Skip to main content

Davis Journal

Church History Museum exhibit features artifacts transferred from Community of Christ.

Mar 28, 2024 08:16AM ● By Becky Ginos
Portraits of Joseph and Emma Smith painted during their lifetimes. Photos by Becky Ginos

Portraits of Joseph and Emma Smith painted during their lifetimes. Photos by Becky Ginos

SALT LAKE CITY—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced on March 5 that sacred sites and historic documents officially transferred from Community of Christ and some of those artifacts are now on display at the Church History Museum downtown. The exhibit ‘Sacred History: Treasures from the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’ opened on Monday. 
The display includes the original door from Liberty Jail where Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin and Alexander McRaewere were imprisoned in December 1838 to the spring of 1839. 

“There were two levels,” said Riley M. Lorimer, Director of the Church History Museum. “The door was to the upstairs room and they were in the basement which was sort of a dungeon room.”
Sometimes they would be allowed upstairs for visitors, she said. “The door was heavily reinforced with a metal plate. It’s heavy, 200-300 pounds. Can you imagine the great creak the door would make when it closed leaving the men inside and the women outside with their babies?”

Other acquisitions include the Kirtland Temple, historic buildings in Nauvoo and letters written by Joseph Smith to his wife Emma.

Most artifacts stayed in Kirtland, said Lorimer. “They stayed there at the historic sites for now. Liberty Jail was long since demolished so they brought the door to Salt Lake for now. The display is open through Oct. 26, 2024. When we take them off display we’ll decide where they will live permanently.”

Other acquisitions are the portraits of Joseph and Emma painted during their lifetimes. “These two portraits are one of the few done from life which is significant,” said Church History Museum Art Curator, Laura Paulsen Howe. “Some of the ones after their deaths were based on these two paintings.”

It’s great to show them together, she said. “It is indicative of their relationship together. They led the church together, raised children together, lost children together and struggled mightily over their trials, especially plural marriage.”

Emma kept the paintings together and hung them in every home she lived in until she died, said Howe. “It’s a testament to what those meant to her.” 

Howe said they are grateful for Community of Christ’s stewardship. “They respected and honored these (artifacts) for almost a century.”

Other items on display include a page from a manuscript containing Joseph Smith’s inspired revision, or “new translation,” of the Bible and the printed Bible he used.

“He used the King James version and by revelation made marks where corrections should be then the scribes would record those passages,” said Associate Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers, Spencer McBride. “These corrections were from the book of Moses.”

There is also a document purported to contain characters transcribed from the gold plates onto paper, he said. “You could stare at it for hours without learning what it says.”

The church also acquired seven letters from Joseph to Emma. “They were usually apart because Joseph would be away on church business,” said McBride. “It’s a special treasure to see Joseph and Emma’s relationship together and about their work as parents and their personality. He had written a post script of his love and devotion on the day he was murdered.”

Life was complicated then just like it is today, he said. “It’s messy but people can still do incredible things through a trust in God. You can read a book but to see things in person makes reality come alive that these are real events.”

As a historian the most important thing is making sure this is preserved, said McBride. “It’s not so much by who as long as it is preserved. Now our job is to take care of them. It's a witness to really historical events.”

Museum hours are Monday 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday–Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m. and Friday–Saturday 10 a.m.–6 p.m. It is located at 45 N W Temple St, Salt Lake City.