The 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, evoked memories of a similar celebration held in December 1905 on the occasion of the centennial observance.
In his remarks from the Sharon, Vt., site of a visitor complex memorializing the birth, President Gordon B. Hinckley told Friday how the 38-foot marble monument that now commemorates the legacy of Joseph Smith came to be dedicated. The text of his comments follows:
"A century ago, President (Joseph F.) Smith dedicated the monument which marks the Prophet's birthplace. Today while the sun was shining, we walked about this magnificent polished granite shaft, thinking not only of the man it memorializes, but also of the providence of the Lord in bringing it into place. I wish to take a few minutes to tell you about it. It is a miraculous story all by itself.
"Junius F. Wells is responsible for its presence. He was the son of Daniel H. Wells, who was associated with the prophet in Nauvoo, and who served for twenty years as a counselor to President Brigham Young. In 1905, Junius Wells suggested to the First Presidency that the church acquire the old Solomon Mack farm which straddled the line that separates South Royalton and Sharon, Vermont. He further suggested that a fitting monument be erected here.
"The Presidency accepted his suggestion and authorized him to proceed. He came here and was able to check the titles to the old Mack holdings and was able to acquire the property. This spot where we stand is known as Dairy Hill.
"Brother Wells then set out of find a suitable piece of granite. Where cold there be a large enough piece from which could be shaped a dressed pillar thirty-eight-and-a-half-feet tall, one foot for each year of the prophet's life? He searched through the quarries of Vermont and finally found a suitable piece in the quarry in Barre. The rough stone was laboriously taken from the quarry to the mill where it was shaped and polished. More stone was required to provide a suitable base.
"Eventually, the granite was ready, but there remained the almost insurmountable task of moving it, first by rail and then by wagon to the place where it was to be erected.
"A bridge over the White River had to be greatly strengthened. A special wagon was found with steel tires twenty inches wide and axles eight inches thick. Twenty-two horses were required to haul this load of some forty tons from the railroad terminal up the hill. Slowly, day after day, the great ponderous load was moved. It was now the middle of December, and the monument was to be in place and ready for dedication on December 23.
"It was necessary to cross through a meadow, and there a swamp lay directly where the wagon had to go. Rocks were dumped into the swamp. They sank out of sight. Hardwood planking was tried, but that did not help. The onlookers asked Brother Wells what he was going to do. He said, 'going to pray.'
"The weather was relatively warm for December. Before retiring for the night he opened his heart, pleading with the Lord to help him find a way to get the monument in place.
"That night when he was in such desperate need and offered such a moving prayer, the temperature miraculously dropped 30 degrees in a very short time. In the morning when Junius examined the swamp, it was frozen solid. The horse-drawn wagon was able to pass over without difficulty.
"A proper foundation base was prepared at the site of erection, and by means of a great block and tackle, the polished granite shaft was raised without injuring it in any way.
"It was a miracle. At that time, it was probably the largest single polished shaft anywhere in America, if not the entire world. It may still be so.
"Its creation and erection were almost like Joseph's description of his own life when he said:"I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by striking with accelerated force against mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty."