The family, a little weary from 10 hours of vacation journeying, pulled into the empty parking lot of the Peter Whitmer Home visitors center at 7:01 p.m. - having failed in their goal to reach the center before the 7 p.m. closing.
"Are we too late?" the mother asked the kindly missionary as he walked toward his day-ending respite."If you're here, you're not too late."
And with that warm invitation, the family piled out of the van and into one of the spiritual highlights of their journey.
The "autumnal equinox" is how the missionary cleverly described the day - Sept. 21 - that the Angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823, telling the modern-day Prophet of the sacred ancient record buried not far from his humble farm home.
That event, one of several latter-day miracles leading to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, took place 170 years ago.
The Book of Mormon, according to the Prophet's own testimony, is the "most correct of any book" on earth. The Prophet further said that mankind can get closer to God by abiding by precepts taught in the Book of Mormon than by the things taught in any other book.
As life-long active members of the Church, this family knew of the deep significance of the Book of Mormon and embarked on the tour of the Peter Whitmer farm reasonably well-versed in the history of the Golden Plates.
But, perhaps, they didn't totally expect the gentle influence of the Spirit as this inspired missionary recounted to them the significance of the Whitmer family and the events that took place on that farm.
"The Whitmers nourished the Church," he opined, pointing out how the family cared for and protected Joseph, Emma and Oliver Cowdery so that the translation of the plates could continue.
Then he related this story, as recorded by David Whitmer:
With the Whitmer men involved full time in farming, Joseph and Oliver busy translating the plates and Emma in ill health, the responsibility of attending to everyone's needs fell to Mary Whitmer, Peter's wife. And given the normal challenges of caring for a large family during this frontier era, the addition of three more made Mary's work exceptional.
Though Mary never complained, she did feel overwhelmed.
Near the farm's barn one day, she was met by a man, whom David Whitmer believed to be the resurrected Moroni.
"You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase of your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened," the messenger told her.
The messenger then showed her the Golden Plates. (See Church History in the Fullness of Times, Religion 341-43, pp. 57-58.)
With that added assurance, Mary was strengthened.
Her efforts, and that of countless faithful saints like her, allowed the Prophet to continue - and the restoration to move forward as the Lord intended.
Of this era, Oliver Cowdery wrote: "These were days never to be forgotten - to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom!" (See footnote to Joseph Smith-History 1.)
The family visiting the restored Whitmer home now felt, even more, of the reality of the restoration.
Feeling the Spirit testify of the divinity of the work that took place in the Whitmer home, the family was invited upstairs, to the room Joseph called the chamber, where the work of the translation took place. Following a brief recitation of events that took place in the room, the missionary, sensing a unique opportunity, turned to the father and asked, "Would your family like to spend a few minutes here alone?"
Accepting the offer, the family shared their feelings, bore testimony to one another and knelt in peaceful family prayer. In a room where many revelations and miracles of our dispensation took place, this family participated in their own, perhaps smaller, miracle. The Spirit rested on each member and bore witness of the divinity of Joseph's calling. Their hearts were full of gratitude for Nephi, Alma, Mormon, Moroni and the many, many others who so painstakingly recorded the word of the Lord on those plates so that we, centuries later, could have the additional word of the Lord.
For this family - and the entire world - the autumnal equinox of 1823 will have lasting and eternal significance.