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On This Date: June 17, 1951

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 17, 2013

The Mormon Exodus from Nauvoo is reckoned as having begun on 4 February 1846 when the first wagons crossed the ice-covered Mississippi River, heading west. But in one sense, Mormons never abandoned Nauvoo – letters throughout the 19th century contain references by missionaries who stopped there on their way to the mission fields in the 19th century, first by those who had lived there under the leadership of Joseph Smith, and gradually by those who had no personal memories tied to the city but for whom the name “Nauvoo” held some of the same romance as “Camelot.” In the early 20th century, photographs began appearing in Church publications documenting visits to Nauvoo, and at least by 1933 the traffic was so great that the first monument to the women of the Relief Society was built at Nauvoo.

The early summer of 1951 brought its share of Mormon visitors to the old city. Two missionaries – Elders Richard C. Jensen and Rulon N. Jorgensen – were on their way home from their missions to Denmark and decided to see Nauvoo. G. Carlos Smith, Jr., president of the Cottonwood Stake in the Salt Lake Valley, was on vacation in the Midwest with his wife LaVon and sons Bud and Jerry; the family headed toward Nauvoo to see the place so closely associated with their great-grandfather Hyrum Smith.

Elder Hyrum A. and Sister Cordelia Knight, from Bountiful, Utah, had come to serve as missionary guides at the Carthage Jail, owned for a number of years by the Church; they had arrived in early June, and two weeks later, when the couple headed to Nauvoo on June 17, they had already counted 841 tourists – about one-quarter of them LDS – calling at the Jail. Utah transplants Brother and Sister Dale Young (from Brigham City) and Brother and Sister Eldon Drake (from Ogden), all then living in Ames, Iowa, were in town. So were Brother and Sister Harold Creer and Brother and Sister Parley R. Neeley, all of Spanish Fork, and the family of Robert C. Walburn of Sidney, Ohio. There may have been others.

Some of these Saints were in Nauvoo on June 17 simply by chance. Others had deliberately come there that Sunday morning because Walter F. and Ruth Hogan were there.

The Hogans, of Bountiful, were missionaries who had been sent to Nauvoo – not merely passing through, but with the intention that they would live and work in Nauvoo. They had been in town only a few days, but they were already making contacts and friends. They had been greeted by Nauvoo’s civic and church leaders on their arrival on June 14, and had already shared a meal with those local leaders. And they had moved into their new quarters … a building on the northwest corner of the block where the Nauvoo Temple had once stood. The Church had recently purchased that building, the first Church-owned property in Nauvoo since the Saints had left over a century earlier. The building was intended to provide not only living quarters for the Hogans, but also to serve as a Bureau of Information (or, in contemporary language, a visitors’ center), a place for tourists to learn about the Mormon past of Nauvoo and to be introduced to the Church.

And on that June 17, all those visitors named above converged on the new Bureau of Information, where Elder Hogan conducted a Sacrament meeting. Those who were there reported it as the first sacrament service held in Nauvoo since the Exodus. They may be right, but prudence suggests caution in making that claim – with so many Saints, particularly missionaries, having visited the town, it seems more than likely that some of them may have held private services from time to time. But June 17, 1951, whether or not it was the first such service, did mark a new era in the Mormon presence at Nauvoo.

The Sacrament was administered that day by the two returning Danish elders, and was passed by the Smith boys, one a teacher and the other a deacon. Then Elder Hogan invited the visitors to bear their testimonies. It was a simple gathering of Saints … and a beginning.



14 Comments »

  1. Interesting. I feel attracted to your use of the “Camelot” analogy. Romance indeed. And it makes me wonder. I know Nauvoo will never hold the same importance to the church as it did in the 1840′s, but has the day come (or will it soon) when there are more Mormons there now than in 1844?

