I returned to Temple Square the following day, anxious to learn more about the LDS, and to walk through the gardens.
In the North Visitors’ Center, two films are shown on demand. The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd sounded a tad too religious for me, but Legacy, about the westward trek of the Mormons in the mid-19th century, appealed. I sat down in the private viewing room (8 chairs) and began watching the hour long docudrama.
Legacy focuses on Eliza, a young Mormon girl whose family joins Joseph Smith in his quest to find Zion, or the New Jerusalem. Attempts to establish Mormon settlements in Missouri, Ohio and Illinois were met with persecution from the locals, culminating in the murder of Joseph Smith by a mob in a jail in Carthage, Illinois in 1844. A fellow Mormon, Brigham Young, assumed leadership of the sect and led them to Salt Lake City.
Along the way, Eliza found love with Peter, a convert from Britian with a decidedly American accent, two miracles were performed (Joseph Smith curing Eliza of malaria and Eliza saving a dying cow), there was a dance and two songs, but more hymnlike than Bollywoodesque. In the end, Eliza remained true to her faith, had children and lived happily ever after.
Family History Library:
Feeling uplifted by the positive messages in Legacy, I proceeded to the Family History Library. It is a 5 story building housing the largest Genealogical collection in the world and is open to the public.
The Mormons have long been champions of genealogical research, all the better to find out which ancestors might be in need of post-mortem proxy baptisms. This interest in maintaining information about one’s ancestors also fueled the scrapbooking craze which began in Utah. But I digress.
After indicating I would like to research my family history, I was introduced to Sister W., a widow from Denver doing a mission in Salt Lake City for a year. She sat down with me at one of the many computer consoles and we prepared my family tree, first on paper and then on the computer after showing me how to open an account on Family Search, the Mormon website. We located my maternal grandmother’s information going back 6 generations (which I had already known), but hit a wall trying to find out when my paternal grandfather emigrated to Canada from Poland.
After an hour of helping me search, Sister W. took me the Canada/US floor where I was introduced to her cousin, Brother R. He, too, could not locate the immigration record, but established my grandfather’s passing date by bringing up a photograph of his headstone in Winnipeg. Ironically, I had been there just the week before. I admit it was disconcerting to realize that people go around photographing headstones (the photographer’s name and date are listed) for uploading to genealogical sites. But Brother R. was not able to find out any more.
Thus, he took me down to the International Floor, where Sister L. specialized in Polish research. But she was not able to assist too much since, as she explained, all the Polish records between about 1850 and 1930 were in Russian. We did look through some Russian marriage records, but in vain. Sister L suggested I find a Russian speaking friend to assist me.
I spent over 3 hours in the Library, being helped by lovely people trying to discover more about my ancestors. The advantage of doing the search at the Family History Library is the free access to numerous other genealogical websites. I now have my on-line account, but will have to pay to search other sites. And, just a note, I don’t think God or Joseph Smith was mentioned once during my time at the Family History Library.
The Beehive House:
Not so at my next stop. The Beehive House is where Brigham Young lived after settling in Salt Lake City. It is a large two story house with a library, dining room, parlor, bedrooms and bathroom.
The tour was led by Sister S. from Mississauga, Canada and Sister P. from Brazil. Joining me was a Mormon mother and her 5 year old twins. Sister S. pointed to a picture of Joseph Smith and asked if we had heard of him. The girl twin (they were fraternal; the other was a boy) piped up that she knew him from church and he was her uncle. Mormon mom explained he was an uncle, 7 or 8 generations removed.
We moved through the house with the Sisters identifying some of the significant items. There were wood carvings of Beehives (hence the name Beehive House) because beehives and bees symbolize everyone working together. I asked whether I could visit the Temple. “No,” said Sister W, “Only those who are spiritually prepared may enter the temple.” How she knew I was not spiritually prepared was not proffered.
I commented that the house was quite luxurious for a carpenter, Brigham Young’s profession. Mormon mom volunteered he was also governor of Utah and therefore in receipt of a salary. I asked, out of earshot of the 5 year old twins, whether Messieurs Smith and Young had more than 1 wife. “Yes,” Sister P., admitted. “How many?” I queried. “56 for Brigham, but most didn’t live in the Beehive House.” The twins rejoined us and the conversation ended.
As did the tour, with another offer of a free Book of Mormon.
The End of Temple Square
I left the Temple Square and searched in vain for a nearby Starbucks or bar. I did find the Deseret bookstore, devoted to Mormon books , where I was warmly welcomed by a cheery cashier. Deseret (Brigham Young’s obscure phonetic language) was stocked with such tantalizing titles as More than the Tattooed Mormon and No Apology, Mitt Romney’s autobiography. I didn’t buy anything.
However, I had achieved my goal of learning about the LDS, its philosophy and its struggles without succumbing to the subtle but omnipresent (except in the Family History Library) proselytizing. But after two days of this curious mixture of religious Disneyland and Stepford Wives’ smiles and sweetness, I had had enough. I retreated to the suburbs for Mexican fajitas and a Margherita.