What I Learned on My Visit to Old Mormon Nauvoo

A few weeks ago I visited The City of Joseph: Nauvoo, Illinois. It was quick trip; I was only able to spend two days in the area, hurrying from place to place in an effort to do some primary source research. I had little success regarding the event on which I sought information, but I did learn a few unrelated things.

BrowningNauvooMy travelling companion and research assistant was a former Mormon who was visiting these sites for the first time as a Christian. I daresay she learned more than I did at the Land and Records Office as she came face-to-face with the truth of Nauvoo polygamy — a very different story than she had been taught as a Mormon.

I have been to Nauvoo and visited these sites so often that it is rare for me now to hear anything new. But on this trip…

At the Carthage Jail Visitors Center I learned:

• Following the shootings of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, 300-pound Willard Richards, knowing he would be killed, placed his considerable bulk in the doorway of the “martyrdom room” to protect the body of Hyrum from would-be body-snatchers. (Apostle Richards was not killed and the body snatchers never materialized.)

• A missing piece of the original door to the “martyrdom room,” significant for containing the bullet holes from the first shots fired in the 1844 attack, was discovered in a shed after the Mormon Church purchased the Jail building in 1903. God had miraculously preserved it to one day stand as a witness to the martyrdom.

• My honest answer (“No.”) to the question, “Do you feel the Spirit here?” at the end of the Jail tour was unacceptable. The LDS missionary guide made it clear that the Spirit most certainly was there, and my inability to feel it was my own fault.

At the LDS Land and Records Office I learned:

• In 1840s Nauvoo, Mormons did proxy work (for the dead) for those of the proxy’s own gender, and surprisingly, also for the dead of the opposite gender.

• My former Mormon companion learned that some Mormon women in Nauvoo were married to more than one living man at a time. (Even after 20 years of active membership in the Mormon Church, this information was a genuine shock to her.)

• One of the stone carvers for the original Nauvoo Temple, David Clark, was baptized in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith and later went west with the main body of Latter-day Saints. While living in Utah Territory he left Mormonism and converted to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now named Community of Christ). David stayed in Utah and, upon his death, was buried in Lehi.

Leaving the Land and Records Office, I went across the field to the Joseph Smith Historic Site Visitor Center (Community of Christ) where I learned:

• The missionary guide on duty there was a descendent of the aforementioned David Clark. (Insert Twilight Zone theme song here.) The Community of Christ guide liked to think that Joseph Smith’s son, David Hyrum, might have converted his ancestor from the LDS Church to the True Church during David’s 1869 mission trip to Utah.

• The actual reason Emma Smith staged a mock public burial of Joseph and Hyrum while hiding their real bodies, was so that Brigham Young could not get his hands on them; the claim that she was worried about the graves being desecrated was merely a handy excuse.


Heber C. Kimball Home, Nauvoo

While all of this was interesting to learn, the new information that made the strongest impression on me was that presented at the Heber C. Kimball Home historic site. As we took the tour of this site, led by a senior sister missionary from the Mormon Church, I learned:

• Though the Church has officially published information about Nauvoo polygamy in its online essay, the approved scripts for the historic tours in Nauvoo have not changed. The tours still shun any mention of plural marriage, even though polygamy was practiced at many of these sites in the 1840s. (Some of the tour guides will talk about it if asked directly, depending on how comfortable they are with going off-script.)

• Heber C. Kimball hated the idea of polygamy and vigorously resisted it due to his great love for his legal wife, Vilate. (Yet this Mormon apostle married 36 plural wives during a 4-year span in Nauvoo, and gave his 14-year-old daughter, Helen Mar Kimball, to Joseph Smith as the Prophet’s 25th plural wife. Eventually, Heber Kimball’s number of wives reached 44.)

• Many Mormons are troubled by the Church’s history of polygamy. But all one must do is remember the Book of Mormon is true and put the issue of polygamy “on the shelf.”

• Heavenly Father was once mortal, and this fact is what gives Mormons hope.

