Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nauvoo in a nutshell

In the Carthage Jail Visitors Center (Maryn would not look at the camera.)
Maryn and Seth with the Nauvoo temple in the background.

I've been meaning to write about our experience visiting Nauvoo a few weeks ago- but haven't taken the time to get it done. In the spirit of conference weekend, I've decided to do it now.

On our trip to Nauvoo, I learned two seemingly conflicting things:
  • Nauvoo is tiny, one-horse town.
  • You need more than two days to visit the temple and then see everything there is to see.
A bit more explanation about the first point. To get to Nauvoo, we took Interstate 74 through Peoria to Galesburg where it turned into a smaller 2 lane state route. We then began driving through town after tiny town--some not even on the map and most with populations well under 2000 people. I couldn't help but wonder, who lives here? What do these people do for income? I assume that most are farmers (but no crops were growing when we passed through, it is still winter here). We made it to the river then turned south and headed for Nauvoo. This was only my second time seeing the Mississippi River in person. Those of you who have seen it know what I'm talking about and those of you who haven't should know that that river is awesome. Truly one of the most majestic aspects of nature I have seen with my own eyes.

As we got closer to Nauvoo, we saw a big sign that said "Historic Downtown Nauvoo- 3 miles". We were full of anticipation and excitement (especially the kids who were dying to get there-- it didn't really matter where "there" was at that point). The road curved a little bit to the left and we saw the green government-issued sign "Nauvoo pop. 1100". Woah, 1100? Seriously? The road turned into "Main Street", Mulholland Street. As we drove past the old storefronts and a few ancient homes on the street- I couldn't help but think "This is it?". There was something so isolating about what we were seeing- no stop lights and absolutely no chain- stores (except for Casey's). Nothing like the town/world we currently live in. At the end of Mulholland stands the temple. As you would assume- it is beautiful, majestic, awesome. But unlike other temples I have seen in person, there was something about this temple that made it feel special to me. Knowing that that temple stands in the same place and looks exactly the same as it did when Joseph Smith and the Saints lived here moved me. I realize the same can be said about other temples built by the early Saints in the 19th century- Salt Lake, Logan, etc. I think what makes this temple different than those is that there is not a large city built up around it. It stands there up on a bluff overlooking the great river with not much built up around it. (Except, of course, for the water tower which is literally right next to it.) As we drove around the temple and then back down the street to look for a place to eat lunch, we ran into a good friend from high school who we haven't seen it years! Seriously- what are the odds? Well apparently they're good in Nauvoo during spring break.

All throughout the rest of that day, even while in the temple, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I just kept wondering "How would the Saints feel if they saw what their beautiful city had become?" The next day, one of the missionary tour guides said something to the effect that Nauvoo is unique in that it's one of only cities that was completely abandoned taking everything with it: political system, economic system, social system. This fact is painfully obvious when you actually go there. I also kept thinking about how absolutely difficult it must have been for them to leave, to simply walk away from the beautiful home they had worked so hard to create for themselves.

Jon and I were able to go to the temple together (leaving the kids with Carlie and previously mentioned friend). I was sort of humbled by the fact that I was actually allowed to go into this beautiful, historically important building. Everything about it was amazing- right after you walk in, they have you walk up the huge spiral staircase which you can look up and see the ceiling. An interesting aspect I noticed was that in some of the rooms, the ceilings were so low- obviously built to original scale. The next day, we learned that the original Nauvoo temple took 5 years to build and the new Nauvoo temple took 3--with all necessary funds and tools available. Amazing. It was nice to be able to actually go to the temple with Jon (meaning, actually in the same session), we haven't been able to do that since we moved from Mesa.

We had sort of a funny experience while in the temple. We had finished and were about to leave when we decided that we wanted to try and look around a bit inside. We walked down a hallway that had framed pieces of actual temple clothes worn by members in the original Nauvoo temple. Very cool. Then we decided to go down the big staircase and check out what was down there (the baptistry). We looked around quickly and then turned around to leave. A temple worker woman said "Excuse me" and I said, hastily "Oh, we were just looking around". To which she replied with a big smile "Usually, when you look around, you need a guide." Doh, we felt "caught". But as I said, she was nice and pointed out some cool features of the room that we didn't see on our first, "illegal" look.
Seth in the Nauvoo Temple Visitors Center

The next day, we went on a carriage ride through some of the old farms southwest of the temple, most of which are still inhabited, led by a pair of missionaries. (Whenever I talk about missionaries, realize that they were all senior missionaries.) He told us about whose land it was originally and little about their history in the church. The best part of that tour was when they look us up to a high hill that overlooked the river. He said that this is where Joseph Smith would ride up to to watch for any riverboats carrying new Saints. To stand on ground that you knew he stood on, that was awesome.
I'm holding Ellena (where was Jonas?), Maryn and Seth are petting the horses that pulled the carriage we rode in.

