Josiah Francis Gibbs was already a third-generation Mormon when he was born in Nauvoo in 1845. He lived all the experiences we think of as prototypical for Mormons of that age — he crossed the Plains on foot, worked as a carpenter on such landmarks as the Salt Lake Tabernacle and Salt Lake Theater, helped settle and build up one community after another, served a mission to England, took part in his local ward activites, married polygamously, raised two families … and then for reasons too complex to outline here, but which will be explained in my biography of Gibbs, he forfeited everything that meant anything — his families and his membership in the Church — and became a bitter apostate and publisher of virulent anti-Mormon books. When his day had passed and those who had supported him had no further use for him, he was dropped by his old flatterers and faded away, a writer of cranky letters-to-the-editor until his 1932 death.
This newspaper article was written while he was still one of us, and is offered as a belated Memorial Day post.
In company with City Sexton Thadeus Cluff between whom and the writer there has existed for years the warmest friendship, a visit last Sunday was made to the city cemetery.
Near the base of the abrupt and lofty Wasatch range and lying within its shadow, Provo has selected a beautiful site for the burial place of its “loved and lost.” We noted with pleasure the improvements that are being made by Sexton Cluff, and the evidences of care for the grounds, that are manifest in the neatly graded and graveled walks, and carriage ways. It requires a peculiar organization to make a good sexton. There should not only be sympathy for the living who go to the cemetery with hearts overflowing with sorrow for the severed ties of earthly life, but also a reverence for the receptacles of the dead a conscientious regard for the trust the people repose in the guardian of the sacred ground where sleep their loved ones. Such a man is found in Thadeus Cluff.
To thoughtful and reverent natures there is not a place that inspires so many conflicting emotions as God’s acre – the silent “city of the dead.” Each mute block of granite or cold marble slab or shaft, records only the day of birth and date of death. Yet, beneath each carefully rounded mound of earth, with modest head-stone or wood, or under the mute granite monument, there sleeps a form around which cluster the tenderest memories. Many of those last resting places contain the forms of little ones whose going tugged at the very heart strings of others whose idols they were. Other graves contain the forms of those whom relentless death struck down in the full bloom of maidenhood or early manhood. Forms that, while living, represented the concentrated pride and hopes of fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, and perhaps they were too objects of yet more tender ties. Under other mounds sleep those of more mature years who left behind them children to mourn their loss, children who, perchance, were left to do battle with a world in which, at the present time, aggressiveness and selfishness are all too important factors of success. Each grave contains a history of buried love, ambition and hope.
It is well that human beings occasionally visit those cities of the dead. It pulls their minds away from worldly thoughts and brings them face to face with the inevitable. If those that visit the places sanctified by the love and tears of the living, will but give their thoughts free play and the innumerable subjects that will be presented to the mind, and that no other places will suggest, there will be pleasure in the midst of sadness, and men and women will go thence, as if from the presence of their Maker and the whisperings of spirit voices that seem to admonish for past follies, and that speak almost audible words of hope and cheer for the journey of life with a promise in “The sweet by and bye” of rest from toil and disappointments. Men and women are made the better and stronger for brief sojourn within the hallowed influence that broods over the quiet and peaceful resting places of those that have completed the journey of mortal life.
[Josiah Francis Gibbs, “God’s Acre,” Provo Evening Dispatch, 5 November 1895]