Encountering Mormonism on Route 66

IMG_3884(This post isn’t really a Fourth of July thing, except that there’s something distinctly American about Route 66. So we’ll go with it.)

We talked about taking a Route 66 vacation this summer. After all, we live in Chicago (and Route 66 starts across the street from the Art Institute!), and it ends in L.A., just north of my parents’ home. But with this year’s Every Kid in a Park (which, btw, if you have a kid who just finished fourth grade and you haven’t enrolled yet, I don’t think it’s too late), we switched to a visit-National-Parks trip.

Still, our National Parks roadtrip ended up overlapping briefly with Route 66—we were going to Petrified Forest National Park, which is on historic Route 66, and we decided to stay in nearby Holbrook, in Wigwam Village #6.[fn1]

While at the motel, my little boy fell into an epic meltdown, a combination of being off any sleep schedule plus being in the back seat of a Prius with his sisters for interminable hours plus epic amounts of enjoying national parks plus some trigger that I frankly can’t remember.

So I took him on a walk around the parking lot of the motel. Because, between the guests’ cars, the parking lot of Wigwam Village #6 is peppered with classic cars from the 60s and earlier, the kinds of cars that didn’t have seatbelts, but had space-age tail lights.[fn2] My son found the cars hilarious (the cars had eyes! and Mater—or his doppelganger—was in the parking lot!).

By now, he’d totally forgotten that he was melting down. But he wanted to show all of the cars to my wife. While exploring, they stepped into the building with the registration desk. In a back room, they discovered a collection of Native American artifacts and guns and other tchochkes that Wikipedia tells me (in a passage that “needs citation”) belonged to Chester Lewis, the guy who built the Village.


I didn’t think to take a picture, so this isn’t actually the Book of Remembrance I saw.

After getting back, my son wanted to take me to that room. And in there, something caught my eye: a book, twice as wide as it was high, with three pins through the spine and the words “Book of Remembrance” embossed on the cover.

Why did it catch my eye? Because my mom had a book with the same name, shape, and construction when I was growing up. I remember flipping through it on occasion—it was mostly sheets of family trees, and it traced her ancestry for a long time. (When we arrived to visit, I asked her about it; she doesn’t remember where she got it, but she confirmed that I was right about its content.)

Although it struck me as Mormon, I didn’t know that for sure—I only knew it was part of my Mormon upbringing. (For all I knew, Books of Remembrance were an American fad in the 1960s or 1970s.) It turned out, though, that there was a second Book of Remembrance in Lewis’s collection, and the second one had “Arizona Temple,” and a picture of an Arizona temple,[fn3] embossed on the cover.

Which leads me to believe that Chester Lewis, the guy who built Wigwam Village #6 in Holbrook, AZ, was Mormon. And that’s my unexpected encounter with Mormonism on Route 66.

(N.b.: I apologize in advance that I probably won’t respond to comments, should there be any. Being a Chicagoan, it’s amazing to me the stretches through Arizona, Nevada, and the California desert that don’t get any Verizon reception. So while I’ll certainly read comments, whether they’re about unexpected encounters with Mormonism or about Route 66 or about Wigwam Villages, it may be a while before I see them.)

[fn1] Partly, we were inspired by the Cozy Cone Motel of Pixar’s Cars, which itself was inspired by the Wigwam Villages. While Cars may be lesser Pixar, it is also the Best. Movie. Ever. for some set of toddler/preschool boys. A year or two ago, that set of small boys included mine. (Also, of course, we were inspired by the retro-kitsch that Route 66 basically demands.)

[fn2] In the morning, one of the other motel visitors was photographing the car next to mine. He apologetically explained that his wife’s parents used to have an old Studebaker, but, until staying there, he’d never been able to find one.

[fn3] I assume—I didn’t look terribly closely, and wouldn’t know what any Arizona temples look like anyway.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m pretty sure that books of remembrance like that were indeed spcifically a Mormon thing.I had one as a kid (I still have the expandable binder).

