Last week a batch of 1927 minutes from Menan, Idaho reported one speaker who “Told of small boy, who was sneeringly asked by man what he believed in. Boy recited the Articles of Faith, man was so impressed that he investigated and became converted.” That prompted a comment or two about whether that was a Mormon legend. I noted that I had read of something generally similar, but that it had occurred so much later than 1907 that it couldn’t be the source of that man’s report.
Here’s the first person account of a 1928 incident, reported in March, 1933. I’ve been sitting on it for a while because I had hoped to find some evidence of the continued Church activity of the little boy, John Hangartner (1918-2005). I have been able to trace him through adulthood thanks to his uncommon name and the fact that he stayed in California, but I have been unable to find him in any of the records that normally indicate 20th century Latter-day Saint activity. Perhaps posting the story here will lead to a family member’s finding it and commenting some day.
It was the twenty-first day of June, 1928, that I left Sacramento for Salt Lake City where I had decided to spend my summer vacation with my son who was working in that city.
I boarded the train at Sacramento and took my seat in the Pullman car, sitting opposite a bright, blue-eyed lad of nine years by the name of John Hangartner of 1544 Tyler street, Berkeley, who had already traveled ninety miles when he reached Sacramento. He looked me over in somewhat of a bashful air and then asked me where I was going. I replied that I was going to Salt Lake City.
“Well,” said he, “we will travel together nearly all the way, as I am going to spend my vacation at Cedar City, Utah.”
He told me that he was traveling alone and would visit relatives there. As I sat looking at him, such a small child traveling alone, and perhaps an anxious mother at home praying for his safety, I felt a desire to protect and amuse him during our trip, so I started to chat about his school work, but he did not seem much interested. Perhaps he felt that on his vacation he wanted to forget school.
“Do you belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” he asked abruptly.
I replied that I did not; that I knew nothing about it.
“Would you like to have me tell you something about the Gospel?” he then asked. I replied that I would, as I felt that it would amuse him and keep him occupied, as he seemed so full of life and so happy on his first day’s vacation.
“Well,” said he, “I am going to explain the Articles of Faith.”
He not only knew them all, but could explain them satisfactorily. I did not think much about it at the time, but since I have marveled at the knowledge such a small boy had of the gospel. He informed me that I would meet a great many Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, and that I should have some knowledge of their religious belief. He explained about the Prophet Joseph Smith; how he prayed in the grove and the manifestations that followed.
As dinner was announced he immediately turned his thoughts to what he was going to eat. Noodles and apple pie are two of the things I remember he wanted. He scanned the menu with a frown and decided that they were altogether too costly. He had a limited amount of money and knew just how much he could spend for each meal, so he was compelled to order less expensive things. Having a boy of my own, I naturally understand boys, so I ordered the things for which he had expressed a desire and divided with him. Boy-like, he was thrilled.
Having finished our meal, we went out on the observation car and then back to our usual place, and he at once continued with his explanation of the Gospel. This time he told me about Sunday School and how it was conducted. I marveled at such a young child talking on what I considered a dry subject for older folks, but I think that the child was inspired. After talking until about ten o’clock, we retired for the night.
The next morning he was up bright and early, all full of pep, anxious to reach his destination. At Salt Lake City I bade him goodbye and I was met by my son. John changed cars and journeyed on to Cedar City. He and his conversation were forgotten, for the time being.
The day I reached Salt Lake City I retired early, as I was fatigued from the long journey. During the night the things that the child had told me were rehearsed in my mind, and when I got up in the morning, I felt that a serious responsibility had been placed on me, that of investigating what the child had imparted to me. It was the first time that anybody had ever talked to me about the Church.
The day after my arrival, I went to the Temple grounds and heard the organ recital and attended brother Joseph S. Peery’s lecture. Everything impressed me so favorably. Brother Peery gave me several pamphlets to read and I purchased the Book of Mormon and the History of the Church and decided that I would read them all.
After a few days a desire came over me to go to some quiet spot and study for myself. After some inquiry, I decided to go to a nearby canyon resort and read my books, as I had a desire to know more about the Gospel. At the resort I met a returned missionary, Irma Coleman, whose home is in Midway, Utah. Her very presence thrilled me as she told me about her mission and explained the things that I did not understand. I was thrilled with her friendship and to this day I still correspond with her.
The day that I returned to Salt Lake City was the first Sunday in July and my first meeting was a fast meeting in the Eighteenth ward. As I was staying at the Hotel Utah, I was directed to that ward. I was so thrilled with the testimonies that I heard that I stood on my feet and bore my testimony, for I was convinced that I had found the truth. To my astonishment a great many members shook hands with me after that meeting, and from that congregation I made some of the dearest friends I have ever had.
One sister called on me the next day and was with me almost constantly the remainder of my visit. I marveled at the attention she was showing a stranger. She is a true Latter-day Saint, and has done the work for my ancestors in the temple. I visit with her every year and I feel that I have always known her. It was my privilege to be entertained by some of the finest people I have ever met during my visit in Salt Lake City.
I was baptized on the 7th day of July, 1928 and confirmed in the Eighteenth ward by Bishop Thomas A. Clawson.
After my return home I looked up our meeting house in Sacramento. Sophia Lund was the first missionary that called on me, and to her I owe a debt of gratitude. She inspired me with a desire to work in the various auxiliaries and I was immediately placed in the teacher training class in the Sutter Branch. Brother Beatie, as teacher, surely inspired me with a desire to teach, and after six months I was called to teach the New Testament class. Next year I taught Old Testament, then Book of Mormon and at present I have a splendid class in New Testament work.
I have worked in the various auxiliaries and I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. I shall always feel that little John Hangartner is responsible for the greatest blessing that ever came into my life, that of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
LOUISE T. BROWN
1601 T street, Sacramento, Cal.