One hundred forty-five years after the Prophet Joseph Smith died with his brother Hyrum at the jail in Carthage, Illinois, the site was dedicated as a memorial to him and to what he accomplished.
More than four thousand people gathered at the dedication of the newly renovated Carthage Jail complex on June 27. They rose to their feet and sang, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” as President Ezra Taft Benson took his place on the stand for the dedicatory service. He was accompanied by President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, who offered the dedicatory address and prayer.
President Hinckley dedicated the Carthage Jail complex “as a place hallowed and sacred to which people of all faiths may come and learn, may ponder and reflect, may meditate and pray while thinking upon the lives and works of those who died here.”
In his remarks, he referred to the persecution of Latter-day Saints during the Church’s early days, then expressed gratitude to “God our Eternal Father for a more tolerant day and greater understanding.” Acknowledging the presence of Jayne Thompson, wife of Illinois Governor James R. Thompson, President Hinckley added, “The presence here of Mrs. Thompson today says more than mere words can say. It is a new era, a wonderful season.”
Mrs. Thompson spoke in the absence of her husband, who was attending the state legislature. She said the Carthage Jail complex will surely remind visitors of the contributions of Latter-day Saints. She said it should also foster the growth of religious, political, and social tolerance, which is “part of the fabric not only of Illinois but of America.”
During the ceremonies, President Benson presented Mrs. Thompson with a copy of her husband’s genealogy.
Elder Loren C. Dunn of the First Quorum of the Seventy, President of the North America Central Area, conducted the dedicatory service. His counselors in the Area Presidency, Elder Jacob de Jager of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Elder John Sonnenberg of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, also attended.
Elder Dunn said that the message of the restored Carthage Jail complex is “one of healing and reconciliation.” He noted the presence of many special guests, including state senator Laura Kent Donahue; Verne Hagstrom, mayor of Quincy, Illinois; Garth Treatch, mayor of Warsaw, Illinois; and alderman Verlyn Bethard of Carthage. David M. Kennedy, former U. S. secretary of the treasury, and J. LeRoy Kimball, former president of Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., were also among the guests. So were descendants of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
Elder Dunn pointed out that President Benson and President Hinckley both have an Illinois connection in their background. President Benson’s great-great-grandfather, Ezra T. Benson, who eventually became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, was converted in Quincy in 1840. And Bryant S. Hinckley, President Hinckley’s father, served as president of the Church’s Northern States Mission. In that position, he was in charge of a two-year effort that culminated in 1939 with a celebration of the centennial of LDS settlement in Nauvoo. This effort included a refurbishing of the Carthage Jail.
Today’s newly renovated Carthage Jail was restored as nearly as possible to the 1844 standard. The complex now includes an expanded visitors’ center, with a theater showing a nineteen-minute film on the life of Joseph Smith. Nearby, there are six commemorative monuments containing selected quotations from Joseph and Hyrum Smith, as well as a statue of Joseph and Hyrum by sculptor Dee Jay Bawden.
Visitors to the jail complex were impressed with the park-like atmosphere of the grounds. Orville Hale, a local resident, commented: “I played on this block as a youngster. I never thought it could be this beautiful.”
Music for the dedicatory services was provided by the Nauvoo and Carthage Area Choir, under the direction of Maughan McMurdie, a professor of music at Western Illinois University. Brother McMurdie also sang “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” the song sung by Elder John Taylor in the Carthage Jail on the afternoon Joseph and Hyrum died.
Correspondent: Mike Trapp, first counselor in the Sunday School presidency, Nauvoo Illinois Stake.