the window he murmured the words, "Oh Lord, my God."
Willard Richards and John Taylor walked away fairly unscathed, but never denied the validity of the prophet Joseph.
Joseph and Hyrum sealed their testimonies with their blood. I'm so grateful for the opportunity I had to go on this trip. And to share it with my parents and Kim. I have always known that Joseph is a prophet but it just made things a little more personal being able to walk in his footsteps and be in some of the places that some of the most miraculous and sacred things have taken place.
Thus ends the official tour. We gathered everyone together for one final group picture.
Isn't that a good looking bunch? They were from all over the place- Arizona, California, Utah, Idaho, Canada (what? Canada?) with an age range from 12 to 93. It was a really special group and I'm so glad we were able to be a part of it. There is not one person in that group that I wouldn't go on another trip with.
Then he took us to the arch. We didn't have long to see it, but most of us made the quick jaunt through all the construction to go up to the base of it.
Our photographer "the other Craig" (btw- he's really fun to go shopping with- especially if you hide bottles of wine in his shopping cart without his noticing.)
As we got back on the bus we were stuck at a stoplight. My new friend, Marv had 20 seconds to hop off the bus and take this amazing picture for all of us.
There it is. St Louis
Then it was time to fly the friendly skies.
We had a stop in Denver and had to change planes. We were running late for our connecting flight and had to RUN like mad to get to the other plane. I'm pretty sure they shut the doors on my heels. On this flight I was next to a sweet older lady who just wanted to talk about her daughter's wedding that she was going to. She was so funny.