Nauvoo Trivia

My family moved to Illinois in 1965 when I was seven years old. Every year for vacation we drove back to visit relatives in Utah, and every year on the way we spent a couple of days in Nauvoo and Carthage. I continue to live in Illinois, so I’ve been there at least a couple of dozen times now.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard about sparking lamps, where a boy courting his girl had to go home once the lamp went out, and the father got to control how much oil to put in the lamp (a lot for a boy he liked, a little for one he didn’t care for). The senior missionaries there have always been terrific at bringing the place alive for me.

When I was just a boy our family got a personal tour conducted by T. Edgar Lyon (my father had been a student of his). He showed us where my father’s ancestor, Samuel Lee (also an ancestor of Harold B. Lee), once lived, on a lot that has never been restored.

I thought I would share a little Nauvoo trivia:

1. When I was a boy and you took the tour at Carthage Jail, in the upper bedroom they actually had a model of a pepperbox pistol, the kind Joseph used to fire blindly into the hallway at the rushing mob. You can get a sense for what one looked like here. It was an early form of six shooter, but there were six barrels that rotated instead of one barrel with a rotating chamber. These things looked like toys and were notoriously unreliable, which perhaps is why only three chambers fired, the others misfiring. I always get a chuckle when critics portray the events at Carthage as a shootout at the OK Corral rather than the assassination that it was.

2. Also when I was a boy, they would point out to you the stain on the floor from Hyrum’s blood where he fell. For many years it was actually under glass. Then they removed the glass and stopped referring to it. As it turns out, the stain wasn’t of Hyrum’s blood after all. When the Church acquired the jail, the son of the former owner said that the floor had been replaced, and the floorboards that are there now were cut with a type of saw that didn’t exist at the time the jail was first constructed.

3. My source for 2 above is Don Enders. Don also told me that they did tests of the John Taylor watch that supposedly was struck by a ball, saving his life. Think CSI. Well, it turns out that the damage to the watch wasn’t caused by a bullet. They think that Taylor fell from the impact of being hit by a ball and fell against the window sill, and that the force of that impact was what damaged the watch to record for time immemorial the time of the attack.

4. Willard Richards was the only one wearing his garments that day. The story has always been that the others put theirs aside to protect them from being desecrated by the mob. But according to John Taylor, who is our best informant on these events, that is not the case. In reality, they weren’t wearing their garments because it was so dang hot. (And if you’ve ever been to Nauvoo on a hot and humid day, like when my wife and I parked cars for the temple dedication, you surely will not blame these brethren for their eminently good sense.)

5. A few times I’ve encountered Colleen Ralson of the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center. Once she was handing out facsimile reprints of the Nauvoo Expositor at the gates to the City of Joseph pageant. I appreciated receiving this gift very much, and used it as an exhibit when I gave a presentation on the suppression of the Expositor to our Chicago J. Reuben Clark Law Society (based on the Oaks Utah Law Review article). A few years ago the FARMS traveling Dead Sea Scroll exhibit was at Nauvoo, and at their request I went and gave a series of lectures and Q&A sessions on the Scrolls. I noticed Colleen in the audience at one of these sessions, and was sort of hoping she would take me to task on something in my presentation, but she never did.

6. Finally, here is a little piece I wrote once on the meaning of the name “Nauvoo.”

Do you have any Nauvoo experiences or trivia you would like to share?

15 comments for “Nauvoo Trivia

  1. A few thoughts. First Google has a lot of different pictures of the pepperbox pistol. They are really interesting. Second, BYU has a picture of the pistol used by Joseph that Kevin mentioned. Some might find that interesting.

    Regarding the garments, one thing that really bugged me about Quinn’s Origins of Power was asserting Joseph had everyone get rid of the garments because he was getting rid of the endowment. He even quotes the Taylor account leaving off the paragraph where Taylor gives his view on the matter.

  2. Another icon is demolished. First, they took “stain Illinois” out of the hymnbook, and now it turns out it wasn’t Hyrum’s blood on the floor.

    However, the Church is true, mutatis mutandis.

  3. The lady who gave us the tour one of the times I went to Carthage said that someone who I don’t remember, but I think it was someone in the Quorum of the Twelve or the First Presidency, decided to have the blood removed because “it was time to move on”. I should research that now.

  4. I believe that was SWK, Jeff. So the stain was going to be deepmphasized even if it were authentic–which it is not.

  5. A friend of mine was a missionary in Nauvoo. It turns out the house where the sisters live is located at the same spot where the house of the fictitious Steed family in the “Work and the Glory” novels supposedly stood. My friend told me that they werer constantly fielding knocks at their door from people who wanted to tour the “Steed home,” or wanting to know if this was the original building. After all, can’t fiction be history, too?

