'Nauvoo, Then and Now'
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By the time Latter-day Saints were forced to abandon Nauvoo, Ill., in 1846, they had rechristened it "the City of Joseph," and established it as a monument to the martyred Prophet Joseph Smith, a Church history scholar said April 23 in Salt Lake City.
Susan Easton Black, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, delivered two evening lectures at the Church History Museum on the topic of "Nauvoo, Then and Now."
Sister Black's lectures were part of the "Evenings at the Museum" series which continues with periodic events scheduled in June, October and November.
In addition to Sister Black's lectures at the April 23, event, museum visitors were invited to stroll through the museum and watch as costumed re-enactors portrayed such figures from Church history as Sarah Kimball, a founding member of the Relief Society; Thomas Tanner, a blacksmith; and Andrew Dinesen, a stonecutter working on the Nauvoo Temple. A group of four vocalists depicting Church members who knew Joseph Smith presented songs and stories from the period.
Sister Black traced the evolution — and name changes — of Nauvoo during its brief period as Church headquarters from 1839 to 1846. First christened by frontiersmen as "Venus," it was called Commerce by the time it was settled by Latter-day Saints in 1839, though still an unwholesome swampland.
The saints drained the swamp and built their city. Joseph Smith renamed it Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning "beautiful situation."
After he was killed by a mob in June 1844, the townspeople under leadership of President Brigham Young formally changed the name to City of Joseph, and, though they knew they would have to leave it for their exodus to the Rocky Mountains as prophesied by Joseph Smith himself, they were determined to make it a monument to him.
"So what you've got is the biggest dichotomy that's ever gone on in these United States," Sister Black said. "You've got people who are preparing to go west that have turned their parlors into places where they're getting spokes ready for their wagons…. Yet, at the same time, they're building something that will last not only their generation, but generation upon generation, as their memory of the slain prophet."
After Brigham Young formally named it he City of Joseph and instructed the people to leave it as their memory of the Prophet, 16 brickyards emerged in a town where brick structures had theretofore been unusual, Sister Black recounted.
"Suddenly, Nauvoo, now City of Joseph, is amazingly transformed," she said.
Sharing stories to illustrate the veneration the people had for the Prophet, she said British convert John Benbow had a beautiful farm on the outskirts of the city. Wilford Woodruff commented to him one day that he didn't think the Garden of Eden could have been so beautiful.
"And Brother Benbow replied, 'Oh, thank you, Wilford.' He said, 'I just dedicated my farm as my memory of Joseph.'
"Farm, shop, home: everything dedicated to the memory of Joseph Smith."
As for Wilford Woodruff, he built his home with walls eight bricks thick, the best bricks on the front of the house, as his memory of Joseph, Sister Black said.
On the day he and his family were to depart, he kept his wife waiting in a carriage as he fixed a dent in the floor of the house, explaining to her, "Someday someone may know that Wilford Woodruff lived here. It's my memory of Joseph, and I have to leave it perfect," Sister Black recounted.
Upcoming "Evenings at the Museum" events include the following:
"Pioneer Profiles," 6:30-8:30 p.m. June 27.
Michael Wilcox lecture Oct. 1 (a ticketed event).
"Music for an Autumn Evening," Nov. 6.
Visit www.lds.org/churchhistory/museum for additional information.