Finding peace in Carthage Jail

Published: Tuesday, May 13 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Carthage Jail, where the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were shot and killed. (Deseret News archives) Carthage Jail, where the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were shot and killed. (Deseret News archives)

Editor's note: Part 2 in a series of essays on visiting sites significant to the history of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to sit alone for a few minutes in the jail cell where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred. During those few minutes, I had a series of powerful thoughts that remain with me today.

Not many people were visiting Carthage Jail that day. Most likely the combination of snowy weather and the proximity to Christmas made warm homes and holiday traditions seem the more prudent choice.

Consequently, our small group had the building almost to ourselves.

After we had been shown all the rooms and had been taken upstairs to the room where the martyrdom took place, I asked if I could have just a few minutes alone to ponder.

At first, my thoughts were more excited and immediate than pensive. In that very moment I was the only person on Earth in the room where the martyrdom took place!

But it only took a few seconds before my thoughts began to change.

As my thoughts raced to the past, I tried to imagine what Joseph must have felt as he knew his time on Earth was coming to an end. I remember in that moment being especially affected by his words “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:4).

I walked to the window where he stood in the last seconds of his life and wondered how he could feel such calm.

And in that moment, I realized how he was able to create a measure of peace out of so much tragedy.

He was ready to meet God at all times. He lived the best he knew how. He appealed to God along the way when necessary for forgiveness. He sought revelation. He lived according to the revelations he received. And he taught those revelations to others.

That afternoon when I visited Carthage no mob was rushing the door. Instead, I sat in silence and pondered. As I did so, I wondered how I might obtain that same degree of peace Joseph had at the end of his life.

No specific answer came.

But a week or two later as I sat on my front porch in Utah looking up at the stars, I was taken back in my mind to those few quiet minutes in Carthage Jail.

As I stared up at the sky, all the doctrines that had made sense in previous years entered my heart. I realized all of us can have great degrees of peace at all times — including, and perhaps especially, the hardest times — if we make and keep the sacred covenants God offers us.

Since then, every time I look up at the sky, I imagine my time in Carthage Jail and reflect on how I live my life. Without needing to travel a single mile, I can ponder about the greatest events in our history and bask in peace that grows greater with each righteous decision I make.

Kurt Manwaring is a consultant who lives in Taylorsville, Utah. He blogs at www.kurtsperspective.blogspot.com. Email: kman801@gmail.com

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