To anyone who would listen, Martin Harris testified to having been shown the Book of Mormon plates by an angel, and with his dying breath he uttered that testimony.
Brother Harris, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, died in this pastoral community in July 1875. Today, his message has greater resonance than ever before. At his gravesite in the Clarkston Cemetery, a new walkway and setting have just been completed around the monument marking the grave. And the historical musical drama, "Martin Harris, the Man Who Knew," has been presented in a nearby amphitheater every year since 1983.The pageant played this year to capacity audiences Aug. 16-17 and 20-24, and continues Aug. 27-29. Tickets are required for the limited seating in the amphitheater, though admission is free. This year the Church Missionary Committee approved an additional night's performance.
Ticket manager Pearl Clark said 1,900 general-public tickets were gone in less than three weeks, all before Jan. 1. Another 8,300 tickets set aside for members bringing less-active LDS and non-LDS friends were mostly distributed within a week.
"Ward and stake mission leaders order most of the missionary tickets," explained Denzel R. Clark, pageant president. "We also get many individuals ordering tickets for the less active and non-LDS family and friends. Every year we hear stories of persons coming into the Church after attending the pageant and of a greater determination for members to be more active and to bear their testimonies."
Pres. Clark said the message of the drama is the importance of following the living prophet and bearing witness that Jesus is the Christ. "It shows that faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ helps men and women overcome weaknesses to build up the Kingdom of God on earth, and that everyone can be a part of this great cause."
With a cast of 154, the story is presented from the perspective of Martin Harris recalling the events of his life pertaining to the Restoration: his becoming acquainted with the prophet Joseph Smith, his wife's progressive deafness straining his relationship with her, the translation of the Nephite record, the encounter with Prof. Charles Anthon, the loss of the 116-pages of manuscript and the angel's visitation in which Martin is shown the plates.
"Over 500 people donate their time to make this a successful production," director Duane J. Huff said. "This is the 14th year, and every night is packed."
Before each evening's performance, pageant author and lyricist Rhett S. James, a faculty member at the LDS institute in Logan, stands on the pageant set and presents a lecture on the life of Martin Harris. He answers questions from audience members, clarifying facts and dispelling myths. For example, he said on opening night that Brother Harris did not die in poverty, but remained well-to-do up to his death.
Pageant goers take the opportunity to visit the gravesite, improved this year with a walkway and setting designed by University of Utah architecture student Steve James. The grave is a frequent destination for Aaronic Priesthood youth groups commemorating the restoration of the priesthood.
A printed program rich with information is handed out to audience members. This year's program tells of the recent rediscovery of a letter from William Pilkington of Smithfield, Utah, one of those who heard Martin Harris' testimony and then passed it along to others.
With original spelling, capitalization and punctuation preserved, here is a quotation from the letter: "I testify to the whole World that I held up his right hand while he bore his last and dying Testimony, that he with the Prophet Joseph Smith did stand in the presence of an Angel of the Lord while he held the Golden Plates in his hands, and that he saw The Engravings on the Plates. and after the Angel assended up into Heaven the Heavens were opened and he heard the voice of God declare that everything the Angel had told them was verly true, and that The Book of Mormon which contains the fullness of the Everlasting Gospel was translated correctly."