Walking into the Beehive House, located at the corner of South Temple and State streets in downtown Salt Lake City, is like walking back in time. Visitors for the past few decades have been able to take free guided tours of one of the oldest surviving adobe brick buildings in Utah. They saw rooms with artifacts or reproductions of items that existed when Brigham Young built and lived in this house with his family and entertained guests of all calibers as governor of the Utah Territory.
But beginning on Friday, Sept. 24, visitors could walk from the late 1800s upstairs to 1918 and see the bedroom and office of President Joseph F. Smith as the rooms might have looked when he received the vision of the redemption of the dead on Oct. 3, 1918, which is now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants section 138.
These are “special rooms,” said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Joseph F. Smith’s great-grandson. “And of course, we would acknowledge that because President Smith was President of the Church and left a tremendous legacy to the Church as well as to his family. But you don’t have to be in a room to have revelation. And you don’t have to be president of the Church to have revelation.
“The Lord extends that gift to all those who will come to Him in the spirit of prayer, desiring and anxiously seeking answers to their lives. Garden-variety members of the Church, wherever they are in the world, are as close to Heavenly Father as the president of the Church when it comes to seeking guidance and direction in their lives. That’s the marvel of the Restoration of the gospel.”
Sister Kristen Oaks, a great-granddaughter of Joseph F. Smith, said her great grandfather received one of the “most significant revelations ever given” in the Beehive House.
“He views our lives after we leave this world. His words enlighten and teach us truth about life and death.”
During his October 2018 general conference address, President Ballard spoke about Joseph F. Smith 100 years to the day after the prophet received the vision on the redemption of the dead.
In his address, President Ballard invited listeners “to thoroughly and thoughtfully read this revelation. As you do so, may the Lord bless you to more fully understand and appreciate God’s love and His plan of salvation and happiness for His children.
“I testify that the vision President Joseph F. Smith received is true. I bear witness that every person can read it and come to know it is true. Those who do not receive this knowledge in this life will surely come to know its truthfulness when everyone will arrive in the spirit world. There, all will love and praise God and the Lord Jesus Christ for the great plan of salvation and the blessing of the promised Resurrection when body and spirit will once again be reunited, never to be separated again.”
Now, just before the October 2021 general conference begins, the bedroom and private office of Joseph F. Smith have opened to the public for visitors to learn about this revelation in a new way.
Re-creating Joseph F. Smith’s rooms
The Beehive House was Brigham Young’s primary residence from 1855 until his death in 1877, including periods where he conducted his duties as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs. Members of the Young family lived there until 1893. The Church then purchased the building in 1898, and it became the official residence of two more Church presidents: President Lorenzo Snow, 1898-1901, and President Joseph F. Smith, 1901-1918. In 1920, Beehive House was given to the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, now the Young Women organization, and was used as a boarding house for young women until 1959.
In past years, tour guides would explain that these two rooms in the Beehive House were where Joseph F. Smith received the vision of the redemption of the dead in 1918 — a crucial revelation to the Church. “However, it’s a little bit hard for people to experience in a room that’s decorated Brigham Young style,” explained Andrea Maxfield, a curator for Church historic sites.
“It’s a very sacred and good example of a modern-day revelation,” she said. “So we decided to refurbish those rooms.”
Maxfield joined the Church History Department’s team working on this project in May 2020 when it asked her for help in researching what the rooms looked like. When she asked what had been discovered already, “They said, ‘Nothing.’”
She began her research with Utah newspapers during the time he lived at the Beehive House. “I went through Joseph F. Smith’s papers, looked at pictures, correspondence, journals, everything like that,” Maxfield said. “Anything you can glean will usually tell you a little bit about their personality, items they may have purchased or things like that.”
Problems arose due to not knowing which of Joseph F. Smith’s five wives lived with him at the Beehive House. “After we’d exhausted all of our resources, the most we could glean was that he had a great love for the Hawaiian people, having served three missions there. And so we thought, well, we can do something about Hawaii,” she said.
“At that point, the Lord intervened. We got a call from a descendant of Joseph F. Smith who had a rocking chair that she felt prompted to donate to the Church, which belonged to Julina Lambson Smith.”
Maxfield interviewed this descendant, who related a “wonderful, beautiful story” about Julina Smith’s important role in President Smith’s life. She also put Maxfield in touch with other descendants who donated, loaned or shared furnishings, photos, stories and information the Church History Department didn’t have.
One descendant loaned Julina Smith’s Hawaiian quilt to Maxfield’s team so a textiles expert could make a replica. Another descendant donated President Smith’s rocking chair, which accompanies Julina Smith’s chair in the refurbished bedroom. Another donated a reading table Julina bought when she was 11 years old by picking peaches.