• Heavenly Father has many wives, proven by the fact that there are so many different races in the world.

Most of what I learned on my short visit to Nauvoo would not be embraced by Mormons as “official” doctrine or teachings, and I would agree that no religion should be judged solely by anecdotal accounts. Even so, there is surely some reason these people believe what they are telling visitors to these historic Mormon sites, and some reason they believe these things are important enough to share. Therefore, it seems that no matter how many times I visit Nauvoo, I will always learn something new.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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20 Responses to What I Learned on My Visit to Old Mormon Nauvoo

  1. Tom says:

    Heavenly Father has many wives, proven by the fact that there are so many different races in the world.

    Wow! Heavenly Father has a black wife, who, until 1978 couldn’t enter into the very covenants that allowed her to be a goddess in the first place–or something like that. The Mormon anecdotal types don’t think things very far down the logical path, do they?

  2. historybuff says:

    And yet again Mormons have to confront the fact of Joseph’s passion for 14- year-old wives — he had two of them — and the wives of his best friends. That proverbial shelf where good LDS are instructed to hide those historical events and postpone their doubts is getting very, very heavy.

  3. falcon says:

    Ah yes Nauvoo!
    I made a trip down there a couple of years ago with my wife and I think that was my one shot. She puts up with me and my interest in Mormon history, but it wasn’t exactly a destination vacation site for her. I did learn a lot and I think the most striking thing was the difference in vibe when comparing the Community of Christ folks with the LDS contingent. In fact the one young CofC reps told me that some of his folks like to kind of poke the LDS visitors.
    The CofC seemed a lot more realistic and in fact said, “Well we recognize all of it as our history. We can’t deny it.” In-other-words there wasn’t any sprucing-up of the Mormon history and story. The young man told me he couldn’t remember the last church service he attended where anything from the BoM was referenced. These folks definitely practice a different type of Mormonism.
    All-in-all I enjoyed my trip down there were every square inch is covered by dedicated LDS members. Oh I especially liked visiting the gun shop of John Browning.
    I found out that a lot of the wood used to build Nauvoo came from Black River Falls, Wisc. That’s a very interesting story in and of itself.

  4. MJP says:

    “Heavenly Father has many wives, proven by the fact that there are so many different races in the world.”

    That made me chuckle.

    I’m with you Tom, doesn’t work very much on the logic front, does it?

  5. historybuff says:

    Falcon —

    Two completely irrelevant (and maybe irreverent…) points:

    1. If you like visiting Mormon communities and their John Browning gun shops, don’t bother visiting Morgan, Utah, the Browning headquarters. Nothing there now but a few offices.

    2. If you like visiting Mormon spin-off religious communities, keep in mind they’re not all as tourist-friendly as Nauvoo. For example, the southern Utah polygamist town of Hildale, Utah/Colorado City, Arizona, is right off the highway going into the beautiful Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. Don’t be deceived, though: this is not tourist-friendly Nauvoo. Any visitor with an unfamiliar vehicle will probably be followed by the local gendarmerie, and the locals are 50% inbred ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildale,_Utah ) and 99% paranoid. That happens when cousins marry and both the Utah and Arizona police forces are constantly threatening to raid your town and arrest the citizenry.

    Some regard this as a reminder that Nauvoo is a comfy, sanitized version of LDS history, and that it does not show the dark underbelly of Mormonism with its paranoia, isolationism, male chauvinism, and blind loyalty.

  6. falcon says:

    Yea, Nauvoo is sort of a Mormon Disneyland without the rides; although there are wagon rides. I’m sure my wife and I stuck out like sore thumbs. They do try to get the visitors to “feel the spirit”. The “murder room” at the Carthage Jail was an exercise in emotion generation. My wife and I weren’t feeling it. Neither were we feeling it when the old guy driving the horse drawn wagon stopped in this green tunnel canopy of trees and tried to do a Joseph Smith in the grove routine.
    There is a Christian Center in the town proper and we stopped in and visited with the man who runs it. Sharon use to be on the board of the organization running it.
    The Catholics took over Nauvoo when the Mormons bolted for Utah. There’s a huge Catholic Church right next to the LDS temple.
    I didn’t know about this place when I was down there, but my daughter’s boyfriend’s family is from Carthage. He brought me some meat, beef jerky, from this place. I’m going back just for the meat!


