Members walk 1846 Trail of Hope

Paying homage to ancestors

NAUVOO, Ill. — Honoring a request made by President Gordon B. Hinckley during the dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, Church members streamed out of the temple and walked the Trail of Hope Sunday evening, June 30, paying homage to their familial and spiritual ancestors.

Members linger at waterfront of Mississippi River after walking the Trail of Hope.
Members linger at waterfront of Mississippi River after walking the Trail of Hope. Credit: Photo by Gerry Avant

During 13 dedicatory sessions June 27-30, many references were made to the original Latter-day Saints of Nauvoo. Many speakers, particularly President Hinckley, spoke of these early members' faith in the Lord and their commitment to obey His commandments. Moving accounts were related of how the early saints continued to work on the original Nauvoo Temple, determined to complete it although mobs railed against them and they knew that as soon as they finished building the temple in 1846 they would leave it behind. They had a singular devotion: to build a house of God, and turn over to Him their very best work.

During the concluding moments of the dedication, President Hinckley noted that it was "a very hot day" in Nauvoo. Nevertheless, he asked that those attending the dedication in Nauvoo to take a few minutes to "walk down Parley Street to the waterfront," to the landing on the Mississippi River from which the saints departed Nauvoo and crossed into Iowa on their westward trek. He asked members to leave behind the comfort of their air-conditioned cars, to walk and take time to read plaques along what is designated as the Trail of Hope — even the Latter-day Saints' version of the Trail of Tears — and read of those who left behind the beautiful temple and the City of Joseph they had built in just six and a half years.

"Look across to Iowa," President Hinckley said, inviting the members to ponder on those past events. He asked that they imagine that it wasn't a hot day in June, but a day of bitter cold in February, the month when the first company of saints left Nauvoo under dire circumstances.

When the dedicatory session concluded, the doors of the temple opened. What happened next was a sight to behold: More than a thousand members exited the temple, some by its front doors from which they could see the late afternoon sun glistening on the Mississippi River. More people exited other doors. Families and friends found each other in the crowd and joined a throng walking down the hill, with the Nauvoo Temple to their backs. It wasn't hard to imagine the Latter-day Saints of Nauvoo leaving the temple for the last time in 1846.

Members who came from the temple were joined by hundreds more who attended the concluding session in the Nauvoo Illinois Stake center where they watched proceedings via satellite

What unfolded on June 30, 2002, was as a spiritual snapshot, the capturing of a moment to remember forever: Members of the Church heeded a prophet's voice. It was 95 degrees F.; humidity readings hovered in the 90s. The distance covered, approximately a mile, wasn't significant, but the walk itself was.

The crowd thinned as people took different routes. Some went through a grove of trees, some kept to dusty footpaths and others walked along gravel roads. They eventually merged on Parley Street and continued their walk to the river's edge.

Parents pushed baby strollers and carried infants in their arms. Toddlers perched on the shoulders of men and older boys. A few in motorized wheelchairs made their way down the roadway. The going got tough for some being pushed in conventional wheelchairs as the road turned to loose gravel and dirt. Some walked with the aid of crutches or canes.

Until after dark, a steady stream of people walked down Parley Street and back up on their return. It was a beautiful, yet rather somber occasion. The mood was contemplative. Individuals, families and groups of friends paused to read some or all of the 28 markers along the Trail of Hope.

At a marker with a statement by Newell Knight on his journey down Parley Street on April 24, 1846, many in the crowd on this June evening 156 years later looked in the distance and saw a scene similar to what he saw: " . . . here we all halted & took a farewell view of our delightful City. . . . We also beheld the magnificent Temple rearing its lofty tower towards the heavens. . . . My heart did swell within me."

The plaque bearing words of Bathsheba Smith touched many: "My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor, and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotions in my heart . . . I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future; faced it with faith in God. . . . "

Many members wiped tears from their eyes. When approached for interviews, some spoke in voices trembling with emotion.

Mary Hart of the Garden Park Ward, Salt Lake Bonneville Stake, is a descendant of James and Drusilla Hendricks, who were among Nauvoo's original Latter-day Saint settlers. Sister Hart exemplified the spirit of obedience in going to the water's edge. She walked as far as she could while using crutches, then resigned to sitting in a wheelchair while a younger relative, LeAnn Hord of the Mesa 18th Ward, Mesa Arizona East Stake, pushed her. Every bump along the uneven verge caused pain. Still, she persisted in going the distance.

Mike Larsen, originally from Blackfoot, Idaho, who now lives in Iowa City, Iowa, made his way along the route on crutches. "It's nothing compared to what the pioneers did," he said. "It's an opportunity. It's a testimony-building experience to follow the prophet and see everybody else doing so as well."

Kale and Ginger Jentzsch of Golden, Colo., with their daughters, Ashley and Candy, said that the walk along the Trail of Hope was a nice family excursion, a perfect way to top off the dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

The reason so many took the walk was summed up by 4-year-old Anna Jensen, who said she sings "Follow the Prophet" in Primary.