A hundred years ago, if you had visited the Sacred Grove you might have seen an odd-looking copper tablet, 14-1/2x 10 inches, about 1/8-inch thick, nailed to one of the Grove’s trees. Die-cut letters were crudely hammered into the surface of the tablet:
GO PRAY – AGAIN I COME
HINC LUCEM ET POCULA SACRA
When Willard W. Bean was called in 1915 to live in the Joseph Smith house, to farm the Smith land and be caretaker of the Church properties there, including the Sacred Grove, he found the weathered sign fastened to a tree at the edge of the Grove. Without knowing where it had come from or who had erected it, Bean moved it from the edge of the Grove to a prominent maple tree near the center of the Grove. When visitors asked the meaning of the Latin phrase, Bean could translate it roughly as “Light and sacred knowledge go forth from this place.”
Apostle James E. Talmage saw the tablet when he visited the Sacred Grove in 1920. He didn’t know what to make of it. On the one hand, he felt it could be “an expression of reverence,” albeit an odd one. On the other hand, though, he was fearful that the sign could be twisted into a source of ridicule for the Church, either because naive Church members would venerate it as mysterious “evidence” for the sacredness of the site, or because opponents of the Church would claim that Mormons had invested a crude, man-made object with religious significance. Already, he said in 1920, “fanciful and even fantastical stories” about the sign’s origin were in circulation. (Unfortunately for us, he didn’t record what “fantastical stories” were being told!)
The stories he had heard bothered Elder Talmage, so much so that he discussed the tablet and its origins with people back in Utah. In one such conversation with E. Frank Birch, President of the Tintic Stake, he fretted about “the readiness with which some people accept fancy for fact” – and discovered that he had been fretting to exactly the right person. President Birch knew about the sign and its origins.
Within a few days, and at Elder Talmage’s request, President Birch prepared the following statement:
Silver City, Utah, Sept. 8, 1920.
Dear Brother Talmage: –
On consulting my missionary journal and refreshing my memory, I am able to state that on December 15th, 1910, at Ambridge, Penn., Elder William Larse Jensen, of Ovid, Idaho, introduced to me a man by the name of Carl Lynn, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This gentleman, Carl Lynn, told me, at that time, that he had prepared and placed in the Sacred Grove, at Palmyra, N.Y., a copper play with engravings in English and Latin, part of which read: “Go Pray. Again I Come.” Mr. Lynn showed me what he claimed to be a fac-simile of the plate bearing the inscription.
E. Frank Birch, President of Tintic Stake.
Much relieved at having the power to convincingly state that the plate “was the work of a well-meaning, though somewhat eccentric, individual,” Elder Talmage announced to the Church at large that “neither the tablet itself nor its presence in the Grove is of any significance.”
The sign is no longer posted in the Sacred Grove. I do not know when it was removed, or whether it has been preserved in Church collections somewhere.
But oh, how I wonder what “fantastical stories” were being circulated in my grandparents’ generation!