Celebrating its 75th year of existence, the Hill Cumorah Pageant, "America's Witness for Christ," is a beloved and well-known presentation among Church members, family and friends or those who happen to be in the area.
Each year, multitudes of people from far and wide gather together on the historic Hill Cumorah at Palmyra, N.Y., to watch ten scenes depicting selected Bible and Book of Mormon events. While the annual pageant proves successful each year, this year's was different as it accompanied several other activities and displays in commemoration of the milestone event.
Seven pageant performances were effectively executed this year, running on July 13, 14 and 17-21 with approximately 750 cast members and 150 staff, costuming and work-crew members. With a crowd of 33,000, attendance numbers were up about 3,000 from last year's pageant making the 75th year mark even more memorable.
"The 75 years of the pageant really, in a sense, parallels the past years of the Church as a whole," said the pageant's president, Dwight Schwendiman. When the pageant started, upper New York was not very open to the Church but now, "our greatest boosters are people in the town governments of Manchester and Palmyra. … They are among the strongest supporters of the pageant," he said, adding that this 75th anniversary is really a celebration of the Church across the world and how it is continually being received in a more positive light.
To celebrate its 75 operating years, a number of other activities and exhibits took place aside from the pageant. An anniversary committee, separate from pageant volunteers, organized events such as historical discussions, a visual time line, costume exhibits in the visitors' center and even a time capsule filled with small mementoes, notes and pieces of costumes from this year, to be opened in another 25 years. Also, in the past 75 years of the pageant there have been seven pageant directors. On each night of the seven performances, historical presentations, held before the performance, were given of these directors, five of whom, were physically present.
Brother Schwendiman said that hosting these extra activities brought "strong feelings of emotion" to all and encouraged cast members to put on their best performance. "There was a great outpouring of love among the cast members, perhaps beyond what we've had as a cast," he said.
The weather was even at its best, said Laurel Macleod, public relations director for the pageant saying that "it was an excellent summer for a pageant." She added that there was only one cloudy night and beautiful weather for the majority of performances. But no matter the weather, the Spirit was continually present.
Brother Schwendiman agreed. "As we celebrate our past, it is but a foundation for what yet is going to be in the future," he said. "Those who came to view the pageant who are members of the Church had their testimonies strengthened. Those who came who are not members but believe in Christ went away better informed, and those who came to see a really good show, got a really good show."