  2. tl;dr: blogger visits Mormon country, realizes he’s in Mormon country

    Holbrook, which you visited, was built as a railroad town and was the headquarters of the Hashknife Gang (Aztec Land and Cattle Company), but many of the surrounding towns were founded by Mormons, and they left their names throughout the region. Jacob Lake, Snowflake, Mormon Lake, Tanner Wash, Tanner Canyon, Joseph City, Tuba City, Lee’s Ferry. There is still a large Mormon presence in the region.

    Recommended reading: Charles Peterson, Take Up Your Mission: Mormon Colonizing Along the Little Colorado River, 1870-1900.

  3. Mark B. says:

    I think Kevin’s right, and I’m sure Ardis could give a definitive answer. We were given a Book of Remembrance like that as a wedding gift 40 years ago next month.

    And, there are several temples in Arizona now, but there was only one “Arizona Temple.” It’s in Mesa, and its architecture is so distinctive that I’m surprised that you or any other lifelong American Mormon wouldn’t recognize it.

  4. From the Book of Moses, chapter 6, regarding the early generations after Adam: “And then began these men to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them; And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration; And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.” This is the inspiration for the specifically LDS physical object “book of remembrance” — but that phrase appears several times in the Old Testament, too, so a lot of other religious people have picked up the phrase in a more intangible sense, e.g., “Is your name written in the Lord’s book of remembrance?”

    The LDS program started in about 1930. The earliest material I have is from 1932, but it’s a well-developed program by then so must have been worked out a few years earlier. It was at first sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Utah (now Family Search, and the Family History Library), but was used in the priesthood quorums (both Aaronic and Melchizedek) and in all the auxiliaries, because they all featured genealogical lessons at one time or another. The MIA was a heavy promoter, especially.

    At first the books were in casual, home-made covers, but at least by 1950 a number of commercial providers manufactured the specialty covers like the one Sam saw in the museum. Those commercial covers included kits with title page, various forms to fill out, and instructions on how to do genealogy. They usually included divider pages for various sections of the books, with nicely printed titles and lots of white space that people decorated with artwork. The kits eventually included divided sheets with numbered or lettered tabs, so you could turn to some particular part of your many, many pedigree charts.

    The idea behind the Book of Remembrance was to preserve a record of sacred things. Suggested contents varied over the years, but usually included a title page identifying the owner by name, birthdate, parentage, etc; pedigree charts, both picture pedigrees and the still-familiar family tree pedigrees (at least the four-generation pedigree, but eventually hundreds of sheets as people expanded these books to hold all their genealogy); patriarchal blessings; personal histories, and histories of ancestors; certificates (blessing, baptism, ordination, MIA advancements, etc.); dates and places associated with your mission; pictures of temples; and just about anything that could constitute a *sacred* remembrance (the Church kept stressing that these were *sacred* records, not mere scrapbooks).

    It appears that in the earliest years these books were associated with award programs: boys in the Aaronic Priesthood, for instance, were supposed to be baptized for 100 deceased relatives, with those records preserved in the book of remembrance and an obligation checked off leading to an individual award. I don’t yet know much about that program or award system.

    The program was preserved as much by the commercial businesses that sold ever-more-elaborate kits, and it never officially ended, but kind of petered out at the same time that correlation gutted the MIA program. People still kept their binders around, of course, but I’d bet the farm that most of them were dismantled and discarded when paper genealogical charts were transferred to digital records with Personal Ancestral File.

    Sorry for the length of the comment.

  5. Thanks, Ardis! I’d hoped you would know something about their history!

  6. The Book of Remembrance and Ardis’ comment sparks a memory of a four generation chart as an obligation, a minimum requirement expected of all. One of those things I was supposed to have or do and never did and felt guilty about. Am I making that up?
    (I do remember rationalizing that the four generations were readily available in the sense that my parents had their own four generation charts, and of course digital records now cover much much more. My guilt was over the fact that I didn’t ever fill out or finish a piece of paper with all four generations for myself.)

