Celebrating the Sesquicentennial

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“Celebrating the Sesquicentennial,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 73–76

Celebrating the Sesquicentennial

Throughout the Church, numerous dedications, reenactments, and other events took place during the months, weeks, and days leading up to the 150th anniversary of the arrival of pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley.

Early Nebraska Settlement Memorialized

In August 1846 about 2,500 pioneers settled Cutler’s Park, a camp in Nebraska that served as Church headquarters for a few months until the pioneers moved to higher ground and formed the settlement known as Winter Quarters. To memorialize the short-lived Cutler’s Park settlement, a park with trees, flowers, and a monument was opened in April 1997. President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the site on 14 June.

Asking why Church members make sacrifices for the gospel’s sake, President Packer said, “The answer is simply because it’s true. … The invitation was open, as it is today. If you don’t believe the message that the Prophet gave, go ask for yourself, just as he did.”

Las Vegas Pioneer Plaque Dedicated

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, gave remarks at the 21 June dedication of a plaque honoring Church pioneers involved in the early settlement of Las Vegas, Nevada.

President Brigham Young sent 30 missionaries in 1855 to the location that later became the city of Las Vegas. They built a fort, which was vacated in 1857, and today the remains of the fort are a state landmark. “While in the early days the fort marked the Church’s presence in Las Vegas, the Las Vegas temple symbolizes the rise of the Church in present-day Nevada,” President Faust said.

Mormon Battalion Reenactment in Los Angeles

On 4 July 1847, members of the Mormon Battalion took part in the first U.S. Independence Day celebration held in what is today the city of Los Angeles, California. On that day battalion members dedicated Fort Moore, which they had built as one of their final acts of service before their release later in July.

On 4 July 1997, 150 years later, Church members from several southern California stakes commemorated those historic events with a celebration on the downtown Los Angeles site where Fort Moore once stood and where a 400-foot-long, 45-foot-high memorial wall now stands, built by the city in 1958 as a tribute to the battalion and other California pioneers. The celebration included some 80 men marching in 1847-style military uniforms, the raising of a 28-star American flag, the firing of a 13-gun salute and of an authentic 19th-century cannon, a brass band performing songs played at the 1847 celebration, and folk dancing by members of local Spanish-speaking stakes.

Earlier in the year, the California State Assembly passed a resolution stating: “California has been immeasurably enriched since its earliest days … by the historical events involving members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Mormon Battalion. [The assembly] takes great pleasure in honoring the Mormon Battalion and the Church for their loyalty to the United States, for their participation in the early development of the West and California, and for their honorable place in California history.”

Sculptures Dedicated in Iowa and Utah

Bronze copies of artist Bill Hill’s sculpture titled The Family, an Everlasting Heritage were dedicated in Mendon, Utah, and Council Bluffs, Iowa, on 12 July. The sculpture shows a pioneer father, mother, and daughter standing outdoors in prayer.

In Mendon, Utah, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the town’s new three-acre Pioneer Park, of which Brother Hill’s sculpture is a centerpiece. Elder Ballard also visited the nearby gravesite of Captain James G. Willie, who led the beleaguered Willie Handcart Company.

During the same day, another copy of Brother Hill’s sculpture was dedicated by a state government official on the grounds of the restored Kanesville Tabernacle in Council Bluffs, Iowa. A sculpture by Bob Keiser titled Henry W. Miller: Pioneer Entrepreneur was also dedicated at the same time. Henry Miller was the founder of Miller’s Hollow, later renamed Kanesville and finally Council Bluffs. In 1847 Brother Miller directed the building of the Kanesville Tabernacle, where Brigham Young was sustained as President of the Church.

First Salt Lake Valley Encampment Dedicated

On 22 July Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated a park located at 1700 South and 500 East in Salt Lake City, near where the pioneers made their first camp in the Salt Lake Valley 150 years ago. Constructed as part of sesquicentennial celebrations by members of the Salt Lake Emigration and Salt Lake Wells Stakes, the site was named First Encampment Park and presented as a gift to Salt Lake City.