Other items that visitors will see include a record player with Tabernacle Choir recordings, a typewriter with a facsimile of the vision transcribed from Joseph Fielding Smith’s shorthand, Joseph F. Smith’s personal copy of the six-volume history of the Church (1905) and his complete collection of the Millennial Star (a few duplicates are displayed opened to pages with his name inscribed on them), a replica of Julina Smith’s 50th anniversary dress, and a replica of a painting of a Hawaiian landscape. Each item tells a bit about the lives and personalities of Joseph F. Smith and Julina Lambson Smith.
Visitors will note the presence of Julina Smith through her personal items on display and her involvement in President Smith’s life as his companion.
“If you look up anything on Julina, the most they say about her is that she was the wife of a Prophet and the mother of a Prophet,” Maxfield said. “And I think that’s not the whole story.”
The family members who Maxfield spoke to said that when President Smith had this revelation, “most likely he would have confided in his wife about this revelation. She knew the workings of how things happen. She would have sent for her son [Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, President Smith’s assistant] to come and record that revelation.”
“The narrative we’d like to tell [with these rooms] is that the revelation was very deeply personal to Joseph F. Smith.” Maxfield explained that he experienced the deaths of several loved ones throughout his life — his father was martyred and in total he lost 14 children. By 1918, the world had endured the first World War and was in the middle of the Spanish flu epidemic.
He was especially haunted by the death of his first child, Mercy Josephine, when she was 3 years old. Maxfield said that just before she died, “She was so sick and [Joseph F. Smith] held her in his arms and paced the floor with her all night. In the morning, he said to her, ‘My pet, you didn’t sleep at all.’ And she looked at him and she said, ‘I’ll sleep today, Papa.’” Shortly thereafter, she died.
In the refurbished bedroom, visitors will see a photo of Julina and Mercy Josephine. To further represent the importance of family, there is also a photo of Joseph F. and Julina Smith on their golden wedding anniversary, and a portrait of Joseph F. Smith’s entire family at the time he was called as President of the Church in 1901, which hangs over the fireplace.
On the day the rooms opened to the public, two descendants of Joseph F. Smith visited and paused to point out their great-grandparents on this portrait. President Ballard is a grandson of Elder Hyrum Mack Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who died of a ruptured appendix shortly before the revelation was received and a great-grandson of Edna Lambson Smith, and Sister Oaks, wife of President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, is a great-granddaughter of Joseph F. and Julina Smith.
“I’m just so thankful to be a descendant of a family that loved each other,” said Sister Oaks. “If there is one thing that unites us as a family, it is not only that he was President of the Church, but that he had extra capacity to love his family.”
President Ballard said, “Joseph F. Smith had the great gift of seeing the gospel, and then teaching it in language that everybody really could understand. You start reading … his explanation of doctrine, and it’s beautiful and it’s generally simple.”
He recalled that President Gordon B. Hinckley often said that “when he had a question, doctrinally, or he had something that he wanted to better understand, he would turn to Joseph F. Smith.”
The process of revelation
In addition to the refurbished rooms at Beehive House, a temporary exhibit of original and facsimile copies of documents related to this vision will be on display from Sept. 28, 2021, to Nov. 18, 2022, on the first floor of the Church History Library. The documents include a Bible owned by Joseph F. Smith; a journal belonging to his son, then-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and a journal of President Anthon H. Lund, first counselor in the First Presidency.
The Bible has highlighted the verses in 1 Peter that Joseph F. Smith was pondering before receiving the vision of the redemption of the dead, and which are quoted in Doctrine and Covenants 138.
“Joseph Fielding writes in his journal on Oct. 17 that he recorded, at his father’s dictation, the revelation,” Maxfield said, explaining the significance of the journals on display. “And then we have Anthon H. Lund’s journal, which, on Oct. 31, he writes that Joseph Fielding read the revelation to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles], and that they accepted it as true and the word of God.”
Maxfield said, “The purpose of that exhibit is to show how revelation is received.”
Letters that Joseph F. Smith wrote show that he felt the Lord with him all his life; a copy of a page from his Book of Mormon shows he pondered on life after death. His revelation was received, recorded, accepted by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and then canonized as scripture. This progression of revelation was a message they felt would go along well with the refurbished rooms in the Beehive House, Maxfield said.
Sister Oaks said that the rooms are a reminder that each person has the capacity to receive revelation.
“When you bring people here, I would really teach them that Heavenly Father wants them to hear Him, just like our Prophet [President Russell M. Nelson] says. … For me, one of the most significant passages of the Doctrine and Covenants came out of this room.”
Beehive House is open for tours beginning at 10 a.m., and the last tour of the day starts at 5:30 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. No reservation is required. Group sizes for tours are 10 people or fewer. Face masks are recommended on tours for those who have not been fully vaccinated. Social distancing is strongly encouraged.
The Church History Library is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit the library’s website for more information or to request help with Church history research.