The rest of that morning and afternoon, we walked around Old Nauvoo- where they have rebuilt several of the original buildings on their old foundations. We got the famous Nauvoo brick (available at most DIs in Utah for $.25) and a prairie diamond ring. In each building, they had a short dialogue and demonstration about some aspect of life during that time. We didn't get a chance to visit the Joseph Smith home and store (neither owned by our church) which would have been cool, but they do cost money and we really ran out of time.
Ellena wearing her "prairie diamond" ring. (It's a horseshoe nail.)

We ran out of time because we had to get to Carthage by 4 pm. The 30 minute drive from Nauvoo follows the river for most of the time. Again, it was beautiful to watch as we drove (a lot like this road). I don't really know what to say about Carthage. I was surprised to see that the jail stood right in the middle of the town on its main street. An obviously old building among newer structures. I was also surprised by how small it was, only 3 rooms (including the kitchen) and two jail cell rooms. The tour guide told us that the jailer lived there with his family (6 kids I think, tight squeeze). There was a definite feeling of solemnity in this place. It was surreal to actually see and stand in the places that I've heard about in stories all my life. We saw the bullet holes in the doors and the infamous window that he fell from. A friend told me that the Carthage tour is not a good place to take kids, but we did, and found that she was right. I felt bad for the other people on our tour because our kids were noisy and restless and disruptive of the mood of reverence which naturally exists there. Not the kids' fault, they were tired and hungry.
I thought about the vast spectrum of feelings I had felt the past few days as we left Carthage and headed home. That day, as I learned about the Saints who lived in Nauvoo and walked where they had walked, and then later saw the place where Joseph Smith spent his last days, the final feeling that settled on me was peace.
We didn't get a chance to take any pictures of the kids at the temple, except for the one at the top of this post. I was sad about that, but it just means that we need to go back soon. We live pretty much equidistant between three temples: Nauvoo, St. Louis and Chicago.
One last thing I wanted to remember about this trip. We spent the weeks leading up to this visit talking to the kids about Nauvoo and showing them pictures of the temple. They were really excited to see it up close (even if it was through a car window). But as we were driving out of Nauvoo and away from the temple, Maryn realized that she wasn't going to get to go inside the temple that we had talked so much about. She was devastated and cried for a long time. (Ironic that- maybe besides Jonas- she's the most pure and worthy member of our family.)
I guess that wasn't much of a "nutshell" as the title advertised.


Lara said...

I'm so jealous! I love Nauvoo (did a mini mission there for a summer as a singer/actor). I would love to go back again to see the new temple and just to take it all in again.

As tiny as it is, it is really funny (at least during the summer) that the Nauvoo ward has over 1000 people attend each week. I always got a kick out of that.

Audrey said...

Derek and I visited the Nauvoo temple the year I was pregnant with Ryanna. We timed our visit poorly, so we didn't get to do a session or even go inside, but the outside is beautiful still. We went down by the Mississippi, and like you said, it's breath-taking, and about got eaten alive by mosquitos and annoyed out of our mind by gnats. I wish we would've stayed a second day.
We also visited Carthage and the Spirit is so strong there, which you might not expect. It's an amazing experience and definitely hard to handle with kids, as you said. How neat that you got to go. We still need to get to the Grand Canyon, how sad is that?

mmhamblin said...

I love Nauvoo! I've been twice and loved it both times. I've always been during the summer when there are a million people, so I've never experienced the "abandoned town" feeling. If you get a chance, go back during the summer and see the pagent. It is so awesome and was the highlight of our whole time there.

Carlie said...

as a correction to your claim, 2 days would be enough, but we were really only there 1 technically. 1/2 of each day were spent driving. 2 FULL days were needed, yes. I would love to go back in the busy season when everything is really open and in full swing.
i thought it strange that this now-tiny town with a handful of reconstructed buildings was once a thriving city with shops and crowds and many more homes. it looked so bare when we were there.

Sarah said...

Did you happen to see a Elder and Sister Wells? They are senior missionaries from our ward serving there right now. Thay are also some really good friends!

Mindy said...

What an awesome experience. It is cool that you guys were able to do that. The pictures were great even though you only had a few. By the way I like your haircut.

walt or jean said...

Well, that was quite a post. Love the pictures and your feelings about the river and the temple. Love your hair even if you are tired of it. Love you.