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 17, 2013 @ 8:55 am

  2. Since Ames is the home of Iowa State University, I had a hunch that the Drakes and the Youngs were there in graduate school. A Google search on Eldon Drake turns up a man named Eldon Drake, an emeritus professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership at Utah State University, and this undated photograph of Eldon Drake and some students preparing audio visual aids (looks like an education class).

    And I found an obituary from 2009 for Janice Drake, whose husband Eldon received his masters degree and doctorate from Iowa State University.

    Now it’s on to find Bro. and Sis. Young!

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2013 @ 9:07 am

  3. Here are obituaries for Dale W. Young and Adele Christensen Young. Brother Young studied agricultural chemistry at Iowa State University, and the couple were from Brigham City, so I think we can conclude that they are the other couple from Ames who were in Nauvoo that Sunday.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2013 @ 9:26 am

  4. That’s great, Mark, thanks! That much personal detail helps to give this accidental little congregation a reality beyond a line in a chronology. It’s analogous to a sterile line about “the six original members of the church” and knowing who and how many people were actually present at the April 6, 1830 meeting.

    Bruce, I don’t know the statistics, but I’ll bet there are a lot of old-time non-Mormon residents of Nauvoo who suspect that number was passed long ago! And those of us with no genealogical ties to Nauvoo swell the number and feel we have a stake in that town.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 17, 2013 @ 9:59 am

  5. A quick check shows that there is a Nauvoo 1st Ward, and a Nauvoo 3rd Ward. (no 2nd Ward, apparently) and two branches across the Mississippi River. The entire area of historic Nauvoo, including Carthage and other outlying communities, is covered by these four units. There are between 700-1,800 members in the area. That is a far cry from the 10,000+ Mormons said to have been in Nauvoo at its height. Then during the tourist season, I’m sure there is a spike of some sort.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 17, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  6. Spike? Ya think?? We were in Nauvoo on a Sunday in early July 1999 (heading west for our daughter’s wedding–that’s why I remember the date). Attendance at sacrament meeting in the Nauvoo Ward must have been about 1,000. The chapel was completely full, the choir seats were filled, the entire gym was full, and there may have been others sitting in other rooms, connected by closed circuit TV. There were two sacrament tables, the usual one at the front of the chapel and another at the side of the gym near the front.

    No telling what they did when it was time for Sunday School and other meetings. We left, took a quick run up the hill to the temple site (a grassy plot of land with a few stones from the foundation of the original temple) and then got in the car and headed west.

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2013 @ 10:52 am

  7. Mark,

    The numbers game is interesting in these tourist destinations. I have a nephew and his family in Big Fork, Montana, and we visited there with them on a Sunday last August. Their normal winter attendance is around 150-200, but on this particular Sunday, there were over 1,200 people present for Sacrament meeting. After enlisting every available Aaronic PH holder they could find, they passed the sacrament for about 35 minutes, and being fast Sunday, held an extended testimony meeting. At the end, the Bishop got up and announced the attendance number, and told the congregation there was no way to accommodate that many people in primary and Sunday School, and cancelled the rest of the the meetings. According to my nephew, that is pretty common from late June through August, when things revert back to just the regular residents. I suspect that similar things happen in Nauvoo.

    Comment by kevinf — June 17, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  8. If they could get them to come in June or September, it would drive their reported number through the roof and really boost their budget allowance for the year!

    Comment by Mark B. — June 17, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  9. Mark,

    I questioned my nephew about that, and he said that the church does take summer attendance into account for their budget allowance. I can’t remember how many loaves of bread he said they go through a week, but the water trays were stacked like a mesoamerican pyramid on the sacrament table.

    Comment by kevinf — June 17, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  10. As previously mentioned, y’all are talking about where I come from. Though my Mennonite and Methodist ancestors had been in the area for decades, I’ve still got Mormon roots in Nauvoo as my Aunt & Uncle are members of one of the Nauvoo wards; my uncle serves in the YM and this\ was one of his youth’s Eagle projects. I suspect the ‘missing’ 2nd ward is the temple-worker ward, which meets separately from the ‘regular ward.

