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What you need to know before visiting Church historic sites, pageants this summer


When people find out President Alan Gudmundson and Sister Elizabeth Gudmundson are the leaders of the Church’s pageants in Nauvoo, Illinois, they nearly always get the same reaction, whether from people in their ward or neighborhood in Cedar City, Utah, or whom they interact with in other assignments: “I thought those were canceled.” 

They are happy to clarify. “Not all pageants have been canceled,” President Gudmundson said. “Come and see. … Come and feel. Come and experience.”

With pandemic-related restrictions at the Church’s historical sites lifted this summer and the planned performances of the two pageants set in motion, the leaders at the sites are preparing for what they expect will be a busy summer. 

“We are anticipating very large crowds” at all of the Church’s historic sites, said Gary Boatright, manager of historic site operations. The COVID-19 pandemic paused vacations, including both bus tours and family vacations, and Church activities to the sites the past two years. “Everybody is anxious to get out.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, the historic sites were closed to visitors, and many missionaries were sent home. In 2021, the sites began to reopen, but with requirements for reservations and other precautions. 

“Nothing about last year was normal,” Boatwright said. 

Read more: Last 2 years have been ‘unprecedented,’ ‘crazy’ and ‘inspiring’ at Church historic sites

So far this year, they’ve seen a bump in attendance during spring breaks, he said. While reservations aren’t required this year, those at the sites have been communicating with tour operators and, many times, have heard from others looking for places where a large group can meet. They are expecting families and others traveling to the sites. 

“We’re doing our best to accommodate everybody,” he said. 

Boatwright and his team have been working with the leaders at each site to prepare and train the missionaries for the busy summer. “Everybody is anxious and eager,” he said. 

Illinois Historic Sites President Craig Dalton said that they are working to make sure everyone has experiences to help them see that they are walking where the early Church leaders walked, the significance of what happened there, and that visitors are able to feel the Spirit and strengthen their testimonies. 

“Hopefully what they take away is having a connection to the Lord,” President Dalton said. “The point of historic sites is to strengthen a person’s conversion experience that’s ongoing.”

The Nauvoo Pageant is scheduled to for July 5-July 30, 2022, in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. It is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.

The Nauvoo Pageant is scheduled to for July 5-July 30, 2022, in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. It is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.

Credit: Jami Niles

Patience and planning

Patience and planning are two things Boatright advises for visitors to the historic sites this summer. 

Have patience and understanding for those at the sites, whether they are missionaries or fellow visitors, he said. Some of the sites are a little understaffed, and many new missionaries have been working hard and training, he said.

Places that are entirely indoors, such as the Mormon Battalion Historic Site in San Diego and the Grandin Building in Palmyra, New York, have capacity limits on the number of people who can be in the buildings. 

Boatright suggests planning ahead and being flexible to not only take the tours, but being mindful of the places “where people can get out and explore the site and have their own sacred experiences.”

In places, such as the Sacred Grove and Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York, and the Priesthood Restoration Site in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, once the tours are finished, there are places outdoors to walk and contemplate.

Read more: ‘Come, Follow Me’ — Exploring historic Nauvoo, Illinois

On each of the historic sites’ pages at history.churchofjesuschrist.org/landing/historic-sites, there is a “What to expect” section for each site, including an overview of what is available at each location and a recommended time to spend at each site. Also included are driving distances between each location for the New York sites and links to interactive maps of several sites.

Nauvoo offers a number of places visitors can visit, from historic homes and shops to a variety of performances in addition to the summer pageants. President Dalton recommends looking and planning ahead, through the Church’s website or nauvoohistoricsites.org; missionaries at the visitors’ center or the information center can help maximize visitors’ time there.

The Nauvoo Brass Band performs in historic Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Nauvoo Brass Band performs in historic Nauvoo, Illinois.

Credit: Bruce Cornwell

Timing and Nauvoo app

The Illinois Historic Sites has implemented an electronic ticketing system this summer for events that have limited capacity — the indoor performances of “The Promise” and “The Love of Our Savior” and the wagon and carriage tours — to help minimize the time people are waiting in line. 

Free tickets for such events are available each morning at 7 a.m. Central Time; one can reserve up to five tickets. The electronic ticketing system started Friday, May 27.

See history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/historic-sites/illinois/what-to-expect-when-you-visit-historic-nauvoo-and-carthage-jail or www.nauvoohistoricsites.org for information on online reservations and the app.

President Dalton said they are trying to “make sure that people have an enjoyable visit without feeling like they’re standing in lines or dealing with crowds.” 

Read more: What is the Temple District of Nauvoo and why does it matter to Latter-day Saints?

In the spring, there’s been plenty of room on the wagon rides and performances, President Dalton said. But, as of Memorial Day weekend, that changed as multiple bus tours started coming. Also during July, there will be more people in the area for the pageants.

And there are many other events and performances that don’t require tickets or reservations, he added.

