PROVO, Utah – It’s Feb. 14, 1853, in Salt Lake City. The Saints have been in the valley now for nearly six years and have worked hard to establish the city.
It had been nearly six years since President Brigham Young — just four days after arriving in the valley — put his cane in the ground on July 28, 1847, and said, “Here we will build a temple for our God.”
The initial knee-jerk reaction was, “No,” said Susan Easton Black at BYU’s Campus Education Week. “Why? They said ‘everywhere we’ve built temples, we’ve been persecuted.’”
The Saints had left the temple in Kirtland, Ohio, and only the cornerstones had been laid for a temple in Far West, Mo., but many more had been planned there. As the pioneers walked down Parley Street in Nauvoo, Ill., they gave one last look to the temple before crossing the Mississippi River.
“But I can see it right before my eyes,” President Young said on the day he put his cane into the ground. There were six towers — three for the Melchizedek Priesthood and three for the Aaronic Priesthood.
And he also made a promise: “This one will stand through the millennium.”
However, given their history of moving around, many of the pioneers “were positive they weren’t going to stay long,” Black said.
The temple, as well as President Young's office, was built on a 10-acre parcel of land, and the city slowly built and developed around it.
President Young, who was a carpenter, glazier and painter, said to cancel everything on Valentine's Day in 1853. He said he was going to go work on the temple and if people wanted to talk to him, they could bring a pick or a shovel, Black said.
From 1853 to 1856, they worked on the foundation. Blocks of red sandstone, which were 16 feet high, were brought in from the canyons surrounding Salt Lake City.
When word came from Orrin Porter Rockwell that General Johnston’s army was coming, work stopped on the temple. The foundation was buried and made to look like a farmer’s field.
“People were told to leave their homes empty with hay and leaves inside,” Black said. They were determined to not let the army take their homes.
During the army’s four-year stay, there weren’t any meetings, including church services. They had prayer circles where the Saints prayed for the army to leave, Black explained. After the military left to go back and help with the Civil War, President Young put out a call for help to unbury the temple’s foundation.
“Some of the little children at the time thought there was an entire temple buried in that square,” Black said.
When the foundation unburied, cracks were discovered in the red sandstone.
For four days, President Young could be seen sitting on the foundation. The cracked sandstone wouldn’t last until the millennium, so they needed to start over.
But how could these stones, which were viewed as sacred by the Saints, be taken from Temple Square? In order to keep them there, a Tabernacle was built and the exterior included some of the red sandstones, Black said.
Stone for the temple
“What does every woman want in out kitchens” Black asked. “Granite.”
To mine the granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon, hundreds of would men would dangled their friends over the side of the mountain. Those who were dangling over the edge would pound wedges into the side of the canyon wall every few inches.
Then when everyone was ready, they would pound and shout together – almost like with rap music — and when they heard a crack, they new the face of the mountain would fall down.
When they heard the crack, they would yell “pull” and the people holding the ropes would hopefully lift them before they were hit by the falling granite.
They were mostly successful with pulling them up, Black said. However, in one case, the face of the mountain took off Brother Livingston’s arm.
His arm was later found, but it left him in a quandary, which he wrote about in his journal: What should he do with the arm? Bury it and hope that he’s buried with it when he dies? Or, should there be a funeral for the arm?
In end it was pickled, Black said.
“When Brother Livingston was buried, his detached arm was placed across his body so they would be together,” she added.
Once the face of the mountain fell, it was cut into relatively smaller blocks. One of the pieces of granite was cut into 2,500 blocks.
“They were absolutely huge,” Black said.
With oxen teams and ropes to hold them in place, the granite blocks were slowly brought down the canyon to Temple Square.
As the teams with these huge blocks passed, farmers in the fields would put down tools and come to side of the road and sing “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning," and housewives, schoolchildren, shopkeepers and others would sing as the stones wheeled past their homes, schools (every stone meant recess) and businesses.
At Temple Square, the stonecutters would dress the stones and make them ready for the masons.
“They were perfectionists,” Black said of the stonecutters, many of whom had come from England and had worked on the palace or other impressive buildings. “They didn’t like every stone that was brought to Temple Square.”
So what did they do with those stones? They, like the sandstone, couldn’t leave Temple Square.
Later, the Assembly Hall on Temple Square was made of the “undressed” or rough stones that were brought in for the temple, Black said.
Black’s ancestors worked on the temple.
“They weren’t stonecutters, but they knew how to carry rocks,” she said.
Building the temple
“Brigham Young had planned for the temple to be as decorative as the Nauvoo Temple,” Black said. “Meaning, there would be faces in the sunstones.”
The granite was very laborious to carve, but a consistent decorative element was needed.
