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Free Library in Philadelphia features Church exhibit

PHILADELPHIA, PA.

The banners promoting the exhibit hang prominently outside the Free Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “An American-Born Faith: Writings from the First Century of Mormonism,” they read, advertising an exhibit about the Church and its history.

Allison Freyermuth, head of the rare book department of the Free Library and co-currator of the exhibit, said “An American-Born Faith” is the result of local interest in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania temple, dedicated on Sept. 18 and located just east of the Free Library.

“We knew people would be very curious” about the temple and Mormonism, she said, calling the temple a “new neighbor” of the library.

“An American-Born Faith” explores “historic Mormon material” from the 19th and early 20th centuries from the Free Library collection and the Rosenbach collection, which includes rare books and manuscripts and is housed in Philadelphia’s historic district.

Jonathan H. Stephenson, chair of the Philadelphia temple historical subcommittee, said committee members worked with the Free Library on the details of the exhibit. “Free Library staff invited suggestions from the Church” for exhibit layout and verbage, he said.

The Free Library of Philadelphia was founded in 1891 as the city’s first public library system. The rare book department of the Free Library is among the largest of American public libraries.

Many people, Ms. Freyermuth said, toured the exhibit after visiting the temple open house.“We have had Mormons and non-Mormons very interested in [the exhibit].”

The exhibit, co-curated by Kathy Haas, will remain open through Feb. 6. Highlights of the exhibit include early copies of the Book of Mormon; texts printed in Deseret, a Mormon phonetic alphabet; 19-century travelers’ descriptions of Church settlements; and publications documenting the range of Americans’ reactions to the new faith.

Ms. Freyermuth said many visitors are interested in the section of the exhibit that highlights the Deseret alphabet. The phonetic alphabet was created “to help foreign-born converts learn English.”

She has also enjoyed hearing the family history stories of visitors — whose ancestors were drawn to the United States after joining the Church.

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