75th Anniversary of the Hill Cumorah Pageant
By Allie Jeppson, Church News staff writer
The Hill Cumorah Pageant, America’s Witness for Christ, which is celebrating its 75th year of existence this year, is a beloved and well-known presentation among Church and community members as well as visitors to the area.
Each year multitudes of people from far and wide gather together on the historic Hill Cumorah at Palmyra, New York, USA, to watch 10 scenes depicting selected Bible and Book of Mormon events. This year’s pageant was accompanied by several other activities and displays that commemorated the milestone event.
Seven pageant performances were effectively executed this year, on July 13, 14, and 17 through 21, with approximately 750 cast members and 150 staff, costuming, and work-crew members. With a crowd of 33,000, attendance numbers were up about 3,000 from last year’s pageant, making the 75-year mark even more memorable.
“The 75 years of the pageant really, in a sense, parallel the past years of the Church as a whole,” said the pageant’s president, Dwight Schwendiman. When the pageant started, upper New York was not very open to the Church, but now, “our greatest boosters are people in the town governments of Manchester and Palmyra. … They are among the strongest supporters of the pageant,” he said, adding that this 75th anniversary is really a celebration of the Church across the world and how it is continually being received in a more positive light.
To celebrate the pageant’s 75 operating years, a number of other activities and exhibits took place in addition to the pageant. An anniversary committee, separate from pageant volunteers, organized events such as historical discussions, a visual time line, costume exhibits in the visitors’ center, and even a time capsule filled with small mementoes, notes, and pieces of costumes from this year’s performance. The capsule will be opened in 25 years. Also, in the past 75 years of the pageant there have been seven pageant directors. On each night of the seven performances, historical presentations, held before the performance, were given honoring these directors, five of whom were physically present.
Brother Schwendiman said that hosting these extra activities brought “strong feelings of emotion” to all and encouraged cast members to give their best performance. “There was a great outpouring of love among the cast members, perhaps beyond what we’ve had as a cast [before],” he said.
The weather was even at its best, said Laurel Macleod, public relations director for the pageant. “It was an excellent summer for a pageant,” she said, adding that there was only one cloudy night, and beautiful weather prevailed for the majority of performances. But no matter the weather, the Spirit was continually present.
Brother Schwendiman agreed. “As we celebrate our past, it is but a foundation for what yet is going to be in the future,” he said. “Those who came to view the pageant who are members of the Church had their testimonies strengthened. Those who came who are not members but believe in Christ went away better informed, and those who came to see a really good show, got a really good show.”