Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tales of a Nauvoo Tourist

The bulk of this post was written on Monday, July 13th. I didn’t have a chance to post it until today, July 14th. It should be read as though it’s July 13th, except for this part at the beginning that I have put in italics, because that wouldn’t make any damn sense.

Today was my second day off in a row. I spent a good chunk of it exploring Nauvoo as a tourist, rather than as a tour guide. This is really only my second time since arriving in Nauvoo to go sightseeing myself. I really enjoyed it. I knocked a lot of destinations off of my to-do list.

In the early part of the day, Melanie and the boys went sightseeing with me. They’ve already done much more sightseeing than I have, since they are often looking for something to do during the days. The boys don’t always handle historic sites very well, and I don’t blame them. It’s got to be painfully boring for them. I told them this morning that they would have to bear going to just three places. Originally, the Nauvoo Groves was one of our planned stops, but even early in the day, it was so damn muggy and hot. (Have you noticed my frequent use of mild swears lately? Must be something in the Nauvoo air making me want to cuss. The humidity, most likely.) The heat index was supposed to get up to 108° F today, and the intensity started early. We quickly changed our mind about doing anything that would require standing outside, so we ended up seeing the Wilford Woodruff Home, the Sarah Granger Kimball Home, and the Stoddard Tin Shop.

Here are the standout things about each site we visited this morning. At the Wilford Woodruff Home, I appreciated that the sister missionary seemed to adjust her script for our benefit once she learned we were with Community of Christ (which she learned very quickly). She was totally respectful, but seemed to tweak how she would phrase things. Of course, I can only assume she did, but it seemed obvious at times. When she spoke to our boys about Woodruff, she identified him as the “fourth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” rather than simply as “the prophet” or something. Right before she used the word “president,” she seemed to hesitate half a moment, and I think she consciously decided not to say “prophet.” Obviously, she views Woodruff as a prophet. And I don’t think she needs to deny her beliefs, but I don’t think that’s what she was doing. I think she was just meeting us where we’re at, and that effort was appreciated by me. It’s a stark contrast from most of the sites you visit, where they are immediately saying things that make it crystal clear they assume you are LDS. I know 90% or more of their guests probably are, but not only LDS people visit these sites. I think they should sometimes be a bit less presumptuous.

At the Sarah Granger Kimball Home, it stood out to me how much of the spiel was actually about her husband Hiram and not about her. Especially at first, Sarah’s life was told via Hiram rather than vice versa, which seems odd given that the home is named after her and not her husband. It was also funny to me how supposedly faith-promoting stories can sound kind of messed up once you’ve left the relevant religious tradition behind. It happened a couple of times today that a missionary would tell some story meant to demonstrate faithfulness but that struck me as bothersome. The first was at the Sarah Granger Kimball Home. Supposedly, Sarah once joked with her husband Hiram about how much their baby was worth. She asked if the baby was worth $1,000. Hiram reckoned so. Sarah then joked about how they either needed to sell the baby to the Church or keep the baby but pay the Church $500 in tithing. Hiram apparently tells Joseph Smith this, and Joseph laughs but then says, “Yeah, you really should give me $500.” And so they do. And they consider it tithing. On the increase that was their child, I guess. And this story was meant to inspire us, the tourists, to pay our tithing. Or something. I don’t know. It all sounds a bit wiggity-wack to me. But the best part of stopping at the Sarah Granger Kimball Home was watching a herd of cows in the field next door fighting over a puddle in which they all wanted to stand in order to cool off. You’ll see them in a photo below.

The Stoddard Tin Shop was a lot more interesting because the missionary guy who gave us the tour actually taught us how they did stuff. That was cool. The boys handled it a lot better, too, so they must have found it at least mildly intriguing. I appreciated that the missionary guy frankly admitted to me—albeit privately, after the rest of our tour group was gone—that Sylvester Stoddard had left the Church, presumably over the issue of polygamy. He could’ve just said Stoddard left the Church. Whenever it’s the LDS person volunteering information about polygamy, I’m at least somewhat impressed.

In front of the Sarah Granger Kimball Home.

