Acentury and a half after Quincy residents gave refuge and aid to distressed Church members, the mayor presented a General Authority with the key to the city and proclaimed Feb. 15 as "Latter-day Saints Day."
Elder Loren C. Dunn, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the North America Central Area, received the honor from Mayor Verne Hagstrom on Feb. 10.Accompanying Elder Dunn to Quincy for the ceremony and an earlier luncheon was his counselor in the area presidency, Elder Jacob de Jager, also of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Both General Authorities also are officers of Nauvoo Restoration Inc.
The ceremony was in Washington Park, the historic town square where the famous Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates took place. A monument in the park, where many of the Mormons camped upon arrival in Quincy, tells the story of their sojourn in Quincy.
The presentation commemorated the arrival of Emma Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, at Quincy on Feb. 15, 1839, and the hospitality shown to about 6,000 Mormon refugees from Missouri during that winter. The Prophet could not be with his wife when she crossed the frozen Mississippi River into Illinois, because he was imprisoned in the Liberty Jail in Missouri with his brother, Hyrum, and others on false charges.
Dignitaries in attendance included the city's tourism director, the director of the local historical society, local stake and ward officers, and local officials of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In a speech to more than 100 people at the luncheon, Elder Dunn referred to the fall and winter of 1838-39, when the saints fled Missouri, seeking aid in Quincy, the nearest town of any size.
"Though it was during a time of terrible economic depression, the citizens of Quincy offered a warm hand of fellowship to the fleeing saints," he said. "They made room for them in their own homes, lent them tools and clothing, and provided jobs as hired hands, construction workers, and clerks."
The Quincy residents not only helped the saints as they entered Illinois, but also as they left, Elder Dunn observed.
"One of the chief among them was John Wood, founder of the city, mayor at the time Joseph Smith was martyred, and later governor of IllinoisT whose house is now so beautifully restored in this city. He, at his own instigation, took up a collection of provisions and clothes, added to it from his own ample sources, and, at least twice, visited the Latter-day Saints on the Iowa plainsT, who left in 1846, and distributed aid to the poor and needy."
Elder Dunn noted that LDS converts from Quincy include Elder Ezra T. Benson, great-grandfather of President Ezra Taft Benson, and John Browning, inventor of firearms.
Mayor Hagstrom gave Elder Dunn a ceremonial key to the city mounted on an inscribed plaque, and the framed proclamation. He said the city "is not really welcoming the Latter-day Saints back because the Latter-day Saints never really left," adding that the Church members were always in the hearts of the city's residents.
Elder Dunn gave the mayor a plaque inscribed with a poem written by Eliza R. Snow expressing gratitude for the kindness of the Quincy people. The poem was originally published in the Quincy Whig in 1839. On Feb. 12, the newspaper, now called the Quincy Herald-Whig, reprinted the entire poem as a sidebar to a news story about the commemoration the day before.
At a luncheon held earlier, a statement was read from Gracia Jones, a descendant of Joseph and Emma Smith. She wrote in part: "On this 150th anniversary of the crossing on the ice by our ancestor Emma Smith and her children, we the posterity of Alexander Hale Smith, who was an infant in her arms on that occasion, extend our heartfelt love and appreciation to the people of Quincy. To you who have chosen to commemorate that crossing, thank you. We would like to have been with you. Our spirits are with you. Only bad weather and distance prevent our being there."
At the luncheon, city tourism director Jerry Preston presented a slide show about Nauvoo produced last year for the Mormon History Association meeting. The story of the exodus from Missouri was told by women portraying Mary Ann Angel Young, wife of Brigham Young; Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the prophet; and Emma Smith.
The hymn "Because I Have Been Given Much" was performed as a vocal duet at the luncheon.
After the ceremony in the park, the group toured the restored John Wood mansion, where some items relating to Church history are displayed, such as the keys to the Nauvoo Temple.
The commemoration was organized by C. Michael Trapp, editor of the Nauvoo Grapevine and former member of the Nauvoo Ward bishopric. He said the weather had been cold and snowy, but it cleared up and became warmer the day of the commemoration.
Elder Dunn told the Church News that the Quincy commemoration is the first event in a year-long sesquicentennial of Church history in Illinois, including the founding of Nauvoo.