Utah by RV
Visiting the Mormon Temple & Museum in Salt Lake City
As part of an RV trip through and along the Rocky Mountains, my wife and I made a stop at Salt Lake City. Of course, we had heard and read about how Salt Lake City came about and that it is the world headquarters of the Church of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, but had no idea what would await us there.
Right off the bat let me say that I am impressed with what Salt Lake City offers tourists, regardless of where they come from or what their heritage is. First of all, there is a free shuttle bus from the airport to Temple Square and back (this bus happens to pass by the KOA campground where we stayed, and it picks up and delivers anyone from there who wants to go downtown).
The shuttle buses are driven by volunteer members of the Church. The aim of the free shuttle service is to enable people who have a few hours layover at the airport to spend them seeing Temple Square, the Mormon version of Rome’s Saint Peter’s Square.
On Temple Square there are many ushers, guides for most languages, and generally nice people willing to point things out and to assist in any way.
How the Church manages to mobilize these numbers of people is beyond me: Men dressed in business suits, women in long (almost formal) dresses befitting the rules of the Mormon Church, and young people also dressed in consonance with the surroundings.
I surmise that the overall aim is to put the Mormon religion in as positive a light as possible. Everything is clean, neat, and well organized. Although the references to the Church, its leaders past and present, and the all-present thesis of the Book of Mormon are evident, no one directly proselytized or even mentioned other religions.
We were given a tour of Temple Square and some buildings by two young women, one from South Korea, the other from Mexico. They spoke in glowing terms of the achievements by the pioneers who braved many hardships in reaching this valley after being persecuted out of two different locations farther east.
Members Only in the Temple
The Temple itself is sacred and can only be entered by members of the Church in good standing. Don’t ask me exactly what ‘in good standing’ means, the best I could gather was that once a year every Mormon has to have an interview with a bishop who ascertains and certifies the worthiness of the member to enter the Temple.
We also visited the Museum of Family History, also known as the Genealogical Library. Again, the people were all very friendly and accommodating. The Genealogical Library is huge and like any large library has several floors, reams of books, masses of computer terminals, and a large vault with thousands of microfilms. All of it is accessible to the general public with the aid of the library staff.
I really didn’t make this trip to Salt Lake City to do genealogical research, but since we were there it interested me how and why they maintain such a library. The ‘how’ is that people (presumably Church members) go out and obtain family histories from archives around the world. This information is put into a database and shared with the world. Then if someone finds his or her ancestors and adds his or her own records, this information in turn can be added to the database to augment it.
The ‘why’ is that the Mormon Church emphasizes the unity of families. By tracing one’s roots and completing the family tree the whole world could eventually in a way be united as one big family. Mind you, I’m no expert on the Mormon religion, this is only my take on the situation.
We then wandered around a bit and had a little lunch at a cafe in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. As we finished our lunch we strolled out into the main part of the building which looked like the lobby of a grand hotel, but without reception desk or bellmen. My wife wanted to take a picture of the richly ornamented lobby, but didn’t dare because a larger-than-life statue of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, kept watch over us, and many people in wedding attire moved about the lobby and the corridors.
I spotted a dapper gentleman in a light gray suit and a name tag who was standing at the entrance to the hall as if ready to direct anyone who needed directing. I approached him intending to ask if it was OK to take a picture, but first I asked him what the function of this building is. That started a relationship that lasted for over an hour, got us a private guided tour of the building and tons of information about the customs of the Mormons.
In the early 1900s the building which is now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building used to be the Utah Hotel, a grand gathering place for the rich and famous in Salt Lake City and surroundings. It is now a place where Mormon Church members can have their wedding receptions (there were nine going on at the time we were there), and where Church banquets and meetings are held.
The president of the Church used to live in a private suite upstairs. There are two restaurants in addition to the cafe where we ate and viewing areas on the 10th floor where one has a wonderful view of Salt Lake City and the surrounding valley.
The gentleman opened doors for us that are usually closed to the public. Everything is of the finest quality. The drinking fountains are golden, spotless, and work well! When the ceiling in one of the main dining rooms was refurbished, only a lady from Germany knew how to do it. No expense seems too great to demonstrate the power of the Church and to extol its virtues.
After visiting another edifice or two we hopped aboard the free shuttle for a ride back to the campground in a torrential downpour. The nice man driving the bus told us that they have had twice the amount of rain that usually falls in the entire month of June in just two weeks, but that they needed it because the summers are hot and dry. He not only took us to the campground, he drove us right up to our RV so that we wouldn’t get wet.
The next day being a Sunday, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed and we had gotten reservations to see the performance through our campground. The Tabernacle is a large theater which holds several thousand people. Because in the summertime many tourists want to see and hear the choir, the performances are moved to the Congress Center which holds more than 20,000 people. We were lucky because this was the last performance in the Tabernacle before the choir went on a 13-day tour and after that would perform in the Congress Center for the rest of the summer.
It was an impressive experience. The choir has its dress rehearsal during which time the audience is let in, then follows the performance which is taped and then broadcast by radio and television stations around the world. Everything has to be very precise, the timing, the camera shots, and the silence by the audience. The sounds produced by the orchestra and the choir are fantastic and to experience them live makes it even more enjoyable. Needless to say, there were herds of ushers and guides who helped prevent chaos when people entered and left the Tabernacle.
Again the free shuttle service transported us both ways. This concluded our most enjoyable and informative visit to Salt Lake City. “Hats off” to the nice people in Salt Lake City.
Horst Schenk is a retired US Air Force officer, whose specialty was meteorology. He lives part of the year on Cape Cod and part of the year in Heidelberg, Germany.
Read his blog, The Rambler.
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