After our morning jaunt, Melanie had a lunch date with some of the women she’s gotten to know here in Nauvoo (and Jenn, our friend from Utah that is also here in Nauvoo now). I had the kids, including a few that don’t belong to me. Things went fine and dandy in that department. When Melanie returned, I decided to head out again on my own. We still had kids to babysit, but Melanie didn’t seem to care about seeing more of the historical sites today, so I went solo. Granted, I love having my family in tow, but not having kids helped immensely. I saw tons of stuff within a relatively short period of time. My first stop was the Cultural Hall, which is in actuality the original Masonic temple for Nauvoo. The sign outside admits that the Freemasons used the building, but the LDS Church isn’t so brave as to call it the Masonic Hall, as would probably be more proper. Anyway, I really wanted to check it out, but I didn’t realize it is primarily just used to put on shows and other performances. There’s not much to do or see there otherwise. When I walked in, I could hear live music. A missionary ushered me to a bench, and I quickly understood that I had just been seated for a music performance by some of the Young Performing Missionaries. It was primarily a brass band, with some drums and clarinets. I suddenly felt trapped, unsure of just how stuck I really was. If I had known there was a concert going on and nothing else, I wouldn’t have entered the Cultural Hall in the first place. Now I found myself wondering how rude it would be to stand up in the middle of a brass band version of “How Great Thou Art” and leave. I heard four numbers before I mustered up the courage to bail between songs. The songs weren’t bad, with the exception of “How Great Thou Art,” which was actually the final song I heard. Someone was out of tune or something, and it often sounded a bit terrible. “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today” was much better. My favorite was the clarinet and flute version of “My Heavenly Father Loves Me” (the Primary song that starts out, “Whenever I hear the song of a bird…”). I love the sound of the clarinet, and I love that Primary song. It was a good rendition. Before each song was played, one of the missionaries would essentially bear his or her testimony about its message. The cadence and manner with which these youthful missionaries bear their testimonies is so distinct, and now being something of an outsider, these things just really leap out at me. Truly, LDS folk are a peculiar people. I don’t think they realize how much so. I didn’t, which is why I keep bringing this up in my blog posts. I’m not poking fun. I’m just fascinated. I also get so curious about the LDS mentality concerning “the Spirit.” LDS folk regularly say things that imply the Holy Ghost just hangs around places of historical significance, just chilling out or something. One of the sister missionaries said something about how strong the Spirit is in Nauvoo “because the Prophet really did walk these streets.” So, apparently, if Joseph Smith walked down a given road, there is now permanent Holy Ghost residue on the street that won’t go away. And now if you walk down the same road Joseph Smith walked down, you will inevitably feel the Spirit. Because it’s just there. Hanging out. For 200 years or so. It’s an interesting way of thinking.

Once I had escaped the Cultural Hall, I went about a block—maybe only half a block—south to a trio of sites that are right together, almost as one unit. I started off in the Nauvoo Print Shop, where I learned a bit about how they made newspapers. It really was a painstaking task. I also learned how many of our common expressions are tied to the printing business, such as “Mind your P’s and Q’s,” “Cut to the chase,” and I think another one or two that I can’t remember. I then went into John Taylor’s home. Taylor preceded Woodruff as President of the LDS Church. I know Taylor was one of the most adamant defenders of polygamy, so I found it curious when the sister missionary had me read a quote from Taylor about leaving Nauvoo and heading for the Utah Territory. The quote says something about leaving the United States and how the Saints would rather suffer than do wrong. In the context, knowing what I do, my only way of understanding the quote was to think that he was referring to polygamy. Part of the benefit of leaving the U.S. was that the Saints could openly practice polygamy (so they thought), which the U.S. government didn’t allow. I assume Taylor was saying that the Saints would willfully suffer before they would commit the wrong of abandoning polygamy. Now, this wasn’t the entirety of the quote she had me read, but I asked if that particular passage was a reference to polygamy because I wasn’t sure what else that part of the quote would have been referring to. The sister missionary didn’t act too flustered with my question, but she didn’t really seem to know how to answer it, either. She said something about how no matter where the Saints would’ve gone, someone would’ve found something to harass them about. I’m not sure how that answers my question, but at least she tried.

After Taylor’s home, I went to the Nauvoo Post Office. I walked in while a tour was already in progress, heard the last little bit of it, and then wasn’t offered to hear whatever I’d missed. It kept the visit short, which was fine by me.