  7. Mike R says:

    It’s refreshing that a Mormon missionary would be transparent enough to tell non LDS ( Sharon) the kind of doctrine that some of their prophets taught / condoned , but which is either denied , or dodged today by Mormons . I’m referring to the teaching of the Mormon God ( Heavenly Father ) being a polygamist . Now if only that ” gospel principle ” would be taught in Mormon meetings and publications today . But that won’t happen simply because it would hamper proselytizing efforts .
    Strange how at one time Mormon leaders were not shy at introducing a new teaching to their flock that today they are embarrassed to repeat in public addresses .

    Mormonism is not the answer .

    Jesus is waiting for all LDS to walk away from their imitation gospel and man made religious organization and come personally to Him and ask to be saved . He will not refuse any who desire to exchange MormonISM for a new life in Him . Jn 14:6 ; Heb 7:25 .

  8. Mike, it’s unlikely that the sister missionary I talked to knew I was not LDS. I didn’t say and she didn’t ask.

  9. MJP says:

    I used to car pool with a Mormon who last summer took a family vacation to Nauvoo. He seemed as if it were some sort of Mecca vacation. He was all jazzed to go, describing himself as one of those ‘crazy Mormons’ vacationing in Nauvoo. He came back all jazzed, thrilled his kids had the opportunity to go.

    I never had the opportunity to witness to the guy, but hope to at some point in the future. He moved his family to finish his studies but will come back. He’s a great guy, but his enthusiasm for Nauvoo was huge. Kinda made me want to go just to see what got him all jazzed and to see these sites first hand from my skeptical point of view.

    Anyway, a thought occurred to me today concerning polygamy. Maybe it has been discussed here before, but I don’t remember if this exactly has been discussed, but I wonder what Mormon men might think of their wives possibly marrying other men in the afterlife. Is that even a possibility? I mean, if a Mormon woman is extremely ‘worthy’ but her husband sucks as a Mormon, is she bound by his suckiness? Or does she get to marry someone of her worthiness? Mormons DO believe polygamy is possible in the afterlife, but if couples are bound even by sucky husbands, whose left for polygamous relationships for the worthy men? Also, does a worthy husband with a sucky wife have to keep the sucky wife? Does she get to ride the coattails of her worthy husband?

    My head is a spinnin’ on that one… But hey, at least I know the justification for all the races in the world is that God has many wives. That really clears a bunch up, huh?

  10. Mike R says:

    Thanks for pointing that out .
    I should have worded my comment differently .

  11. Mike R says:

    I have read a lot about Mormon polygamy , and the one thing I can say that Mormon leaders made a mess with what they taught about it . The Mormon people were the victims of latter days false prophets’ doctrinal innovations , and Mormon women were especially short changed by those men and suffered needlessly by entering into a polygamist lifestyle thinking they were embracing a vital tenet of the gospel of Jesus Christ . We see Paul’s warning in Gal. 1:8 come alive when we look at Mormon leaders introducing their polygamy lie .

    It breaks our hearts to see decent, sincere , people get detoured by following the kind of prophets Jesus said would come in the latter days — Matt 24: 11 .

  12. historybuff says:

    MJP —

    Odd as it may seem, the Church teaches that both parties to a marriage must attain the highest glory of the several glories in the Celestial Kingdom in order to be together for the eternities as husband and wives. If the husband doesn’t make it, his wife will be given to another worthy male. If the wife doesn’t make it, the husband will be provided with other worthy females.

