“The Heavens Are Opened: The New Church History Museum Exhibit,” Ensign, July 2016, 40–47
From watching a movie depicting the First Vision on a 220-degree circular screen to seeing the string that kept the original manuscript of the translated Book of Mormon tied together, we can be transported back in time again and again as we walk through the new exhibit in the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City (an online and mobile experience is also available at history.lds.org/section/museum).
Titled The Heavens Are Opened, this exhibit sets forth the revelations and events that make up the early history of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, from its beginning through the Saints’ exodus from Nauvoo. It is divided into several primary areas, each with its own theme and message.
Here we meet the Smith family and learn how the historical context of the spiritual awakenings in New York led young Joseph Smith to James 1:5 in the Bible, followed by his prayer in a grove of trees and the appearance to him of God the Father and Jesus Christ. Here we experience a dramatic reenactment of that vision in a circular theater with a 220-degree screen—certainly a highlight of our visit to this exhibit.
Here we see a replica of the golden plates, a page of the original translation of the Book of Mormon, and the press upon which the first copies of the Book of Mormon were printed.
Here we learn of the restoration and reorganization of Christ’s Church on earth. We see artifacts from the Peter Whitmer home. Interactive touch screens connect us with other sites of the Restoration.
Here we learn of the growth of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio, and the simultaneous attempt by the Saints to establish Zion in Independence, Missouri. The Liberty Jail exhibit is roughly the same size and height as the cell where Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Caleb Baldwin, and others were held for over four months. We can stand in that low, small space and feel the cold air blowing on our legs.
Here we learn of the growth of the Church, including the organization of the Relief Society. Using a touch screen, we can enter the Prophet’s red brick store and attend a Relief Society meeting with Emma Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, and Mercy Thompson. We also see a magnificent mural of Nauvoo, fragments of the temple, and a replica sunstone. In connection with the events in the Carthage Jail, we see art of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Nearby we can see the death masks of the two brothers.
This new exhibit is an effort to provide more detail about and greater access to the history of the Church. While it is an exhibit rich in art and artifacts, there is an emphasis on storytelling to connect us with individual pioneers. Kiosks, interactive maps, and theater experiences are targeted to the youth of the Church and their families. The hope is that by visiting this exhibit, we will have spiritual experiences connecting us with the revelation and restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.