For the two pageants, which alternate nights during the week, there are 3,000 seats available for each of the performances. Starting at 2 p.m. each day, visitors can “reserve” seats by stringing and labeling the provided twine between chairs, as has been done with past pageant seasons. Prior to the pageants, there is a Country Fair with games, dancing and other activities. 

For those hoping to avoid the crowds, spring and fall are good times to come, he said. 

Performing missionaries in “The Promise,” one of the shows in historic Nauvoo, Illinois.

Performing missionaries in “The Promise,” one of the shows in historic Nauvoo, Illinois.

Credit: Bruce Cornwell

Nauvoo and British pageants

When Latter-day Saints hear the words “pageant” and “Nauvoo,” they think of the city’s namesake production. Actually, there are two pageant productions there each year.

The Nauvoo Pageant explores the history of the Church in the city and how the Saints worked to build a temple. And the British Pageant, which is a version of the pageant performed every four years in Chorley, England, shares the experiences of the early members of the Church in the British Isles.

The British Pageant, which was scheduled to be performed in England this year, has been postponed another year.

The Gudmundsons, who have been involved with the Nauvoo Pageant since it was first performed in 2005, have seen how sharing the experiences of the early Church members in the pageants have helped people understand more about the Restoration. 

They were in the pageant in 2005, its first year, and had additional rehearsals to adjust blocking and the dances, Sister Gudmundson said. 

After one late rehearsal as they were walking back, one of their young sons said how it must have been hard to build the temple and then to leave it. 

“I knew before because you told me. Now I understand,” Sister Gudmundson recalled her son saying. She added: “When you’re in Nauvoo, you feel it. Now you understand.”

The Nauvoo Pageant is scheduled to for July 5-July 30, 2022, in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. It is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.

The Nauvoo Pageant is scheduled to for July 5-July 30, 2022, in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. It is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.

Credit: Jami Niles

The Gudmundsons were called to lead the pageant as president and companion in 2019. Planning for the pageants starts right after the other one wraps up, said President Gudmundson, who is president of the Nauvoo and British Pageants.

The pageants have a core cast of two dozen professional actors who perform throughout the month and then 130 in each of the five family casts, comprised of adults and children who volunteer to come for a week of rehearsals to learn the blocking and choreography, and then a week of performances. It takes more than a thousand people — the casts and volunteers — to put on the pageants, he said.

When the Nauvoo Pageant was postponed in 2020, the family cast members had been selected and organizers were in the process of auditions for the core cast. They had flown home from Nauvoo, where they had been meeting with local community and Church leaders about plans for the pageants.

During that time, the Gudmundsons had been working on plans for when the next pageant could move forward, along with the materials the family casts study while preparing for their time in Nauvoo. Also, with the end of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York, some of the inventory went to Illinois.

Their hopes for the pageants are the same as they would have been in 2020: “That people will come, and they will feel the Spirit and their lives will be changed,” President Gudmundson said.

See nauvoopageant.org for information about the pageants. 

The Nauvoo Pageant is scheduled to for July 5-July 30, 2022, in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. It is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.

The Nauvoo Pageant is scheduled to for July 5-July 30, 2022, in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. It is comprised of a core cast of professional performers and family casts that change each week.

Virtual tours

When the sites closed due to the pandemic, it jump-started developing virtual tours at each of the sites, Boatright said. The virtual tours will be continuing through the summer, though the timing may change depending on the site. 

The number of virtual tours has dropped since being implemented in 2020. Part of it is “simply because people have more things to do now,” Boatright said. 

Last year as the “Come, Follow Me” lessons were focused in the Doctrine and Covenants, there was a wave of requests at the sites based on the sections being studied, he added. The drop was expected.

“We recognize that the vast majority of members of the Church will never have the opportunity to visit them in person,” President Dalton said of the sites. “And so we really want to be able to allow them to visit virtually and have a very similar experience virtually, like they would if they were actually standing here.” 

The virtual tours mirror those that the missionaries lead in-person, President Dalton said.

Many of the site leaders are looking to promote the tours after the U.S. summer when it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Also, many of the sites have missionaries with various language abilities, including Spanish and Portuguese. 

In Nauvoo, there are eight companionships where at least one member speaks fluent Spanish and two more companionships that are fluent in Portuguese. 

“So we’re really looking forward to being able to offer these special places to people throughout the world, and more and more tourists in their own language,” President Dalton said. 

Virtual tour times are available through the site information through history.churchofjesuschrist.org/landing/historic-sites.

Sister Robison and Sister Taylor, missionaries serving at the Nauvoo Historic Sites, give a virtual tour in front of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Because of COVID-19, Church historic sites closed for in-person visitors in March 2020. They have since reopened.

Sister Robison and Sister Taylor, missionaries serving at the Nauvoo Historic Sites, give a virtual tour in front of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

Credit: Courtesy the Nauvoo Historic Sites

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