In the early days of Salt Lake City, Utah, tourists arriving at the train station were often charmed into horse-drawn buggy tours of the city. As the drivers conducted their passengers around the city, some of the tourists were entertained with exaggerated or false stories of “Mormon” doings.1
James Dwyer, a local bookseller, tried to combat this situation by making available small cards with the Articles of Faith on one side and a view of the temple on the other side.2 He spent an hour every day handing out the cards on Temple Square. But many visitors to the city heard only the fantastic stories based on hearsay or speculation.
Without a plan to welcome and inform visitors, Salt Lake City had ironically become one of the poorest places in the country to get an accurate report of Latter-day Saint beliefs.
At a local home missionary (an equivalent of today’s stake missionaries) meeting in 1898, Ben Goddard, an English convert (see sidebar article, page 32), suggested that an effort be made to present the message of the Church to visitors to the city. For at least three years the idea was discussed without a clear plan being formed.
The situation changed quickly after an experience of LeRoi C. Snow, son of President Lorenzo Snow. LeRoi was in the vicinity of the Eagle Gate in downtown Salt Lake City when he overheard one of the buggy drivers telling stories to his tourist customers. As the driver approached the Beehive House, he hinted at ominous doings: “This is the Beehive House, where Lorenzo Snow, the President of the Church lives. The building is kept closed to the public. No one is ever permitted to go in. We do not know what goes on in there.”3
LeRoi approached the driver and thanked him for the chance to hear the misleading stories firsthand. Then he introduced himself to the tourists and invited them to go through the Beehive House and meet his father, the President of the Church. The tourists were surprised and undecided. When the driver attempted to rush them on, the issue was settled. They accepted LeRoi’s invitation.
LeRoi led them through the house, introduced them to his mother, answered questions, and took them to his father’s office, where they met President Snow. The visitors to the city were impressed. The Snows were committed to take action to make accurate information about the Church and its members available to visitors. The recommendation to build an information bureau on Temple Square was given renewed energy.4
The first Bureau of Information, an octagonal building twenty feet across, was built at a cost of five hundred dollars.5 The building was located just inside the south gate of Temple Square and began service on 4 August 1902. A committee of four men was called to take charge of the work, with 105 young men and women from the Mutual Improvement Association (M.I.A.) called to help. The brethren were given the strict charge that the work was to be financially self-supporting. None of the workers was paid, and the work of the Bureau was sustained by donations. Ben Goddard, who had suggested the idea for a bureau four years previous, was to take the lead. Within the first two weeks of service, more than five thousand people had signed the register. Volunteer guides welcomed visitors to the city, provided pamphlets, explained Latter-day Saint beliefs, and answered questions.
The work of the Bureau grew so rapidly that in 1904, less than two years after the work began, “a new, commodious building of granite foundation and brick walls was erected on the south side of [the temple] block.”6 Even the new building was not big enough for the expanding work. Additions were made to the building in 1910 and 1918. During the summer of 1920, four hundred thousand visitors were served by the expanded Bureau. As the work progressed, the Bureau required the leadership of a full-time director: Ben Goddard.
While the original Bureau had been built to provide information about the Church, it soon assumed additional roles. The Bureau became a museum with collections of artifacts from Church history, Utah’s Native American heritage, and general history. Souvenirs from all over the world were available to tourists. Missions throughout the Church wrote to the Bureau for pamphlets. Beautiful books about Utah and its people were given to visitors. The Bureau produced pamphlets to correct misunderstandings about the Church and its members. For example, the Bureau produced a publication on the World War I record of Latter-day Saints in order to dispel the myth that members of the Church were not patriotic citizens of the United States.
The Bureau also provided church supplies such as sacrament trays for wards. Members wrote asking about employment prospects in Salt Lake City. The Bureau even served as an overflow facility and provided its own program when general conference attendance outgrew the Tabernacle. Saints sang songs, and speakers were drawn from among the General Authorities for these alternate sessions on the steps of the Bureau of Information. In the years of its operation, the Bureau had grown to be a distribution center, chamber of commerce, public information service, museum, and tourist center.
Ben Goddard directed the work of the Bureau from its beginning in 1902 until his retirement in 1929—twenty-seven years of dedicated service. It is estimated that during that time “two million of God’s children were met courteously, escorted through the grounds where, though they might not believe its teachings, they might at least sense the spirit of ‘Mormonism.’”7
In 1978 the brick building on Temple Square was replaced with the South Visitors’ Center, and what had been called the Bureau of Information became known as the Temple Square Visitors’ Center. In March 1995, the two buildings became the Salt Lake Temple Square Mission. Now the Church has twenty visitors’ centers in locations all around the world—carrying on the work of informing and inspiring visitors to sites of special significance to Latter-day Saints.
The Lord has said, “Be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). Truly, that scripture describes the great contribution that the Bureau of Information made toward representing the Church and its members in their best, true light and helping spread the gospel in the latter days.
Who was this five-foot-three-inch convert from England who started and directed the work of the Bureau of Information for most of the first three decades of its service?
As a young man, Ben Goddard fell in love with Martha Alice (“Allie”) Nield. After Allie’s parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and left England for Utah, Allie and her sisters eventually traveled to Utah to be with their parents. Ben followed Allie to Utah, and the two soon married and settled in central Utah near Allie’s parents.
Ben traveled the state of Utah selling school supplies. In the course of his travels, the Saints in various settlements preached to him the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He was baptized in Goshen, Utah.
In 1892, at the age of forty, Ben was called to serve a mission in New Zealand. In order to help support his family, he wrote articles from the mission field for the Deseret Evening News. Ben wrestled with the Maori language but loved the Maori people. After three and a half years in the mission field, he was released and returned home.1 He organized the New Zealand Missionary Society, perhaps the first missionary society in the Church. For more than thirty years he helped the people of New Zealand by sending materials to them or by helping them immigrate to and settle in Utah.
Once home from his mission, Ben took a job at ZCMI, a large co-op store, and taught missionary classes at LDS Business College. In 1901 Ben was only a few days short of fifty. His adult life had been filled with a variety of odd jobs. It is easy to imagine that he longed to do a more meaningful work. Just one year later, however, his opportunity came when he was called to take charge of the new Bureau of Information.
In his service at the Bureau, he organized and trained volunteers, edited and distributed pamphlets about the Church, designed and printed booklets about Utah and the Latter-day Saints, oversaw the collections of the museum, and, in general, informed and cared for visitors to Temple Square.
In 1918, after sixteen years of directing the work at the Bureau, Ben received a blessing in which he was told that “in the mission that you have performed in the midst of the nations of the earth … [the Lord] has confidence in your integrity and devotion to the work which you are called upon to carry out; and He will bless you and lengthen out your days upon the earth.”2 Ben oversaw the expanding Bureau work from the time he was fifty-one until he was seventy-eight, for twenty-seven years.
President George Albert Smith wrote to Ben at the time of Ben’s retirement from the Bureau: “You have occupied a place all your own. You have watched over the Bureau of Information in its infancy and cared for it in its mature years until it has become a power for the dissemination of truth equal to any mission. You have performed a great work.”3
It was appropriate that, after his retirement, Ben was called to serve as a temple worker. The closing months of his life were spent serving in the hallowed temple that he had spent decades explaining to Temple Square visitors. When he passed away on 5 December 1930, his funeral was held in the Assembly Hall on his beloved Temple Square. Family, friends, and coworkers paid tribute to the man who had dedicated his life to removing prejudice and testifying of the restoration of the gospel.