    My maternal grandparents arrived in the Nauvoo area about 1953, as part of a contingent of farmers from Arizona who moved ‘back east’ and together created a branch in Keosauqua, Iowa, which was part of the Nauvoo Stake when that 1000th stake was formed. That branch is long gone, now, as all members died off or moved away. During the 50s and 60s, interest in Nauvoo Restoration grew exponentially; but when I was a very little girl visiting my grandparents what I remember best about Nauvoo was playing on the grassy temple lot, the swarms of Mormon Beetles that plastered the windshields and slicked-up the roads, and waiting on the narrow steel bridge at Keokuk for the barges to pass in the dark of the night. The bridge deck was corrugated and pierced, so that if you leaned out the car window and looked down, you could see the mighty Mississippi roll below you.

    My father was baptized at Nauvoo, in that river. One of the missionaries that taught him was Blaine Yorgason, of Windwalker fame; his wikipedia page says he served his mission mostly in Chicago, but I know better, because at some point he was out in the hinterlands of Iowa teaching my family members.

    One last memory of Nauvoo. Thirty years ago next month, I was at a stake Primary leadership meeting (despite being just 18, I was a member of the Keosauqua Branch primary presidency, and so was dutifully attending my meetings), and after the meeting stopped by the doors of the stake center and looked out at the late-evening sun setting over the Mississippi. My thoughts weren’t of pioneers, but of my paternal grandmother, who was very ill. In that moment, as I saw that glowing sun, I felt such an overwhelming sense of peace and love. I still remember that view and that feeling today.

    When I got home to Keosauqua, I learned that at the time I had that feeling, my grandmother had passed away. I think that feeling was one last hug from her.

    And that is what Nauvoo means to me.

    Comment by Coffinberry — June 17, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

  11. Coffinberry, that was beautiful. Thank you for your memories of Nauvoo. My sister and I were in Nauvoo in the 1980s on a research trip for the journals I edited of my 2nd great grandmother. The minute we entered the city, we both were struck with a wonderful peaceful feeling that lasted the whole time we were there. My sister phoned her husband that first night and said, “sell the house and bring the camper. I’m not leaving here.”

    Comment by Maurine — June 17, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  12. I spent a week in Nauvoo on an archeological dig for the Community of Christ (then the Reorganized Church). It was so hot and humid that I thanked God my ancestors had the good sense to follow Brigham Young to the West. I have been to Nauvoo several times in cooler weather and have enjoyed the beauty of the place

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — June 17, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

  13. I grew up in Eastern Iowa and we joined the church when I was 12 years old in 1959. The next year, when I was 13, I attended my first youth conference. It was held at the college in Carthage. Our Saturday activity was to go to tour Carthage jail and Nauvoo.

    I have some very vivid memories of that tour. Among other things, I remember the white house that sat on the corner of the temple lot and was the visitor’s center. There was temple stone around, but no evidence of the exact location of the temple. I remember the speculation about where it stood on the lot and some years later, when the foundation was excavated, I learned they had been wrong!

    The Reorganized Church had a visitors center set up on the corner across from the Mansion House and the Old Homestead. I remember watching their slide show about the history of Nauvoo. Most of it was pretty good, but we all howled when they showed the picture of the groups that “broke off” and one of them headed to Utah. I have often thought it must have been difficult to have so many Mormon youth at once time!

    We had an apostle in attendance at the youth conference – I think it Richard L Evans, but I am not sure – who spoke about the event in his conference talk that October. He said that there were more Mormons in Nauvoo that day than had been there since the Exodus. Again, perhaps an exaggeration, but we loved it.

    I have visited Nauvoo many times since, but none will ever equal that first experience.

    Comment by Rosemary — June 18, 2013 @ 6:03 am

  14. This was enjoyable to read, both the post and the comments. Thanks, all.

    Comment by Amy T — June 18, 2013 @ 9:56 am

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