Dale Heaps is one of a few individuals privileged to reach inside a just-opened temple time capsule.
And not just any time capsule, but the record stone of the Salt Lake Temple, the iconic edifice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sixteen summers ago, Heaps was one of a handful involved in locating and drilling open the record stone and removing its contents — books, publications and gold coins originally placed inside the hollowed-out foundation rock on Aug. 13, 1857.
Fractures in the stone and the ensuing moisture and condensation inside resulted in extensive damage to the stored paper products hidden well more than a century inside the temple's foundation.
"It was disappointing, the condition it was in," said Heaps in a recent interview in his Holladay, Utah, home, recalling the paper fragments looking and feeling like wet papier-m?he.
"But it was interesting to think that [President] Wilford Woodruff and other leaders of the church had put everything in there in the beginning," the retired LDS Church senior conservator added.
Artifacts, publications and other mementos are stored in cornerstone boxes in modern-day temples — boxes that are stainless steel, airtight and watertight. In the church's early days, the actual hollowed-out stones themselves were used.
The Prophet Joseph Smith placed the original Book of Mormon manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House hotel in 1841. When the cornerstone was opened in the 1870s by Emma Smith's second husband, moisture had damaged much of the manuscript.
In 1857, LDS Church President Brigham Young and other leaders placed historic books, pamphlets, periodicals and a set of Deseret gold coins — denominations of $2.50, $5, $10 and $20 — inside the stone box along the base of the south wall toward the temple's east side.
In conjunction with the Salt Lake Temple's centennial restoration efforts and subsequent celebration, representatives of the church's Historical Department, Jacobsen Construction Co. and A-Core Inc. — under the direction of the late Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Quorum of the Seventy and executive director of the Historical Department — worked for several months in 1993 to locate the record stone.
To reach the stone's believed location, a hole was dug about 10 feet into the ground beside the temple's foundation near the southeast corner. A small exploratory hole was drilled into the stone's side to confirm the hollow area, with a proctoscope borrowed from a local hospital used to provide images of the deteriorating contents.
The decision was made to remove and preserve what little remained, and a 16-inch-diameter hole was bored into the side of the stone.
On Aug. 13, 1993, Heaps donned a change of work clothes and a small oxygen mask to help battle the rank odor, drilling dust and the late-afternoon heat. He then climbed down and reached into the record stone.
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"There was enough room to get my arms and head in and to get the records," said Heaps, recalling he used a trowel to remove the compressed, mush-like material and near-mint-condition coins. "With all that rotting paper, it was musty — and hot inside."
Conservators worked on the remaining fragments — now housed in the Church History Library — and were able to identify bits and pieces from about half the items of the original inventory, including a Book of Mormon translated in French and Italian and historical publications such as the Deseret News, Millennial Star and Times and Seasons.