My next destination was just around the corner: the Brigham Young Home. This was the destination that felt the most preachy to me. I think it really was more preachy and I wasn’t just biased, but admittedly I have a lot more qualms with Brigham. Every time the sister missionary bore her testimony about what a great man he was, I just had to grin and nod and hope she wasn’t going to ask me if I agree. The message the sister missionary shared was heavy on validating the view that Brigham really was the true successor to Joseph, a theme I feel creeps up somewhat regularly at other LDS-owned Nauvoo sites. Perhaps because non-LDS branches of the Latter Day Saint movement also trace their heritage to Nauvoo—with Nauvoo being the central spot at which the church splintered after Joseph Smith was killed—it may be that a primary goal of the LDS Church at the Nauvoo sites is to reaffirm their legitimacy as the rightful heirs of the “one and only true church.” I really think it is, because as I’ve mentioned before, so many of the spiels you hear at the LDS Nauvoo sites are actually about the post-Nauvoo period. You’ll see things on display that are all about the post-Nauvoo LDS Church leadership, like decorative plates with Brigham Young listed as the President of the Church, or photographs of The First Presidency from Utah in the late 1800s. This is stuff on display at the historic sites here, which really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Anyway, the sister missionary who guided me through the Brigham Young home talked about Brigham clearly being God’s chosen prophet because who else could lead a group of people across the plains? (Didn’t a lot of people go across the plains aside from the Mormons?) She said she knew Brigham was the true prophet because when the Saints left Nauvoo, they didn’t even know where they were going—they just left. (I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, but how would it make Brigham a prophet, exactly? No matter where the Saints had settled, couldn’t she have said the same thing?) In one room, the sister missionary told me it was where the Quorum of the Twelve would often have their meetings. “Think of all the revelation that would’ve been received here,” she said. She then shuddered and added, “Wow, I get chills just saying that!” It makes you wonder what kind of revelation she’s imagining, because most LDS people believe in receiving personal revelation all the time. I’m sure she doesn’t get chills thinking about all of the revelation that is received in some random suburban home in Draper, Utah. Was the revelation received in Brigham Young’s house any more miraculous? Not necessarily. But I guess I’m being a jerk at this point, right? Okay, then. Let’s move on.

My final destination of the day was the Seventies Hall. The sister missionaries let me know that the Seventies were basically just missionaries themselves. One of the sisters explained that by the time of the exodus from Nauvoo, there was an astonishing 35 Quorums of the Seventy. I think this was supposed to be evidence of the impressive success of the Church. What this woman probably doesn’t know is that Brigham made almost every eligible man in Nauvoo into a Seventy after Joseph’s death because that put the majority of men in the Church under the jurisdiction of the Quorum of the Twelve, ensuring they were under Brigham’s control rather than the control of William Marks, whom several people (including Emma Smith) wanted to be Joseph Smith’s successor. Having 35 Quorums of the Seventy, in other words, was a political and strategic move on Brigham’s part by which he intended to maintain as much control over the splintering church as possible. That’s not very faith-promoting, really. (Don’t worry, I didn’t mention this to the sister missionary.) A cool thing about my visit to the Seventies Hall, however, was being able to rifle through their list of known Seventies from the Nauvoo period. I found an ancestor listed that I hadn’t even known lived in Nauvoo, nor did I know he had been a Seventy. The things your parents fail to teach you!

The Masonic Hall, referred to as the Cultural Hall.

The Nauvoo Post Office in the foreground, with the John Taylor Home directly behind it, and the Nauvoo Print Shop behind that.

Lots of revelation in this room at the Brigham Young Home.  Feel the chills?

Feeling iffy about Brigham Young.

Inside the Seventies Hall.

Outside the Seventies Hall.

On my way back home, I was thinking about taking photographs to try to show the close proximity of where I am temporarily living to all of the historic sites I give tours of on a daily basis. I realized photographs wouldn’t work nearly as well as a video, so I filmed a brief and spontaneous driving tour that I then uploaded to Facebook. I’m including it here as well. I had a Duran Duran CD playing as I was filming, and I couldn’t resist singing along, so consider that a bonus feature. Here is the video:

After dinner, I had a bit more fun exploring Nauvoo, this time with my family again by my side. I didn’t get any photos because our roaming was not pre-planned. However, we found ourselves at the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds, a cemetery kind of in the middle of nowhere and rather obscured by thick trees. It was pretty cool, although I got a ton of mosquito bites while we were there. That and a stop at Casey’s for a donut was a nice finish to a really good day. I can’t wait for Wednesday, when the family and I plan to head for Springfield and become tourists yet again. Stay tuned…


  1. Love your intro!
    Do other groups that trace back to Joseph etc consider themselves "the true church?"

    1. I think that's pretty much the case, although Community of Christ has officially backed away from that claim. They now see themselves as striving to be "a true church." But early on especially, I think they all would have seen themselves as the true and correct church. They would likely all say that their church was founded by Joseph Smith, etc.