Near the Mississippi River crossing where the pioneers set out in 1846 on the first portion of their trek to the Salt Lake Valley, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Nauvoo Pioneer Memorial Park April 18.
Located at the site of the 1840s ferry landing at the end of Parley Street, the memorial includes a gazebo-type enclosure that houses the "Exodus to Greatness" monument, a bronze plaque placed at the site in 1978. The interior walls of the new structure contain panels inscribed with the names of approximately 2,000 people who died along the Mormon Trail between 1846 and 1868.Above the names are these words: "Upon these walls are names of those who died before their journey's end. In addition, others have died who are lost from our records, but are remembered unto the Savior."
"They were those who valued their own convictions more than their lives," President Hinckley said, speaking to approximately 3,000 people gathered for the dedication.
Joining President Hinckley at the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony were his wife, Marjorie; Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Barbara; and the three members of the Seventy comprising the North-America Central Area presidency: Elder Hugh W. Pinnock and his wife, Anne, Elder J. Richard Clarke and his wife, Barbara, and Elder V. Dallas Merrell and his wife, Karen.
Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar and State Sen. Laura Kent-Donahue attended the dedication and addressed the audience. They greeted President Hinckley on the steps of the restored Seventies Hall, welcoming him to the state. President Hinckley later presented each with a memento of the day to thank them for attending the dedication.
President Hinckley and Gov. Edgar spoke together at the Seventies Hall for several minutes, discussing Nauvoo-era history. Gov. Edgar, who plans to be in Utah in July for the Sesquicentennial celebration of the arrival of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, described the Latter-day Saints of the 1840s as simply wanting the freedom to live their lives in peace and to prosper. President Hinckley commended Gov. Edgar for being a "better governor" than some of those in former days who did little to help the Church in its infancy.
"So this is a day of history, a wonderful one," President Hinckley said, "and we're honored to have you here, the great governor of Illinois."
Gov. Edgar presented the opening remarks of the dedication, recounting the integrity of the pioneer Saints. "The pioneer memorial recalls the strength, courage and commitment of a people 150 years ago who would not submit to persecution or be defeated by the dangerous trek across the western territories. This memorial relates the historic importance of Nauvoo and offers greater understanding to the hundreds of thousands who visit this city each year.
"In November last year, I visited the historic Carthage Jail, where Joseph Smith was martyred, and the thought occurred to me that this man, these people, sought only the freedom to live, work and practice their faith in peace. These are dreams we all share."
Elder Ballard pointed out that during this sesquicentennial year, Church members will be celebrating in every ward and branch in the world the exodus from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake Valley. To Gov. Edgar, he explained, "Nauvoo will be talked about in Russia, Asia, Europe and Latin America, as our people gather together and hold activities that will be centered around this tremendous part of our legacy."
Elder Pinnock told the crowd that Nauvoo and those who gave their lives prematurely had made a difference for the better. "Pioneers are perceived as hardy, but they were teachers, musicians, artisans, soft city folk who hadn't been proven," he said. "They had distances to walk that we can't imagine today. The trail strengthened families in the Church, but it would also take beloved family members."
"Nauvoo does something for me," President Hinckley said. "It stirs within me a remembrance of the great and able people. It stirs within me a sense of sacrifice of what they gave for that in which they believed. It stirs within me a spirit of reverence for the things they lived, the things they did, the things they left, the effort they made to reestablish themselves in a far different place."
Harvey and Susan Easton Black, professors at BYU, identified the names during intense research of primary and secondary sources. The list of names is described as representative of all those who lost their lives during the journey. The Blacks and the designers of the memorial recognize the list is incomplete due to the lack of written records to account for all of the Saints who died en route to the Salt Lake Valley.
The design and construction of the memorial, begun in 1995, were completed under the direction of Ross Schmid, project supervisor for new projects at Nauvoo Restoration Inc. A walkway down Parley Street leads visitors to the point where the Saints entered the ferries that started them on the Mormon Trail. The walkway is marked by a series of wooden signs quoting journal entries describing the feelings of some Saints who were about to leave their homes and start west. An area near the memorial will be planted with prairie vegetation similar to the high prairie grasses and wild flowers the pioneer Saints encountered. Other features to be completed include a grouping of covered wagons and a representation of the entire Mormon Trail, identifying cities and towns in Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah.
During his address, President Hinckley spoke of what the Saints accomplished in Nauvoo during a brief, seven-year period: draining swamps, platting streets, building many homes, chartering a university, forming a military legion and building a temple.
"They built as if they were to stay here for a century or more," he said. But they gave it all up after those seven years and locked the doors, closed them, said goodbye and with destiny written across their foreheads, so to speak, came down this road to the bank of the river, which was much narrower than than it is now, and crossed and began the long journey west."
He spoke of the ordeal the pioneers endured in Iowa, with storms and deep mud, and of the communities they established in Iowa - Garden Grove, Mt. Pisgah and Kanesville - planting crops for those who would follow. He also talked of the establishment of Winter Quarters, where they spent the winter of 1846, building hundreds of homes, and of the resumption of the journey across Nebraska and Wyoming and into Utah.
"I stand in reverent awe of Brigham Young," he said. " He became their great leader. He stepped to the fore of that long pilgrimage which moved slowly, methodically, tearfully, but boldly . . . . There is no other pilgrimage certainly in the history of this nation to compare with it . . . . The remarkable thing to me is that they went to a place where no plow had ever previously broken the ground . . . . If they were to eat, they had to grow it. The miracle they accomplished is something I never quite get over."