  7. Those four-generation programs were meant to sweep in the huge wave of converts who joined the Church in the decades after World War II. Members before that time generally came from very long-term member families who had some grandfather or great-aunt who had been doing genealogy forever. It wasn’t particularly useful to have Kimballs fill out a four-generation chart, except to the extent that it perhaps interested you in your extended family a little bit. But for families with a limited history in the Church, four generations was generally easily doable, with a few family interviews and letters, and it got those family lines into the archives as a start for greater work. Because programs like that always have to be one-size-fits-all, though, the Kimballs were guilted right along with the rawest convert. You aren’t making it up. :)

  8. Thanks Ardis. I’ve failed more than one Church program in my day. But the Book of Remembrance and the four generation program and MIA, and even cross country travel (from the mid-West to the inter-mountain West, in my case) are all part of my memories. Thanks for the OP (Sam) and the additional information in comments.

  9. Mama Lynnie says:

    My favorite four generation chart story comes from my older sister’s seminary class assignment in the mid-50s. The deadline for the project was fast approaching, and she importuned my father to help her complete her chart. Finally, he’d had enough, and in his most; theatrical exasperated tone proclaimed, “You go back and tell Brother [redacted] that your father doesn’t believe in genealogy. I know enough living Evanses who are horse thieves. I don’t need to dig up any dead ones.” Family lore says that she did just that and was excused from the assignment.

    Personally, I find the horse thieves to be my most interesting ancestors.

  10. Left Field says:

    Back in 1967, I lived on Route 66 when my family owned and managed a motel in Kingman, Arizona.

    I still have the Book of Remembrance I got back in the 1970s showing “all” 16 temples on the cover[1]. I never really got around to transferring my genealogical records to electronic or letter-size forms, so all my pedigree and family group sheets are still in this book. My deacon’s ordination certificate is actually a legal-size document with perforations designed to fit as a page in a Book of Remembrance. I’d be out of luck if I wanted to keep it in some other format without folding it. By the time I was ordained a Teacher, they had changed to a letter-size certificate.

    I also have some pages from a commercial Book of Remembrance set. Some of them have half a page filled with an illustration explaining how Jesus ordained Peter, James, and John, who ordained Joseph and Oliver, who ordained… And then you were supposed to use the provided stamp-size GA headshots and presumably additional photographs of your own to trace the line of authority for the person who blessed you, and on other pages, the people who baptized and confirmed you, ordained you, and (if you can imagine) everyone who ever set you apart to a calling. I recall that there was some stuff even hokier that I discarded back in the day. I do still have a page that has useful spaces for recording important dates and events. But it has some stuff that’s not applicable, like the date I received my Master M Man award (what’s that?) or the date I was ordained an apostle (ri-i-i-ght) and which president of the church ordained me (like that would otherwise be lost to history). It wants to know the dates I belonged to the Targeteers (which didn’t exist when I was in Primary). In fact, I think there is no demographic that was ever a Targeteer and also a Master M Man. It has a space to list my Elementary School, but not enough to list my four Elementary schools in four different states. And the form asks for some rather personal information like my SSN and blood type. I guess HIPAA and identity theft wasn’t a thing back in the ’70s.

    But I do still stuff things between the pages from time to time.

    [1]Random off-topic rant: Only three of the 16 temples have a statue of Moroni, which befuddles some Mormons nowadays who have come to see the statue as a necessary component of a temple. Some years ago, to my great annoyance, The Friend published an illustration of the Manti Temple with a statue of Moroni added to the west tower. I guess they figured kids wouldn’t otherwise recognize it as a temple. I say they missed an opportunity to teach them that a statue isn’t what makes it a temple.

  11. N. W. Clerk says:

    See Chester Evertt I Lewis (KWZ4-7G7) at FamilySearch.org.

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