DURHAM, N.C.— If he lifted his head back, 7-year-old Clark DeFranco's chin just cleared the top of the glass exhibit case. The boy found himself at eye-level with an 1830 first edition copy of the Book of Mormon.
While the child and his family looked in awe at the original signature of Brigham Young, his mother, Janene DeFranco, explained that Clark's ancestral namesake, John Clark, had followed this prophet of the Lord in the mass exodus from Nauvoo in 1846, but died at Winter Quarters "before his journey was through."
The DeFranco family of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., were just seven of the 400 visitors to the six-hour Brigham Young Bicentennial exhibit on June 1-2 presented by the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at internationally known Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Duke University presented the exhibit of original correspondence by Brigham Young in the Mary Duke Biddle Room, named in honor of Washington Duke's granddaughter, whose gift funded the room's construction as part of the 1948 addition to Perkins Library. Designed by Karl Bock and furnished to resemble an 18th century library in the home of British gentry, visitors to the Brigham Young exhibit immediately noticed the ambience created by the room's marble fireplace, molded ceiling, tapestry-patterned curtains, velvet-covered reading chairs and oak bookcases and paneling.
Surrounded by first edition works of Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, the ten original pieces of correspondence by Brigham Young to Utah Territorial Governor Alfred Cumming and the 1830 Book of Mormon were presented for viewing in a glass-topped case.
In a wall exhibit case just outside the room, two pocket-sized second edition Latter-day Saint hymnals — one including an 1851 inscription from Amos Fielding, an early Church missionary to England and founder of the Utah town of Fairfield — were displayed amidst a collection of hymnals from many faiths, climes, and time periods. And across from the wall exhibit case stands, appropriately, a heavy wooden printing press, constructed after the style of Scottish joiner Adam Ramage and used by members of the 19th century Henkel printing dynasty, and a forerunner of the Smith "patented improved" press used by E. B. Grandin in Palmyra, N.Y., to print the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon.
"This is a wonderful privilege to enjoy such an impressive and valuable exhibition of historic Church documents right here in North Carolina," said Durham North Carolina Stake President Kerry L. Lee, a Duke University professor of bioinformatics and biostatistics. "Viewing this historic correspondence, including the signature of Brigham Young, and then learning about the history of the documents helped to increase our members' appreciation for this great prophet-leader as we commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. I hope it inspired our Primary children as well, as they focus this year upon the importance of 'Following a Prophet.' "