Captivating monument half a century old

One of Temple Square's most poignant and beloved monuments - Torleif S. Knaphus' "Handcart Pioneer" is 50 years old this month.

The 5,500-pound bronze larger-than-life monument, which is among the most photographed monuments on Temple Square, arrived in Utah in September 1947 from New York where it was cast. It was placed on Temple Square in time for the October 1947 general conference. It has been a powerful reminder of the Church's legacy of the handcart pioneers ever since.Dominated by the nearly 7-foot figure of the father pulling a handcart, the monument portrays in careful detail typical handcart pioneers. When the model for the monument was completed in 1942, it portrayed "character and perseverance . . . on the unbowed face of the man." The woman "is a real study in pioneer motherhood."

The sculpture was cast by the Roman Bronze Works in Corona, N. Y., and came to Utah on its own railroad flatcar. Priority approval for the casting was obtained from government officials for the wartime project.

A smaller, 2-foot high model of the handcart pioneers was completed in 1926, about 71 years ago, and it was on display in the old Bureau of Information building on Temple Square prior to the installation of the heroic-sized sculpture. While the smaller sculpture was appreciated, the larger piece's "beauty and impressiveness is much more emphatic because of its size," noted a Church News article on Sept. 27, 1947.

Guides on Temple Square have often commented on the monument's interest to the millions of visitors who come from around the world.

"Visitors are impressed with the faith and devotion of pioneers; they are in awe that they pulled a handcart 1,300 miles," said Pres. William D. Bawden, counselor in the Utah Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission.

"Visitors are amazed at the little space that pioneers had for their possessions."

Handcart enthusiast Montell Seely of the Castle Dale (Utah) 2nd Ward, remembers the mystique of the monument sinking deeply into his consciousness as a child. "I was intrigued with the monument when I was a little boy. Our family would go to Temple Square, and I would stand and look at that monument. I would look at those individuals and contemplate the handcart venture and what the handcart people accomplished."

He built his first handcart and pulled it in a parade at age 12, and has been in many parades since.

"Re-enacting pioneer themes has been an integral part of my life as long as I can remember. I wish I had been 19 years old when Brigham Young crossed the plains."

In 1996, Brother Seely, a son, Mark, 21, and daughter, Janell, 14, pulled a handcart from Nauvoo, Ill., to Council Bluffs, Iowa. This year, in honor of the Pioneer Sesquicentennial, Brother Seely, who owns five handcarts and two covered wagons, carefully built another handcart to re-enact the trek west. He and Mark and Janell pulled the handcart from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. They traveled alone, not as part of the re-enactment of the Mormon Trail Wagon Train.

"After our trek across the plains pulling a handcart, we have a glimpse of what the handcart pioneers accomplished, and of their endurance and perseverance," said Brother Seely. He is a descendant of handcart pioneers from the Edward Martin Handcart Company of 1856.

"But even as tired as we were at the end of each day, still we can't come close to knowing what they went through."

Upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, the Seelys pulled the handcart to Temple Square and parked it next to the handcart monument. There, with crowds watching, they briefly struck the pose of Knaphus' handcart pioneers for a photograph.

Being on the square next to the monument of his youth "was the climax event of our trek," said Brother Seely. "We felt a lump in our throats and tears in our eyes. I had a feeling our ancestors were there."

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