Monday, June 9, 2014

Road Trip: Pilgrimage to Palmyra

Sunday was a great day. We set out from our Holiday Inn express in Victor NY ten minutes past our intended departure time of 8:30. I had estimated it would be about a 20 minute drive to the LDS Church in Palmyra. I guessed right. We pulled into the parking lot right at 9:00 (we are seldom so late for church) and were in our seats in the over flow section of the chapel with many other tourists before sacrament meeting started. After Sacrament meeting we headed out to see the sites. Had we inquired of the many missionaries at church we would have found out that none of the LDS sites open on Sunday until 12:30 after the full three hour block of meetings. In the church parking lot, I asked the leader of a bus of youth (who were also at the Whitmer farm the same time as we were yesterday) where they were going first. When he said the Sacred Grove, I decided we would go in the opposite direction to the Hill Cumorah. When we got there we found out the visitor center wasn't open so we elected to climb to the top.

While on top of the drumlin hill, we read from Joseph Smith History in the Pearl of Great Price about the angel Moroni visiting 17 year old Joseph three times in one night in his attic bedroom, how Joseph was directed to the Hill Cumorah where plates were buried, and how he was instructed to visit the plates once each year for three years and then on the fourth year he was allowed to take the plates and begin translating them. After reading we sang "An Angel From on high" which was also sang on the hill top by President Joseph F. Smith in 1905 on his return from dedicating the monument in Sharon Vermont. (reading scriptures on site and singing a related hymn is a fine tradition now carried on from our year in Jerusalem)

An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky,
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill
A sacred record lies concealed.
Sealed by Moroni's hand,
It has for ages lain
To wait the Lord's command,
From dust to speak again.
It shall again to light come forth
To usher in Christ's reign on earth.
It shall again to light come forth
To usher in Christ's reign on earth.

All that is known about where the plates were buried was that it was on the west side near the top of the hill.

Each July a pageant about the Book of Mormon is held on the western grassy slope of the Hill Cumorah. I saw it when I was 15 years old when I went on a one month eastern bus tour for LDS youth. I have been back to Palmyra several times since then, but never to see the pageant. Pageant visitors spread out on blankets in the flat grassy area to watch. While a student at BYU I drove with a friend back to DC for our Washington Seminar internships. My friend Richard Sopp had served his mission in Canada so we planned our road trip to go through Ontario and Quebec. He arranged for us to spend one night in Smith Falls Ontario with the branch president (BP) of a branch Richard served in. That evening we got talking about Canada and the US. The BP expressed frustration that most American know very little about Canada and yet Canadians know much more about the US. To make his point he told us that each year his family would go to the Hill Cumorah Pageant. There the missionaries would canvas the crowd greeting people hoping to share a gospel message. When the BP and family were approached by the missionaries and asked if they were LDS or not, and if not, would they like to know about the Book of Mormon etc, the BP would always tell a white lie and say they were not LDS. The missionaries would then asked if they wanted to learn a little about what they would be seeing that night. The BP would then say: "I understand that you have been missionaries in upstate New York for a year or so. Canada is just across the border. If you can tell me the capital of Canada I will listen to your message." In all of his years of trying the same thing, he never met a missionary that knew that Ottawa was the capital of Canada. This proved his point, Americans know little if anything about Canada. To rectify this gross deficiency in geographic awareness and to help Americans learn more about Canada so that Canadian Mormons and all Canadians can feel better understood, I now make sure my geography students learn about Canada. On the fist day of class in both my Political Geography and World Geography classes I always ask in the introductory quiz for students to name and label the location of Canada's Capital. In my 22 years at BYU, the running average for knowing the answer is about 15%. Usually students will say Montreal or Toronto (cities that do or did host major league baseball teams are more well known), Alberta (a province) also shows up sometimes. Knowing capitals is a fun part of geography, but more important is understanding the why behind the city or place. I then ask the students why Ottawa is the capital of Canada. Few know, even some of the Canadian students don't know. The reason is because it is a compromise capital between the rival cities of French speaking Quebec and Montreal and English Speaking Toronto. It was hoped that by moving the capital to more neutral Ottawa the bickering French and English Canadians would have fewer reasons to deepen their divide. And that is a geography lesson that comes from Cumorah.

From Cumorah we drove through Palmyra looking for a park for our picnic lunch.  A few blocks north of the four church intersection we found a park alongside the Eire Canal. Spanning the now filled original canal bed was a changing bridge where humans and mules towing barges on the Erie Canal could shift from one side of the canal to the other while still towing.

Also in the park was an original aqueduct where the Erie Canal was carried over a stream via a wooden conduit atop the rock arches.The Erie Canal introduced cheap transportation to and from the region. Because of the canal Grandin could afford to ship a the printing press to Palmyra, That press was then used to print the Book of Mormon. The canal was also used to send forth missionaries, to bring in interested people (like Parley P. Pratt) to meet Joseph Smith and for the saints to migrate to Kirtland.

Running parallel to the original path of the Erie Canal (now a bike path) is the enlarged new Erie Canal and one of its many locks--lock 29.

Next stop was the nearly empty Sacred Grove (now vacated by the teens).

We selected a bench and read Joseph Smith's account of his prayer of faith to know which of all the churches was correct. The answer to his prayer was the appearance of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Read the story here, verses 3-20.

