Visiting Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, one can’t help but be touched by the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS), commonly called Mormons. Although the area was inhabited early by Native Americans and later the property of Mexico, the city was founded by LDS pioneers led by Brigham Young.
The roots of the LDS church date to the early 1820’s when the angel, Moroni, appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr. and told him he had been chosen to translate the book of Mormon which had been written on golden plates by Moroni’s father in the 4th century and were found by Smith buried in a stone box a few miles from his home in Palmyra, New York. Smith later returned the tablets to Moroni. In 1830, he published his translation, now known as “The Book of Mormon”.
Persecuted for his beliefs, Smith and his followers moved to Ohio and then Missouri, settling in Jackson County near where he believed, via a revelation, that Adam and Eve had once lived in the Garden of Eden and Noah had built his ark. Driven from there, they next settled in Illinois where Smith ordered the destruction of the printing press of a local paper which was supposedly going to publish “secrets” of the church. Smith was arrested and murdered while in prison.
The church then divided into two groups. One led by Brigham Young moved westward following what has become known as the Mormon Pioneer Trail. I have hiked a portion of this trail, eight miles worth with an ascent of 1400 feet. Even though it is now an established hiking trail, it was tough terrain and I could not imagine how difficult it must have been for those pioneers lugging hand and oxen carts with them.
In 1847, Young and his followers settled in what they then called Great Salt Lake City and the state of Deseret (meaning honeybee from “The Book of Mormon”) and set about laying out the present day grid structure of streets that extend out from what is now Temple Square. In 1848, Mexico ceded the area to the United States and it became the Utah Territory. The “Utah War” – a confrontation between LDS settlers and the armed forces of the United States – which had bloodshed but no battles – ensued. As has often occurred in history, the persecuted became persecutors and on September 11, 1857, thehistoric Mountain Meadow Massacre occurred during which LDS settlers dressed as Native Americans attacked and killed 120 unarmed men, women and children traveling to California.
Disputes between the Mormons and the government, particularly over the issue of polygamy, continued for nearly 40 years. In 1890, the church issued “The Manifesto” which advised followers to accept US law forbidding polygamy; this eased the way for Utah to become a state in 1896.
Begun in 1853, the temple which now is part of the Temple Square complex took 40 years to complete. Today, Temple Square takes up three city blocks and has numerous sites related to the LDS history, religion, and genealogy.
There is a Visitors Center with volunteers who welcome answering questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. The icon of the LDS church, the huge multi spired granite Temple topped with the angel, Moroni, is not open to visitors. Only members of the LDS church may enter the Temple. Non members are forbidden even for events such as the wedding of a relative. The grounds surrounding the Temple are beautifully landscaped and the reflecting fountain in front of it provides a serene as well as picturesque perspective.
The ornate Assembly Hall is the scene of free weekend concerts while the Salt Lake Tabernacle with its famous 11,623 pipe organ is now reopen for tours. It had been closed for architectural changes to make it more earthquake proof; Salt Lake is located along the Wasatch Fault. On Thursday evenings, one may attend rehearsals of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and on Sunday mornings, the radio broadcast featuring the choir is also open to the public. Hearing the choir accompanied by that organ is inspirational no matter what one’s beliefs may be.
Guided tours of the huge Conference Center are also available. The 21,000 seat auditorium with no visible support beams seems to defy engineering, but its roof is what I enjoyed most. It is planted with four acres of native flora, grasses, and trees and features a waterfall. Truly a “green” experience. There is also a museum of church history on the site.
The homes of Brigham Young, the Beehive House built in 1854 and the Lion House two years later, are part of the Temple Square complex. The Beehive house was the executive mansion for the Territory of Utah when Young was territorial governor. It has been restored and is open for free tours. The Lion House wasthe residence for up to 12 of Young’s wives (there were 55 of them) and many of his children; he had 57 biological children, as well as additional foster and step children. It is now a social center as well as housing one of the four restaurants on Temple Square.
The Family History Library is a wonderful place to do genealogical research as it contains the world’s largest collection of ancestral resources. There are volunteers available to assist. Genealogy is important in the LDS religion as church doctrine decrees that “ordinances”, religious rituals such as baptism, confirmation and sealings (marriages), must be available to every person who has ever lived. “Saving ordinances” for the deceased can be bestowed with living church members serving as proxies. Church members are encouraged to research their ancestors in order to bestow these ordinances. Controversy has surrounded the former practice of unauthorized posthumous baptizing of non LDS members including Jewish Holocaust victims.
In addition to building it’s religious edifices, the church became involved in commerce and still has large business holdings in the area including an insurance company, cattle ranches, office and residential buildings, a newspaper, TV stations, including the local Salt Lake NBC affiliate, multiple radio stations in different markets, and an investment company. In 2006, it was decided to demolish two LDS owned shopping malls near Temple Square and build a $2 billion dollar mixed use complex. In March of this year, City Creek Center opened, much to the delight of inveterate shoppers like me.
Although the LDS church’s businesses remain a dominant force in Salt Lake, other major companies such as Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, and RBS have recently moved some operations into this city. It is estimated that the population of LDS members in Salt Lake City is now slightly below 50%.
If Salt Lake City is not in your immediate travel plans, you can make a virtual visit to Temple Square at the website www.utah3d.net/pages/temple_square.html#. The grounds of Temple Square in spring and at the holidays, two viewing options on this website, are beautiful.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.