Foresight preserves historical legacy

Wilford C. Wood felt strongly that Church history needed to be preserved – "lest we forget."

This phrase, written on his personal stationery, portrayed foresight. And that foresight resulted in one of the most valued personal collections of artifacts, documents and lands pertaining to early Church history and the life of Joseph Smith.With less than a quarter century having passed since his death on Jan. 17, 1968, at age 74, it is even more evident today that Wood was a man who recognized the importance of preserving the past. In making vision a reality, he dedicated much of his life to finding and gathering documents and memorabilia of significant Church history events and acquiring historical properties during a period when few people realized the importance of historical preservation. Some of these items and many of the lands have been turned over to the Church, but the Wilford C. Wood Museum in Bountiful, Utah, still houses many historical items available for the public to view.

When one visits the Wood museum, it's like stepping back in time. The museum consists of two buildings, one which used to be the family-owned fur shop and the other the original home built by Wood's father, George C. Wood. In the first building, against one wall stands the original organ from the Salt Lake Theater. Other memorabilia housed here include a water color of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the ivory handle of the whip used by Joseph Smith while he was lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion, and the belt buckle from his Nauvoo Legion uniform.

In the second building are housed some of the original pipes from the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ and the first pulpit from the Tabernacle, along with some of the original benches.

Wood's daughter, Leilah W. Glade, explained that her father originally named the museum "Mother's Home of Learning" in honor of his mother. It included his family home where he was reared and was a place "where people could come and learn more about the early history of the Church," said Sister Glade.

Outside the museum, dedicated in 1961 by President David O. McKay, stands a life-size bronze monument depicting Joseph Smith receiving the golden plates from the Angel Moroni. Wood bought this from the Church in 1959.

Wood's vast collection was gathered from the early 1930s until his death.

Among the most remarkable artifacts that Wood collected are the original casts of the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. During a 1983 interview, Wood's widow, Lillian Wood, who died Sept. 15, 1986, related how her husband heard of a woman living north of Salt Lake City who had the original casts of the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Wood purchased the casts, which were made of Nauvoo clay shortly after the martyrdom. According to the Dec. 23, 1936, issue of the Deseret News, Wood acquired the masks on Dec. 14, 1936.

Priceless documents collected by Wood included the uncut sheets of the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon and handwritten court records of the trial of those who were involved in the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

The uncut sheets of the Book of Mormon and the casts of the death masks were donated to the Church's Historical Department in 1990 by Wood's daughters, Sister Glade and Mary W. Cannon. These items are on display at the Museum of Church History and Art.

Other items donated in 1989 to the Church from the Wood collection include a crystal sacrament goblet from Nauvoo, a 1844 Liverpool edition of the LDS hymnal owned by Emma Smith, a metal ballot box from Nauvoo, a leather wallet owned by Emma Smith, a fountain pen with a case that belonged to Brigham Young, and Joseph Smith's school books.

Among properties Wood purchased and turned over to the Church at or below cost were eight out of ten plots of ground comprising the original Nauvoo Temple block; the John Taylor home and the Times and Seasons building in Nauvoo; Adam-ondi-Ahman in Missouri; the Liberty Jail at Liberty, Mo.; property near the Susquehanna River at Harmony, Pa.; the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio; and the Newel K. Whitney store in Kirtland, Ohio.

Some of the property Wood purchased in Nauvoo, such as the John Taylor home and the Times and Seasons building, are among the buildings that have been restored through the efforts of Nauvoo Restoration Inc.

As a voluntary member of and photographer for the Utah Trails and Landmarks Association during the 1930s, Wood also took some of the first film footage of Church events. The footage contains rare shots of early General Authorities and dedications of monuments at Winter Quarters, Neb., and at the Hill Cumorah in New York. These films were donated to the Church by Sister Wood in 1978.

"I think if he hadn't had the foresight to buy the things that he did, the Church wouldn't have them today," said Sister Glade. "I think he was really a marvelous man who was able to see into the future and realized it was important to get hold of all these items when he could, rather than wait until people became interested."

During a recent interview, she added, "He just had a great love for the prophet Joseph and the early history of the Church and felt it should be preserved."

Steven L. Olson, manager of operations for the Museum of Church History and Art, told the Church News the Historical Department verified the authenticity of artifacts donated to the Church by Wood and his family .

"I feel that Wilford Wood was inspired by the Lord to preserve these things at a time when, frankly, there wasn't much interest," Olson commented. "Now that the Church has these things and is displaying and interpreting them properly, his legacy of preservation is magnified."

This legacy took seed upon Wood's return from the Northern States Mission in 1918. At that time, he determined to help preserve items and lands pertaining to Church history. However, Sister Cannon surmised that her father's love for history was "inbred." One of his grandfathers, Daniel Wood, was the founder of Woods Cross, Utah, where Wilford C. Wood grew up. Another grandfather, Joseph Harris Ridges, built the renowned organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

Wood searched for Church artifacts and lands while carrying on the fur business. Sister Glade explained that when her father traveled to New York City on business, he stopped along the way at Church historical sites. It was during many of these trips he heard about or discovered items or lands that he purchased with his own money.

"He was very determined," recalled Sister Glade. "Sometimes it took him years to be able to buy a piece of land or an item he felt was important. He would keep working on it until finally things worked out so people were willing to sell."

LaMar C. Berrett, a professor of Church history at BYU who cataloged all documents in the Wood collection, explained Wood was "very forceful and when he wanted something he went after it."

This determination to collect Church artifacts benefits visitors to the Wood museum. Sister Glade said an average of 1,300 people visit the non-profit museum each year, mainly Church, Scout and school groups. She explained that tours are available by appointment only during the summer months. No admission fee is charged.