Monday, May 7, 2007

Nauvoo the Beautiful

As I walked back from seeing Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo, a musical production presented by the couple missionaries in Nauvoo which made me remember why I like seniors, missionaries, and community theatre so much, and came up the hill that leads from the flats on the river peninsula of the old city to the temple and current town I truly felt the meaning of the epithet of Nauvoo, "Nauvoo the Beautiful."

To my left I saw the red remnants of a sunset over the Mississippi, reflecting on the waters and clouds, seeming to be an otherworldly experience, as I am not familiar with sunsets being from Utah, where the sun just goes behind the mountains. In the near foreground I saw the remaining brick and frame houses of the pioneers on their one lot allotments, the birds calling their night calls over all. To my right rose the majestic Nauvoo temple, lit up in the dusk and shining like a beacon over Old Nauvoo. Before the temple stood the bronze statues of Joseph and Hyrum Smith on horses, representing their ride from Nauvoo to Carthage before their martyrdom, which path took them past the temple into the east.

I don't quite know how to express my thoughts on Nauvoo. Nauvoo is a ghost town, large empty stretches of grass and streets, with an occasional brick home rising in the famous Nauvoo style of a two story home with the stepped chimney sides, restored but still not truly inhabited, never to be a living town again. At the same time Nauvoo is a place of the pioneers, a place that feels as I descend from the bluffs into its familiar-through-story-streets caught in the 1840s, to where I am in the 1840s as well. Avram a teacher, with an attached school to our home, us with Lydia in a small home, probably log at our age and station. We have a garden, and the beginnings of an orchard, our home right on the street with no front lawn, like is the style of Nauvoo, and all of our land in the back. As I push Lydia in her Winnie-the-Pooh stroller I see all of this, even as I see the cars pass with the line of license plates; in an Midwestern state there are many Utah's and Idaho's. We enter the printer's office, ran by John Taylor and I see me reading the Times and Seasons, the Nauvoo Neighbor and having that be my only source of news.

The Church history of Nauvoo also grabs me; here is where the endowment was given, in the Red Brick Store on Water Street, on the second story. Here too was the Relief Society organized, and where the Prophet met with many church leaders. Down Parley Street, where the saints left Nauvoo on the frozen river, leaving their homes, lives, and even climate for the unknown. Here are the graves of Joseph and Hyrum, although their bodies are actually in each others graves, which gives the phrase "in death they were not parted" a new meaning. Here my ancestors walked, gossiped, sewed and farmed, set type and received their endowments. Here is my history, my church, and yet...

And yet... Nauvoo remains a ghost town, always a town of remembering, never a town of living once more. The church left Nauvoo, and although we've come back to restore the temple and some houses, the strength of the church, President Gordon B. Hinckley and the Apostles remain centered in the Valley. The keys of the church is in the west, and will never return to Nauvoo again. Avram and I have discussed how Nauvoo feels cursed; that having driven out the saints the town cursed itself, that the proverbial dust was shaken off of the shoes of the Saints. Today Nauvoo's residents number 1100. At its peak its residents numbered over 10,000.

Hence, Nauvoo the Beautiful is also Nauvoo the Bittersweet, Nauvoo the Lost and yet also Nauvoo the Refound.


  1. I love reading your thoughts as you visit that historic place. Does the Nauvoo temple have just two rooms--one where the film is shown and then one representing the Melchesidek priesthood.

  2. No, the Nauvoo Temple has the full four rooms, like it would have had in Brigham Young's day.

  3. Cool! Too bad it's not live. Maybe that would be carrying authenticity too far.

  4. I visited Nauvoo every summer while I was a kid, and I know how magical it feels. It's like the past is so close you can almost reach out and touch it; there's no present to interfere. The quiet of the evenings is eerie, but enchanting, too. If I listen very hard I can hear myself laughing, nine years old, playing with sparklers for the first time on the road in front of the Nauvoo Hotel. The whole place is like a still pool, where reflections linger even after the people have walked away.

  5. Thora! It's your cousin Julie. I just found out about your blog. I love it! We have one too. Please check it out. If you want to get an email everytime it's updated, just let me know! I hope your family is doing well. Congrats on Oxford. I enjoy reading your latest adventures and thoughts. Oh, there are links to my other sibling's blogs and websites on our page.

  6. oh yeah, this is our blog address:

  7. Hi Thora! I finally found you (yes I'm a terrible friend for not doing this sooner) Anyway, here I am, I even got a blog account, just for you :)