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Martin Harris story inspires pageant-goers

The testimony of Martin Harris - one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon - has stretched far beyond his grave at the top of a knoll in Clarkston, Utah, some 20 miles northwest of Logan. It has gone out with the testimony of David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery in millions of copies of the Book of Mormon since Martin spent $3,000 to print the first copies in 1830.

And for the last 13 years, his testimony has also been lifted to crowds of intent listeners at a pageant named in his honor. The pageant, "Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew," held in an amphitheater adjacent to the cemetery where he's buried, drew an average of 2,700 people per night during the seven nights it was performed Aug. 11-19 - more than tripling Clarkston's population of about 700 residents.Pageant Pres. Denzel R. Clark and his counselors, Rhett S. James and Duane J. Huff, direct a cast of 100, a crew of 500 and hundreds of supporting members from five local stakes in portraying the life of the witness to the Book of Mormon.

Of note were the narrators of the pageant: "the Man" and "Jimmy." These two characters were portrayed by the great-great- and great-great-great-grandsons of Martin Harris. The Man, who is the spirit of Martin Harris, was played by Neil Harris of Ventura, Calf. His son, Jason, 19, portrayed Jimmy, a young man who can't understand why some people feel so strongly about a dead man's words.

The two have performed their roles together for six years. Neil participated in the first production of the pageant as a dancer. A calling to be a bishop took him away from the pageant for five years. Then, in 1989, with the injury and subsequent death of Larry Cantwell, who played The Man, Brother Harris was asked to take the part.

The Man takes Jimmy back to the days of Martin Harris' prosperity in Palmyra, N.Y., and shows how the early Church leader gained a testimony and eventually a witness of the plates of gold.

All cast members travel from across the valley and from as far away as California to participate in the production. Cast members relate that it is the Spirit they feel while performing that draws them to participate.

"It is incredible to watch the performance and see the price paid for his testimony," said Amy Mitchell, 22, of Lewiston, Utah. "It wasn't the money; that was a drop in the bucket; it was his family and respect. He lost pretty much everything for his testimony." Sister Mitchell portrayed Mrs. Stoddard, a resident of Palmyra.

"I guess that's our challenge, to be like him," she continued. "It has helped me to think what I'm willing to give. I'm grateful for what he paid. I hope I can do the same."

The comprehensiveness of the story is what impressed Paul Morgan of Logan. Brother Morgan portrayed Josiah Stowell, the man who purchased the Smith family home. "As the title of the pageant says, Martin Harris knew," Brother Morgan said. "And the pageant explains the heartfelt thoughts of not only him, but of his wife, Lucy."

People have traveled from as far away as Germany, Australia and Japan to see for themselves the Martin Harris story. Among those attending the pageant this year was Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, president of the Utah North Area. Accompanying Elder Morrison was Elder Wayne Peterson, area authority. Elder Morrison said he was so impressed with the pageant that he decided his family must have the opportunity to see it.

Impressed with the historical accuracy of the pageant and lauding the professionalism of the production, Elder Morrison said the pageant was a credit to everyone involved. "It was wonderful," he said. "I just wish it could be seen by more."

However, as Elder Morrison pointed out, the pageant was so well attended "you couldn't have put a mouse in there."

During the productions people were sitting on the side lawns and bench ends. Nineteen thousand tickets were issued to the pageant this year, and tickets have not been available for months.

Tickets for the 1996 production of "Martin Harris: The Man Who Knew" will be available by mail after Feb. 1, 1996, Brother Clark said.

Members of local stakes are encouraged to invite their less-active and non-LDS friends to the pageant every year. To help facilitate that, 8,400 tickets are reserved for non-members.

"The 100 cast members are filled with the missionary spirit and are eager to portray the events surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon," Brother Huff said. "The pageant was designed to teach and strengthen testimonies of the reality of the restored gospel."

Included in pageant activities is a dinner before the performance at an LDS meetinghouse in Clarkston, and lectures on the life of Martin Harris given by Bill L. Hill, an artist. Brother Hill presents his testimony of Christ and the restoration through his art each night before the pageant.

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