Sunday, August 9, 2015

Return to Old Nauvoo

My family and I are on vacation in old Nauvoo this week. This is the first I have been here in almost 25 years. Much has changed and much has not. For example there is no better cell phone coverage than existed 25 years ago (of course no one had a cell phone then). We arrived on Saturday morning which was the last day of the young performing missionaries on site. These are a bunch of fresh faced kids (18-26) that sing, dance, act, perform in a brass band, and generally lend their youthful exuberance to the atmosphere of the place. I engaged a few of them in conversation and watched their performances with great delight. It is wonderful to have such talent and excitement in the Church. It reminds me of younger days long gone by.


A traveler with a mandolin was there and the young missionaries engaged him and asked about his instrument. In a few minutes they had him tuning it up and a lively impromptu choir joined him in a rendition of "I'll Fly Away". I was impressed that most of the singers knew the tune. It is a personal favorite of mine as I love Bluegrass and Old Time Gospel music of the Appalachian region. Turns out he is a performer in the Pacific Northwest with a Old Time string band that does unamplified performances. He goes by the stage name Rolling Turtle. He stayed at least the entire day as we saw him again at the Sunset on the Mississippi performance.

We took in three performances of the young missionaries that day which meant that historical sites needed to wait. The Sunset performance was by far everyone's favorite. It was energetic and fun and just a touch of sadness as everyone realized this was their last. My youngest excitedly told me it was the "best show of her whole life" during one song. They had a children's parade my younger daughters loved, comedy bits and quite a good deal of excellent music. The had Pensylvania 6500, Boggie Woggie Bugle Boy, and Phillip Phillip's "Home". My son particularly keeps replaying for us their example of the test of the "Nauvoo Tornado Alert System" which consisted of a long sustained note by the performing missionaries. After explaining it was only a test they then demonstrated that had it been an actual emergency they would act as follows, then broke into pandemonium. What they did not seem to have much of was history. They did throw in "Cindy" and "Shenandoah" which were close to period but even these they performed as a heavily Jazz influenced piece. It was great but gave no sense of history. For that matter the singers and band throughout the day as we heard them had few if any period pieces they performed. It left me wondering what the Church was trying to achieve. On the one hand having everyone dressed in pseudo-pioneer garb and giving wagon rides could confuse the average visitor into mistaking us for a branch of the Amish. There is a strong need to emphasize that the Church is a modern institution with modern people in it and what they are seeing is historical acting rather than a people trying to remain in the past. But on the other hand, many have come to this place to connect with the past and learn of life on the Mississippi in the 1840's, not to have a variety show with Studio C dressed as pioneers (as much fun as that is).

I discussed my disappointment with my wife and she kindly pointed out that they had a more historical treatment during the part I fell asleep in (it had been two days of very long drives). There is a performance called "The Promise" that does attempt to tell the Nauvoo story in a better historical terms. I can't comment on it much because a dark theater, air conditioning, and momentarily quiet kids caused me to slip out of consciousness for most of it. Fortunately my wife was there to poke me before I started snoring. I did catch enough to get a reference to the "Whistling and Whiltling Brigade".

It's now a rainy Sunday morning and we had a much needed day of rest with time to just have a big breakfast together and plan our coming week. Church will start soon and it's time to wrestle kids into clothes. Perhaps later we will take a stroll down the trail of hope and enjoy some quieter sites. After a quarter century my biggest impressions apart from the rebuilt temple, are that they have added many fun family activities to this place but the spirit still remains. The beautiful Women's Garden seems unchanged. The simple but elegant buildings in the Federalist style still stand with green fields surrounding them reminding how little is left of what once stood there. Even the grandest houses are simple by today's standards reminding how difficult life was at this time. I was surprised to learn (or perhaps relearn) that restoration began as recent as the 1950's. I am not sure if the Church has plans to restore or rebuild more buildings or if it feels what there is enough. Certainly what is here now is impressive and probably the most important site for anyone interested in History from the Joseph Smith era of the Church.





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