Church History Museum Comes Alive with New Event

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 6 May 2013

Article Highlights

  • The “Museum Alive” event was held April 22 at the Church History Museum.
  • The event included individuals portraying figures from the past. “Brigham Young” and other figures from Church history greeted visitors.
  • Visitors were given hands-on experience pulling or riding in a real 1850s-style handcart.

Visitors to the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City are accustomed to viewing artifacts that, in their own inanimate way, recount the drama of yesteryear. It enhances the experience if they can interact with live personalities involved in that drama—even if the personalities are docents portraying the actual figures from the past.

That was the thinking behind the “Museum Alive” event held April 22 at the Church History Museum.

For example, attendees were greeted in the lobby by Brigham Young, portrayed by Michael Barnard, who conversed with them about the “temple that’s going to be built” right across the street (the museum is directly west of Temple Square).

LeVar Densley portrayed John Gilbert, the printer who typeset the first edition of the Book of Mormon at the Grandin Press in Palmyra, New York. “I never got that spirit of gathering,” he said of the Mormon pioneers who went west. “Maybe I’ll have to sit down and read the book.”

Joe Brandon, portraying blacksmith William Furlsbury Carter, told of being asked by Brigham Young to stay in Kanesville, Iowa, for a time to make sure the pioneer wagons were fit for the journey west. “I didn’t come to the Salt Lake Valley until 1850,” he said.

Sam Weston played the part of Martin Peck, the blacksmith who built a drop hammer to mint the gold coins designed by Brigham Young to make use of the gold dust brought back from California by the Mormon Battalion members after 1849. He demonstrated the device, which dropped with a frightening crash to mint the coins.

Paul Smith, portraying stonecutter Michael Turpin, told some little known facts about the construction of the Salt Lake Temple. When the stonemasons were finished, the temple was a hollow shell, he said. “Which is not the way to build buildings, but there’s a genius in that, because by 1885, Salt Lake City was electrified. It had gas. It had telephone service. It was almost a new century, and so they were able to use new technology to build the interior of the building.

“In fact, they scrapped Truman Angel’s original plans for the inside and redid it. He was going to have it like the Kirtland Temple or the Nauvoo Temple, and we didn’t need that. So his son, Truman Angel Jr., and Joseph Don Carlos Young redesigned it the way we have it today.”

Outside the museum, some of the attendees experienced what it is like to pull or to ride in a real 1850s-style handcart, provided by Pioneer Heritage Co.