President Hinckley Greets Wagon Train

“To every one of you who has made this long and difficult journey, we extend our sincere thanks,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley to members of the 1997 Mormon Trail wagon train at a welcome ceremony held on 22 July at This Is the Place State Park at the base of Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake City (see also “Letting the World Know,” page 54). “You have done something really extraordinary. You have caught the imagination of all of us.”

A large crowd of about 50,000 people was on hand to witness the arrival of the reenactment pioneer company, which left Omaha, Nebraska, on 21 April and employed pioneer means and routes to travel more than 1,000 miles across the plains to Salt Lake City.

“I am honored to salute you on this stirring reenactment of the Mormons’ arduous journey in search of religious freedom,” wrote U.S. president Bill Clinton to those participating in the trek. “The story of the Mormon pioneers is in many ways the story of America. It is the story of everyone who has ever traveled to our shores seeking freedom to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. And it is the story of a people who know that, with hard work and faith in God, they can accomplish anything.”

Handcart Presented to President Hinckley

A handcart built in Siberia and pulled through 17 cities in Russia and Ukraine was presented to President Hinckley on 23 July in the Church Office Building lobby in Salt Lake City.

“It’s a very sobering thing,” said President Hinckley, “to realize that this handcart first began to roll in Siberia last February, and all the places it’s been and all the people who have seen it. Finally, after this long journey, it has come to its stop in the valley of the mountains, the Zion of which converts … abroad dreamed throughout their lives in the early years of the Church.”

Filled with 3,000 letters of greeting and faith from Church members in Russia and Ukraine as well as 30 handmade dolls dressed in colorful regional costumes, the cart traveled from city to city via train and was ultimately shipped to Utah, where it joined the wagon train reenactment on the last part of its trek into the Salt Lake Valley. The handcart has been added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Church History and Art.

Pioneer of Progress Award

President Hinckley was among those presented with a Pioneer of Progress Award at the 1997 Pioneer Luncheon held 23 July in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City. He was honored for his spiritual leadership and for his efforts related to education, health services, and business development.

“We have honored the pioneers,” President Hinckley remarked at the luncheon. “When they came here in 1847, they were all of one faith. Since then we have become a great diverse community of many faiths, of many languages, of many cultures working together to build this great state and a great community. May we go forward with appreciation and respect.”

Salt Lake City Sesquicentennial Celebration

From This Is the Place State Park, the Mormon Trail wagon train journeyed through the streets of Salt Lake City on 23 July to Washington Square, where pioneer plows broke the first ground in the valley and where the City and County Building now stands. There the modern-day pioneers were welcomed by President Gordon B. Hinckley, Utah governor Michael O. Leavitt, and Salt Lake mayor Deedee Corradini. The celebration included a giant 150th birthday cake designed as a replica of Salt Lake City.

“I want to remind you that the ground on which you stand is ground with history,” said President Hinckley. “Orson Pratt stood on this ground and dedicated it for all who would come here through the subsequent years.”

Pioneer Day Sunrise Service

Remarks prepared by Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy were read by Elder O. Brent Black, an Area Authority Seventy, at the Pioneer Day Sunrise Service held at 7:00 A.M. on 24 July in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Elder Morrison was unable to attend because of knee surgery. Elder Morrison’s remarks centered around the challenges faced by oceangoing pioneers and included an audiovisual presentation about the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies.

“Obedience and faith coupled with courage and perseverance combine to make a mighty people,” Elder Morrison wrote. “How great is our debt to the sacrifice of those who have gone before us. They learned to know God on their journeys. Their heritage belongs to us all.”

Days of ’47 Parade

Acting as grand marshals of Salt Lake City’s Days of ’47 Parade this year were Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust of the First Presidency. Held continuously since 1849 except for an interruption during World War II, the parade is one of the largest in the United States. With the theme of “Faith in Every Footstep,” this year’s parade featured 61 floats, 20 bands, 8 antique vehicle units, and 20 horse entries. The last entry was made up of 30 wagons, 7 handcarts, and about 50 members of the 1997 Mormon Trail wagon train, which had arrived in the valley on 22 July after their three-month trek.

