In fall of 2010, and then again in 2011, we took a family vacation to Nauvoo, Illinois and had some of the most memorable times of our lives. We toured by covered wagon and on foot the beautifully restored city of Nauvoo. We enjoyed the homes that had been restored. The Red Brick Store that was owned by Joseph Smith where the Relief Society was organized. We saw Brigham Young's home, and others. We toured the Dance Hall/ Cultural Hall, where the original wood floors were still intact. On that very floor Joseph Smith had taken a piece of chalk and drawn out map of the trail west to the Salt Lake Valley, which he had received in a vision, for Brigham Young to follow with the Saints. We dressed up in pioneer clothing, played pioneer games, learned how to make candles, and rope, and barrels. There were so many things to see and do, and it was wonderful! We did it all, and most importantly we felt the Holy Ghost testify to us of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We also visited Carthage Jail. Upstairs in the room where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were held as prisoner, we felt very intensely the Holy Ghost. We listened to a soloist sing "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief", which John Taylor sang to Joseph just before the mob rushed into the jail and killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and fatally wounding John Taylor and Willard Richards. To see the bullet hole in the door made by the bullet that killed Hyrum Smith, and how its been worn perfectly smooth over the years from saints who have touched it and inserted their finger into the hole to make real the story of Hyrum's and Joseph's deaths.
Maggie and Wyatt on the stairs of the Smith family cabin in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith Jr. was visited by the Angel Moroni.
This summer we went north to Palmyra, New York. We visited the Joseph Smith Sr. family farm, their cabin, their barns, their other home, the "Alvin Tree", the Sacred Grove; where Joseph Smith Jr. prayed to Heavenly Father and was then visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, the Hill Cumorah; where Joseph Smith Jr. was shown the Golden Plates by the Angel Moroni, and the Pageant; (which by the way is fantastic!), the Witmer Farm, where the Church of Jesus Christ was organized in 1830. We also visited the Grandon building where the Book of Mormon was first published. We had a wonderful time! We felt the Holy Ghost testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and also that Joseph Smith is truly a prophet of God.
Sophi and Abi with members if the cast of the Palmyra Pageant. Joseph Smith and a Nephite woman. (real life husband and wife)
I think as Latter Day Saints we sometimes think, "if I ever get to the sacred grove I am going to have a powerful witness of the truth." The truth is this, at peak tourist season quiet time in the grove can be hard to come by. But, I myself was able to have a couple of unexpected moments where I was reminded that my Heavenly Father is indeed mindful of me and that he loves me. I am thankful for my own special time there.
So, why go to these places? Why pick these places over other obvious vacation sites for our family?The answer is simple. We desire to impress upon our children that all of the stories we share and tell them about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith and the early pioneers are real! These are not fictional stories, these things really happened. There are so many wonderful opportunities at these Church History Sites where the Holy Ghost can teach truth and enlighten our minds and strengthen our testimonies. We count ourselves very blessed to have been able to go to these places and have a sensory experience of the stories of our church's history.
I hope you all will find and opportunity to visit these places or any of the Church's Historical Sites! If you are interested in these sites you can go to www.lds.org and see actual pictures of the beautiful sites and lists of things you can do when visiting. All of these pageants and locations are completely free! (which is a plus for a big family)