I had some work in upstate New York and I used some frequent flyer miles to take my eleven year-old son. We stayed the weekend to visit, Niagra Falls, the Church Historic Sites and the Seneca Falls Historic Sites. He is a smart kid and we had a great time.
This is the time of year to do it. The weather wasn’t bad and there were so few people that we got private tours. I think that the Grandin Press is the most impressive of the historic sites. The historical narrative presented there is clearer and less refracted through the Missionary Department’s prism. Sure we got the same pitch as the other sites to suggest a friend to contact, and the decontextualized Moroni’s promise was a missed opportunity, but when the missionary asked my son if he had ever prayed to know that the Book of Mormon was true, and he responded that he didn’t need to—that he knew from what it said—I choked up as I told him that I didn’t need to either.
I also choked up at the Whitmer home when the missionary from Hong Kong mentioned Mary Whitmer’s witness of the plates and at the National Parks movie depicting the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Don’t get me wrong, the Smith Family Farm and Hill Cumorah are deeply meaningful to me. The narratives and details they share there simply aren’t the ones most poignant to me. Still, I enjoyed walking through the homes and the deserted forest paths with my son.
Perhaps the most surprising moment of the trip was the Hill Cumorah Visiter’s Center. The missionaries were very gracious. At the end of the brief tour, we were escorted to a circular room focused on a Christus Statue. The missionary indicated that it was different from other visitor center Christus statues in that it was backed by a mural of a forest, invoking Joseph Smith’s boyhood vision. I immediately noticed, however, that there was another important difference. While I thought that Ed Blume’s comments describing the Mormon use of the Christus as a tool of white supremacy to be sort of ridiculous (see Turner’s measured response here), the American Jesus that met me in Palmyra was a little startling (I guess I just prefer the Scandinavian Lutheran Jesus). Someone apparently thought that defacing (literally) Thorvaldsen’s original was a good idea.
I’m grateful to be Mormon, and to have a shared history with my people. I recommend the historic sites to everyone, and my hope is similar to that of the Missionary Department: that it kindles a desire to know more.