Memorial to the prophets

Published: Wednesday, May 20 2009 12:15 a.m. MDT

A large surface vault covering marks the grave of President George Albert Smith.

Christine Rappleye, Deseret News

With cameras in hand, Tom and Becky Welker stopped by the grave of President Gordon B. Hinckley to take a quick picture and pay their respects at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

The Welkers, from New Market, Tenn., were in Salt Lake City for their son's wedding last week and found time to do something they hadn't done in previous trips to Utah — visit the graves of prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I've always wanted to," said Becky Welker, 42. "It's just because they were a big part of my life."

They also stopped by President Spencer W. Kimball's grave. He was the prophet while she was growing up and the stake president when Tom's parents had their temple recommend interviews before their wedding. The couple also visited the grave of President David O. McKay, who was the prophet while 54-year-old Tom was a teenager and young adult.

There are about 110,000 graves and 120 acres in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Eleven presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are buried there, along with apostles and other notable pioneers and civic, business, education and political leaders. The first burial in the cemetery was in 1847.

In addition to Presidents Hinckley, McKay and Kimball, Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee and Howard W. Hunter are buried there.

President Brigham Young's final resting place is in the Pioneer Memorial Park, which is just east of Temple Square. Several of his wives were buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Three presidents of the church are buried outside of Salt Lake City: the Prophet Joseph Smith, in Nauvoo, Ill.; President Lorenzo Snow in Brigham City; and President Ezra Taft Benson in his hometown of Whitney, Idaho.

"Not a day goes by that people don't come in and ask for maps," said Mark E. Smith, the Salt Lake City Cemetery's sexton and maintenance manager. A map of where LDS leaders are buried was compiled by a Temple Square missionary, he added. They also have maps of the cemetery for people who come in search of relatives.

Many people leave flowers or other items at the grave sites, Smith said, adding that canes have been left at President Hinckley's marker. Generally, items left are picked up by cemetery staff twice a year and family members will usually pick items up more frequently.

"It's just what they feel in their hearts," Smith added. "I believe cemeteries are for the living."

The graves are located throughout the cemetery. The presidents are buried near their wives, and several appear to be in family plots with other family members. They have a variety of markers and inscriptions.

Presidents Hinckley, McKay and Lee have larger markers near smaller, traditional headstones. A simple traditional headstone marks President Hunter's grave with the inscription of "A Prophet, and a kind, patient, courteous and forgiving man." Tall obelisks mark the family plots of Presidents Taylor and Grant. Presidents Joseph F. Smith and George Albert Smith have vault coverings with much more of their history inscribed on them.

Presidents Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith are separated by seven headstones in a section that appears to have many of their family members and an obelisk to Hyrum Smith, who is buried next to his brother, Joseph Smith, in Nauvoo, Ill.

Joseph Smith

At the corner of Water and Main streets in Nauvoo, there is a restored home with a view of the Mississippi river.

Next to the Smith family homestead is a granite marker showing the final resting places of Joseph Smith, wife Emma and brother Hyrum.

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