We then sang this hymn:
  1. Oh, how lovely was the morning!
    Radiant beamed the sun above.
    Bees were humming, sweet birds singing,
    Music ringing thru the grove,
    When within the shady woodland
    Joseph sought the God of love,
    When within the shady woodland
    Joseph sought the God of love.
  2. Humbly kneeling, sweet appealing--
    'Twas the boy's first uttered prayer--
    When the pow'rs of sin assailing
    Filled his soul with deep despair;
    But undaunted, still he trusted
    In his Heav'nly Father's care;
    But undaunted, still he trusted
    In his Heav'nly Father's care.
  3. Suddenly a light descended,
    Brighter far than noonday sun,
    And a shining, glorious pillar
    O'er him fell, around him shone,
    While appeared two heav'nly beings,
    God the Father and the Son,
    While appeared two heav'nly beings,
    God the Father and the Son.
  4. "Joseph, this is my Beloved;
    Hear him!" Oh, how sweet the word!
    Joseph's humble prayer was answered,
    And he listened to the Lord.
    Oh, what rapture filled his bosom,
    For he saw the living God;
    Oh, what rapture filled his bosom,
    For he saw the living God.

To each his own!

The western boundary rock fence built by the Smith's to demarcate their 100 acre farm. They did not clear all of the land. This grove was left to provide maple sap and building and barrel making timber.

The Smith farm in Palmyra was much more productive and better suited geographically than their Norwich Vermont farm.

A reconstructed Smith farm house (built on the original foundation) with the Sacred Grove in the distance.

Moroni appeared to Joseph in this upstairs room (while his many siblings slept)

Original painting displayed in the Grandin buiding.

Smith farm land and the Sacred Grove.

Eventually the Smith family moved a 100 yards south to a bigger home built by oldest brother Alvin.

The family of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith.

It was to this home that Joseph brought the plates. He had quite a time trying to protect them from mobs and thieves. Once night he had his two younger sister hide the plates between their legs and under the covers. Soon thereafter a mob came looking for the plates, but could not find them. They didn't want to disturb the "sleeping" girls.

Once the plates were hidden under the hearth stone. Other times they were hidden in the tool box on the far dresser.

This large and old black birch on the south side of the home was planted the year Alvin died.

The Smith's built a threshing barn (this one was brought from Brigham Young's New York farm).

The Smith's also made money building barrels is this cooper shed. The plates were hidden here in the rafters and in a barrel of beans.

The restored Grandin bookstore and printing press.

Original ceiling and floor boards

A replica of the original press where the fist 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon were printed.

Once printed the pages were lowered to the second floor to be pressed and bound.

An original copy of the Book of Mormon.

The original painting of Mormon abridging the plates.

The original painting of the Book of Mormon account of Christ visiting the Americas.

 Original paintings by pioneer artist C.C, Christensen of Book of Mormon events: Lehi prophesying in Jerusalem.

Nephi and brothers building a boat.

Lehi blessing his posterity

The Book of Mormon has been translated into many languages.

To make sure Mormons could never be accused of proselyting in Israel as promised in order to get the BYU Jerusalem Center built, the Book of Mormon in Hebrew was pulled from distribution (I have been told that any copies of the Book of Mormon in Hebrew that were in Israel were burned along with other church materials published in Hebrew).

Editions of the Book of Mormon in Arabic (lower right), Turkish (Mormon Kitabi), Indonesian (Kitab Mormon), Persian/Farsi, Urdu and Malay (not on this display) all use kitab, the Arabic word for book in the title.

The Philippines has many options

The center of Palmyra with a church on each of the four corners of the center intersection. No wonder young Joseph was confused.

A block north of the intersection in the lot where Palmyra's first church and school were located is the grave of Alvin Smith.

Years after his death, Joseph had a vision of heaven in which he saw his brother Alvin. This confirmed to Joseph that un-baptized souls are not condemned to hell, but will have the opportunity in the next life to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 14 year old Palmyra Temple. Built on the eastern portion of the Smith farm.

All of the windows have stained glass images of the Sacred Grove.

We then doubled back to the Hill Cumorah Visitor Center for our final stop. There we watched a nice video about the restoration

And one of the senior missionaries told us the story of "Terrible Ted." He owned a small plot of land needed to build this temple. He refused to sell at a fair price. Finally President Hinckley said to give him what ever he asked and so the LDS Church paid him a very high price for his land so that the temple could be build. Ted then demanded that the church build him his dream home. Pres. Hinckley said to do that too, with the agreement that when he died the church would own the home. With his new wealth, Ted bought some snowmobiles. One day on a snowmobile outing he crashed, hit his head and died. His newly built home is now the home for the Palmyra Temple President and his wife.

Sunday dinner at Chiles in Victor (just as heavy rain started to fall) followed by a movie night watching How Rare a Possession about two amazing conversion stories based on reading the Book of Mormon. The kids liked it. Parley P. Pratt's conversion story has always been one of my favorites.

You can watch the hour long movie here:

1 comment:

  1. This is a really neat post Dr. Emmett! Nathan and I are taking the kids to the pageant this year-- even though I grew up in Vermont I have never been to the pageant, and I am so excited to go! I can't believe how grown up your kids are getting! We miss the mountains in Springville. And I remember learning about Canada in your classes! haha Tell Marie hi for us!