    If you discuss this doctrine with LDS men, they will concede it’s correct. If you discuss it with LDS women, you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. Mormon women absolutely hate the doctrine and will refuse to discuss it. Is that logical for a Mormon woman? No. Do they care? No. As opp0sed to putting this doctrine on the “shelf” and wait for further understanding, every Mormon woman I ever knew would take the doctrine into the back yard and blast it to smithereens with a shotgun. Then they’d tell their husband that if he ever brings up the subject again, he’ll get the same. This has been referred to as “cafeteria Mormonism” and it’s been condemned by the Church:

    “Warn them that they will encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience. This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments. It takes faith to obey them, and keeping His commandments will strengthen that faith.” Apostle Russell M. Nelson, “Face the Future with Faith”, April 2011 General Conference.

    What do LDS women think of Elder Nelson’s pronouncement as it applies to polygamy? Well, if Elder Nelson ever discusses this with a group of LDS women, they’ll probably respond by burying him in the chapel garden with the petunias. But there’s no need to worry because Church leaders discourage any discussion of polygamy at the local level, as they do with all things that aren’t considered faith-promoting. Again, is this logical? No, and they don’t care.

  13. historybuff says:

    A visit to Nauvoo is most enlightening if you have a good knowledge of Mormonism, as does Sharon. The problem is that you need to know how Mormons think. They don’t think like you or me. Mormons don’t even speak English; their language is “double-speak.”

    If you get in a conversation with a Mormon and question the church’s doctrines or history, the Mormon will eventually say, “I’m not interested in discussing this. I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the church is true!”

    That, however, is not what they mean. But don’t worry; it’s very easy to translate this phrase into English. What they’re actually thinking is, “I’m not interested in discussing this. My husband/wife is LDS; my children are LDS; many of my family are LDS; and the Mormon Church has become my entire social life to the extent that all my friends are LDS. I’m very comfortable in the church and I don’t want to upset anyone — myself included — by questioning anything about the church. Because if I do, there will be harsh consequences for me.”

    See, once you understand what they’re actually saying, you can understand what motivates them. This doesn’t make educating them any easier, but at least you know why they’re the way they are.

  14. Mike R says:


    I appreciate your sharing about how Mormons reason . It helps those who have never been a Mormon , like myself , know how to hopefully better communicate with them .

  15. falcon says:

    It would be interesting to find out what the visitation rate is at the Christian center in Nauvoo. All of the more interesting and provocative displays are “in the back”. If I remember right, the center does get its share of curious Mormon visitors. My wife and I hung around their for quite a while hoping to get a Mormon sighting in but none appeared. The outreach is important.

  16. falcon says:

    I picked-up some freebees when touring. I got “bricks”, a nail made into a ring and some “rope”. It is interesting and I could see how the LDS folks could get into it. It’s most fun for me to observe the people and “over-hear” their conversations. We went down to the Mississippi where they crossed in winter on the beginning stage of the trek to Utah.
    We’ve also been to Council Buffs, IA and Omaha NE where there are some historical sites. Toured the replica of the meeting house where Brigham Young’s leadership was “sustained”. This appeared to be a major big deal to the Mormons. Toured this museum in Omaha out by the temple. I get a kick out of how often they have these cute little Mormon girls giving the tours. If their foreign born visitors, all the better. Again, big emphasis on trying to generate some emotions. They really do believe that these generated emotions are the spirit speaking to you. Just a recipe to be seduced and manipulated.

  17. cattyjane says:

    Sick. I have never heard that about the many wives of the creator being the reason for different races. The absolute denial of the scripture just blows my mind. The only way a person can ever believe this religion is to have never read the scripture and be taught truth. I feel dirty for even having ever been a member of this organization. May He forgive me.

  18. MJP says:

    Thanks, History Buff. So they can marry another in the afterlife. Some competition out there, huh? I am sure this does provide some pressure to do good on your hubby or wife. The idea of “Families Forever” takes on a whole new importance when you understand that its not necessarily going to end up that a family stays together in the afterlife.

    And Mike, yeah, I’m with you.

    Catty, yes, it is sick. Hope all is well with you.

  19. cattyjane says:

    I am doing well! 🙂

  20. MJP says:

    Glad to hear it!

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