“Washington Temple, Missionary Tool,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 72–74
As the date for the mid-November dedication of the Washington Temple approached, the already long lines of temple visitors grew even longer. Interest in the temple was high not only because of its commanding position on the skyline of the Washington, D.C. area, but also because of the extensive coverage given the temple and the Church by leading newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations.
Special articles about the temple appeared in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. Extensive coverage was given to the Church as a direct result of a press conference held to introduce the temple and President Spencer W. Kimball to national press representatives.
Typical of the missionary work effected by the presence of the temple was this description given by the National Catholic News Service:
“… the three-story celestial room, stands as a symbol of the exalted state man may achieve through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The news release goes on to describe the gospel principles practiced in the temple, including marriage for eternity, baptism for the dead, man’s relationship to his Father in heaven, and the plan of salvation.
“In the temple which bears the Mormon name, Catholics and members of many other faiths will be getting a rare insight during the weeks ahead of how another religion is practiced. It will be a fascinating discovery,” the release concludes.
Public interest in the new Washington Temple was so great that tickets for the tours were gone before the public tours actually began on September 17. Because of the demand for tickets, the original hours of 9 A.M.–9 P.M. were changed to 7:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
However, the heavy interest still continued, and another full week was added to the schedule for visitors to tour the temple. When the temple was finally closed to visitors on November 2, over 758,000 persons had toured the newest landmark in the Washington, D.C. area.
“This is a very impressive monument to man’s aspirations,” said Paul Cummings of Friendship, Maryland, after leaving the temple.
“My visit to the Mormon Temple was the most unique experience that I have had. It seems as though I could feel the reverence within the walls,” said Milt Perry of Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Perry is blind, and he visited the temple on one of the special tours conducted for blind persons.
Another blind visitor participated in the “tour by touch” and commented on the beauty and feel of the temple. “Even the oxen in the baptistry have unique personalities. All of them are different. There is a powerful and special spirit in the building,” she said.
“Rich, plain, and simple, and all done in such good taste” were the remarks of Mrs. Sophie Parkhurst, Washington, D.C., after her visit. Her husband, Lewis Parkhurst, was impressed by the devotion of the Latter-day Saints he met on their visit, commenting that all Latter-day Saints seemed so tranquil.
The majority of temple visitors were from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia areas, which is known as the Washington Metropolitan area. However, a survey of the parking lot indicated that approximately one-third of the visitors were from other parts of the country. Visitors from as far away as Australia signed cards at the temple indicating that they would like more information about the Church.
Tours of the temple were silent. Instead of a tour guide speaking, placards in each room briefly explained its purpose. The baptistry area was the last room on the tour. As guests left the temple, missionaries and other volunteers were available to answer questions and distribute Church literature.
“We have the best job because we see the people as they complete the tour and after they see the movie,” said Iola Sabin of the temple missionary committee. “Very often a crowd leaves the movie, ‘Man’s Search for Happiness,’ without a dry eye in the entire group,” she said. Upon leaving the temple, visitors are given a card to fill out if they desire more information about the Church or the temple.
According to Elder Lee Yates, a missionary from Salt Lake City, 15 to 20 percent of the visitors returned the cards. “This is an impressive figure when it is considered that most persons who filled out cards brought their whole families with them,” he said.
Every evening the cards were sorted at the Washington, D.C. Mission home and sent to the respective districts for followup. Many wards in the Washington, D.C. area reported receiving 25 inquiry cards each day. Many additional stake missionaries were called to handle the increased interest that resulted from the temple tours.
The cards often read: “It’s magnificent. Thank you for allowing us to come.” A man from York Haven, Pennsylvania, said, “It is beautiful and a great contribution to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
A man from Springfield, Virginia, wrote, “My wife and I are very much impressed with the magnificence of your building which we think symbolizes your good will.”
Every day during public tours the parking lots were filled with a steady stream of visitors. The heaviest crowds came on Saturdays, and on most of the Saturdays a double line formed from the temple annex back to the flagpole, almost 500 feet away.
More than 29,000 persons visited the temple on Saturday, October 29—a sunny, warm day. But even on windy days the crowds persisted. October 16 was a cool and rainy Wednesday, but 19,203 persons still came to view the temple.
At these busy times, most people willingly waited an hour before they could even enter the temple. The success of the temple tours can partially be attributed to more than 1,600 volunteers, who came from four Washington, D.C. area stakes and contributed days and hours at the temple as parking attendants, ushers, maintenance personnel, missionaries, and security personnel. Volunteers ranged from Rosel Hyde, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who was in charge of crowd control every Monday morning to Francis Miller, a senior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, who served as a relief usher while she was investigating the Church.
Mondays at the temple were set aside as special tour days. School classes, churches, synagogues, and special interest clubs visited the temple on those days.
President Spencer W. Kimball dedicated the temple in services beginning November 19 at 9:30 a.m. His dedicatory prayer was repeated at several services held until November 22.
More than 40,000 members of the Church took part in the dedicatory services. More than 4,000 tickets were distributed for each of ten sessions. Members were seated in the Solemn Assembly Room, the chapel, and the ordinance and sealing rooms.
Members of the Church from all across the temple district—the entire eastern half of the United States and eastern Canada—planned for months to attend the temple dedication.
Full coverage of the dedication and pictures of the interior of the temple will be published in the February issue of the Ensign.