  6. Before the temple was rebuilt, one of the times we visited Nauvoo, one of the men doing the historical presentation in the carpenter’s shop and the blacksmith’s shops, went on about the technical know-how that the converts from England brought. These were the craftsmen with the tools and vision to not only build the wagons, but to be able to invent a new way of curing wood in much less time. Here is Joseph Smith, in the aftermath of the apostasy after the collapse of the Kirtland bank during the Worldwide Panic of 1837, sending his stauchest supporters across an ocean to preach. And he sends them to the exact same city (Industrial Manchester, England) where Karl Marx is writing Das Kapital, among a people ripe for a radical change in life. It was an eye-opening discourse.

    It was a fascinating place to visit, more so last time we went, and saw the Temple risen from the empty lot we had walked through and around many times. And the bookstore, to my surprise and delight, had a better selection than did the Deseret Book in downtown SLC.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  7. That is Old House Books, owned by Estel Neff, who is descended from one of Joseph Smith’s sisters, I believe. It’s a very good bookstore–and right next to the fudge shop, too.

    I have to admit that I was disappointed GBH decided to put the upright Moroni statue on the temple, instead of the horizontal weather vane. But still, the temple is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve only been through it twice, once during the open house and once during a session. I’m hoping to get down there for a long weekend sometime this summer to go again.

    Oh, and if anyone goes, be sure to go to the buffet at the Nauvoo Hotel; it’s terrific!

  8. In 1965 (I think) I toured the Carthage jail and was very impressed that the “bloodstain”was still so clearly visible. Seeing it made me feel like I was somehow in touch with what happened there. I wouldn’t suggest keeping it even though it isn’t actually Hyrum’s (or anyone’s) blood, but I think it is a mistake to remove all icons. We don’t need to be Protestants about them in order to avoid the excesses with which they can be associated. So, if it had been Hyrum’s blood, I hope we wouldn’t have “moved on.”

  9. i knew it was okay to ditch the garments when it’s hot out. now i have proof.

    Might I point out, Mike, that Joseph, Hyrum, and John Taylor all got shot on a day that they took off their garments for it being too hot out; Willard Richards, on the other hand, “through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe” (D&C 135:2). I’d be careful if I were you — especially if there happens to be an angry mob in your town of late!

  10. Kevin, I just want to say that I’m really enjoying your posts. They’ve really been great. So thanks for that.

    I can still remember as a child hearing the tour version of the story where the stain on the floor is pointed out. So it was cool to read some new insight on the matter. It has been years since I’ve been to Nauvoo and I’m hoping my wife and I can do a tour of the eastern Church sites someday soon.

    Here’s a random trivia fact that I’ve heard but never verified. I had a mission companion who told me Joseph Smith and others were not only singing hymns before they were killed. According to him, they had also ordered a couple of bottles of wine to the room where they were being held. Has anyone else heard that story? Any truth to it?

  11. “Before the jailor came in, his boy brought in some water, and said the guard wanted some wine. Joseph gave Dr. Richards two dollars to give the guard; but the guard said one was enough, and would take no more.
    “The guard immediately sent for a bottle of wine, pipes, and two small papers of tobacco; and one of the guards brought them into the jail soon after the jailor went out. Dr. Richards uncorked the bottle, and presented a glass to Joseph, who tasted, as Brother Taylor and the doctor, and the bottle was then given to the guard, who turned to go out.”

    (History of the Church, Vol. 6, page 616)

  12. By the way, my friend Michael Hicks wrote a terrific article that is relevant here:

    “‘Strains Which Will Not Soon Be Allowed to Die’: ‘The Stranger’ and Carthage Jail,” BYU Studies 23/4 (1983): 389. This article tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the song “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”

    I don’t know whether this will work, but I’ll try to link to the Lee Library online collection:

    I remember when Mike was researching that article; we were at the University of Illinois together at that time.

    The article presents an early shape note version of the song as published in The Sacred Harp. I actually sang that version in Church once as a solo on a Sunday close to June 27th. That is the only solo I’ve ever sung in Church; I like to sing, but I have more of a choir voice. I was pretty nervous doing the solo, but I really like this version. It is the source for the later, more flowery version we sing, but this one is simpler and quite beautiful.

  13. [i]i knew it was okay to ditch the garments when it’s hot out. now i have proof.

    Might I point out, Mike, that Joseph, Hyrum, and John Taylor all got shot on a day that they took off their garments for it being too hot out; Willard Richards, on the other hand, “through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe” (D&C 135:2). I’d be careful if I were you – especially if there happens to be an angry mob in your town of late! [/i]

    Good point. Also, can you imagine what the garments back then were like on a hot humid day? We don’t really have as much of an excuse considering how much less there is to garments today and what materials are available.

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