New Orleans Honors Mormon Immigrants

For about 18,000 Latter-day Saint pioneers in the 19th century, New Orleans, Louisiana, was the U.S. starting point of the trek to the Salt Lake Valley. To celebrate those pioneers, city officials of New Orleans declared 24 July 1997 Mormon Immigrant Day and made President Gordon B. Hinckley an honorary citizen of the city.

“The hospitality offered to them in this city was most welcomed by the sea-weary travelers and provided a much-needed measure of comfort and rest before they continued their journey up the Mississippi River and, eventually, west to the Rocky Mountains of Utah,” wrote President Hinckley in a letter which was read during a commemoration ceremony held in New Orleans.

Sesquicentennial Spectacular

Brigham Young University’s 65,000-seat Cougar Stadium in Provo, Utah, was filled to capacity two nights in a row for the Church’s “Faith in Every Footstep” pioneer sesquicentennial production, held 24 and 25 July. The 90-minute celebration of music, song, dance, and pageantry was also broadcast on KBYU and carried on the Church satellite system.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, chairman of the Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee, welcomed the audience, and President Gordon B. Hinckley made brief remarks. “We are a blessed people,” President Hinckley said. “What a wonderful thing it is to have a great legacy, to have behind us men and women of faith and courage and determination and vision and understanding and industry and of prayer and hard work. They were our forebears. They have passed to us the baton to carry on in the same spirit.”

Two years in development, the production featured a 500-foot-long replica of the Mormon Trail, 4 stages, 4 water fountains, 130 automated light fixtures, 32 speaker clusters around the field, and dramatic scenic elements. Involved in the performances were 14 handcarts, 2,500 costumes, 3,000 balloons, 600 flags, 4 campfires, 4 colorful maypoles, and 200 confetti cannons. The evening production was preceded both days by the Pioneer Rendezvous, a five-hour fair that featured exhibits, demonstrations, games, and entertainment.

Native American Conference

A one-day conference for Native Americans was held on 25 July in Provo, Utah. Activities for children included stories, games, and songs, and workshops for adults and youth focused on self-esteem, leadership, Native American genealogy, and Native American pioneers. Between 400 and 500 people attended, representing tribes from across the United States.

Attending the conference were the three General Authorities on the Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee: Elders M. Russell Ballard and Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy.

“The Church is moving forward among the children of our Father at a pace beyond anything you can comprehend,” said Elder Ballard in his remarks. “You would not believe what has happened in Latin America. You would be overwhelmed if you had the opportunity to shake hands with Lamanite stake presidents and bishops who have come out of the world and embraced the gospel. In a very short period of time, they have taken the responsibility to magnify their calling and do what the Lord asked them to do.”

Ensign Peak Garden Dedicated

President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the new Ensign Peak Memorial Garden on 26 July at the base of Ensign Peak, the vantage point from which Brigham Young and others surveyed the broad vista below.

“This has been a most remarkable season, this great sesquicentennial celebration,” President Hinckley said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had anything quite equal to it in all of the history of the Church.”

The dedication ceremony included addresses by other Church and government leaders and music performed by a pioneer-style brass band. At one point a parade of 200 flag bearers ascended Ensign Peak carrying the flags of the world’s nations while the audience sang “High on the Mountain Top” (Hymns, no. 5). As President Hinckley cut the ribbon at the entrance of the garden, colorful balloons were released.

Soldiers dressed in 1847-style uniforms helped commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mormon Battalion activities in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Barbara J. Jones.)

Some 50,000 people greeted the 1997 Mormon Trail wagon train at This Is the Place State Park in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Craig Dimond.)

At the Days of ’47 Parade, the Salt Lake Temple is visible behind a float depicting temples. (Photo by Tamra Hamblin.)

A scene from the Church’s Sesquicentennial Spectacular held in BYU’s Cougar Stadium. (Photo by Jed Clark.)