Since my move to Nauvoo in 1968, my admiration and love for the early Saints has steadily increased. With the day-by-day realization of their hardships comes a clearer understanding and appreciation of the legacy they left.
Today, Nauvoo Restoration Inc., is doing some renovation and upkeep on the historic Heber C. Kimball Home. I am gathering artifacts to be placed in an infant's room. This endeavor has required research and reading of various diaries of the early Saints, all of which has given me a keener insight into their lives. Because of this project, the mothers and children of the past are very much on my mind. As a mother, my heart is especially touched by the knowledge of what our sisters and their families endured.The thought of bundling up small babes and starting across the frozen Mississippi River in February would indeed be a true test of one's faith. In February 1996, we held an "Exodus Commemoration" during which we walked several blocks down the street known as "The Trail of Tears," to the river's edge in 15-below-zero weather. This gave us all a more realistic understanding of what it was truly like to leave Nauvoo in the middle of the winter.
Nauvoo was an oasis for a time for the early Saints, a time for building, organizing and preparation, as well as a time of joy and fellowship. It was a time when the sisters were organized to direct their tender feelings towards others in need. A time when the eternities were opened to them.
With the beginning of Relief Society came a united way of assisting the many Saints in need. Today, sisters and Relief Society groups come to commemorate the place where the organization began, both in the home of Sarah Granger Kimball and the red brick store, where the Prophet Joseph Smith gave the sisters the keys to the Relief Society organization.
Today, it is our responsibility to convey these feelings to those who come to this sacred place. As people come, both members and non-members, it is inspiring to see how quickly the spirit of Nauvoo touches their hearts. You see it in the tears of joy when someone finds the name of an ancestor in the Lands and Records Office, or stands on the property once owned by a loved one from the past, or sees an artifact on display owned by a great-great-grandmother, or visits the graveside of an infant in the Old Burial Grounds.
In Nauvoo, I have seen seeds planted, testimonies take root and renewed determination blossom. I have also seen the feelings of the community towards the Church gradually change over a period of time. As members of the Nauvoo Ward and the missionaries serving here reach out with helping hands and loving service to those who live in Nauvoo and the surrounding communities, interest in our historic sites, the Church and our activities increases.
Opportunities to render service to others present themselves daily. There have also been many service projects performed here by youth groups. They have cleared river banks, made rag rugs for historic sites, cleaned the Old Burial Grounds, polished statues in the Women's Monument Gardens, painted the fence around the Carthage Jail block, worked on the boat harbor, cleaned parking lots, helped with the mowing, repaired sidewalks and worked on community projects, just to name a few activities.
When the "City of Joseph" pageant is performed, it is an especially busy time, for Nauvoo Restoration Inc., the Nauvoo Ward and the community. I have to admire the families who take their vacation year after year to come and perform. As one of the songs states, "The things you believe in are the things you do." Nauvoo swells by the thousands as the people come to the pageant. During the summer we have had as many as 1,876 in our sacrament meeting.
From May to September, we have 12 college-age actor/singers perform family entertainment, Monday through Saturday at the visitors center. Another production is also performed in the historic Cultural Hall, with a cast comprised of senior missionary couples. Both productions tell of the history of Nauvoo.
In November we hold a Christmas How-To Fair and Symposium, which is presented in conjunction with the community. This activity was first held by Nauvoo Restoration Inc., several years ago in order to show people how to make Christmas decorations that may have been used in the Nauvoo period. It was also designed to stimulate interest in the Christmas decorations in our historic sites. The response was so great that business organizations and other churches now take part. For the symposium, noted historians from Iowa and Illinois come to lecture and participate on a panel discussion.
Christmas in Nauvoo is a wonderful time because some of the restored sites are decorated. The Pendleton Log School is a favorite site of mine as well as many patrons, with its garlands and cookies hanging from the rafters. Gingerbread cookies are passed out to visitors, so not only is there a treat but also the wonderful aroma of gingerbread greets those who come.
It was interesting to watch the filming of "Legacy." A great deal of the filming took place in Nauvoo. Shooting took place in some of the restored homes, and other sites were constructed on the farm area belonging to Nauvoo Restoration Inc. I was especially impressed with the temple that was built for the movie. It was done on a point overlooking the Mississippi River where one could see up and down the river for several miles. The feeling I got there was a glimpse into the past, a kinship with how the early Saints must have felt as they viewed their temple on the hill. Today there is a special peaceful, spiritual feeling on the temple block. I know that this ground was dedicated to the Lord.
For the past three years BYU has held a Winter Semester Study Program in Nauvoo, using Nauvoo Restoration Inc., facilities. These students keep us all on our toes with their enthusiasm and thirst for history. We also reap the benefit of the lectures given by the professors. This program enriches our lives as well as theirs.
For me, the jail in nearby Carthage holds a different feeling, one almost wants to whisper there. As you enter the room of the martyrdom, your mind is filled with the realization of the events that took place within those walls. I come away with a deeper appreciation for the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum and their willingness to give everything, including their lives for the Lord. It instills within me a renewed determination to live the gospel and to be more grateful for the blessings that we enjoy today.
I am grateful for the opportunity that is mine to associate with the missionaries and employees who are serving in Nauvoo. And I am especially thankful to our Father in Heaven for the privilege of living in this sacred and beautiful place.
Carol Hill, administrative assistant of Nauvoo Restoration Inc., is responsible for the artifacts in Church-owned historic sites in Nauvoo. In addition to administrative responsibilities, she is also an interior decorator at the sites and BYU semester housing coordinator. She serves with her husband, Jake Hill, as stake missionaries.