Scientist and mathematician Orson Pratt was asked to draw the phases of the moon in the month of April and those were used on the outside of the temple.
President Young eventually died as did President John Taylor but, “The temple continues to rise,” Black said.
In 1892 and Wilford Woodruff was the president of the LDS Church. It had been 39 years since that Valentine’s Day when President Young turned over the shovel. The spires were there, but the interior was completely unfinished.
“It’s this amazing shell of a building,” Black said.
President Woodruff wanted a statue of Angel Moroni on the tallest tower, but he didn't want one like the weather-vane style one like on the Nauvoo Temple.
“He wanted a tall, stately statue,” Black said.
The brethren discussed the names of area sculptors, and Cyrus Dallin’s name came up.
Dallin had sent work to Ohio to be bronzed, which was a big deal then, she said.
”He was approached by general authorities, his answer was no,” Black said.
Black said Dallin’s response was, “I don’t believe in angels, and I haven’t believed in them for years.”
President Woodruff went to visit him in Springville, Utah, but his answer was still "no."
So President Woodruff looked through the records to find a tithe payer in Dallin’s family. His widowed mother’s name was on the books so President Woodruff sent a message for her to come and meet with him.
He met with her and asked her to approach her son about building the statue. She fasts and prays before her visit to her son.
He tells her "no."
“I didn’t come to ask you that,” Black said Dallin's mother said of building the statute. “I came to ask you if you have an angel mother”
“Yes,” he answers.
“Will you make it for me” his mother asked.
Dallin made the Angel Moroni.
The capstone ceremony
President Woodruff sent word throughout the church for everyone who’d worked on the temple to gather on Temple Square on April 6, 1892.
“Some accounts said there were 15,000 people gathered on Temple Square,” Black said. “Other accounts say there were another 20,000 people gathered on rooftops on buildings.”
They saw a big black object covered in black cloth with ropes all around. President Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow spoke but without a public announcement system hardly another can hear. After they talked, the angel was unveiled.
Then, President Woodruff made a prophecy: if the interior of the temple is finished in a year, the persecution they have known will end, Black said.
“This generation is pretty motivated,” she said. Many people remembered or endured extermination orders in Missouri, being run out of Illinois, lawsuits and an army coming.
The doorknobs, murals, decorative ceiling and other art was done in a year. Art missionaries were called home from Europe to head up the effort.
The dedication and a delivery
In April 1893 and three weeks of temple dedication sessions had been scheduled, Black said.
“To get into Session No. 1 was big,” Black added.
Tickets were issued and there was a doorkeeper checking tickets.
President Woodruff was dedicating the temple and blessing the different parts of the temple, including the holes that would be a very good size for elevators in years to come, Black said.
A woman in the session, Sister Bennett, was pregnant and went into labor. A Relief Society president, who was also a midwife, was there.
“Sister Bennett is about to bring forth a child and she’s not going to make out of the temple,” Black said.
She was taken to another room where she delivers a son. The temple was also dedicated.
On Day Eight of the dedication — in keeping of the old Jewish tradition that a firstborn son should be circumcised and then on the eighth day receive his name and become a son of Abraham — Sister Bennett brought her son to the temple.
The doorkeeper, one Joseph F. Smith, asked for her ticket. She didn't have one, but then indicated she was one who wasn’t quiet during the first session, Black said.
Joseph F. Smith takes Sister Bennett and the baby into the temple and gives him a blessing and a name – Joseph Temple Bennett. He was known a Temple Bennett.
“He became one of the most famous fireside speakers this church has known,” Black said.
The temple is up and running.
The first temple president is Lorenzo Snow and his apartment was in the temple, Black said. The General Relief Society President was the matron.
When people came to the temple, they could do the work for themselves, but they didn’t have little blue or pink name slips.
They were asked who their earliest ancestor in the church was and then they would look in the file to see if there was a name available to do.
“If there weren’t any more names in the file, they couldn’t go through,” Black said.
Many people who were from England or Scandinavia would write to relatives and researchers so they could return to the temple to do the work.
Women in the church, at the time, didn’t cut their hair. Pictures of early pioneer women showed no bangs, no short hair.
“Women believed their crowning glory was her hair,” Black said.
That changed. The pioneer women started to cut their hair because they could sell it for about 40 cents an inch. They would use that money to send to researchers in Europe so that they would be able to bring family names to temple.
Black and her husband were married in the Salt Lake Temple. Her parents were also married there.Comment on this story
“No matter what happens in our country, where is a safe place to go? Make sure you always have a temple recommend,” Black said.
And the temple continues to stand.
“The Salt Lake Temple is a temple with a promise,” Black said. It would last through the eternities and the persecution of the pioneers would end.
The temple can also be seen as a bookend, the way President Gordon B. Hinckley saw it.
The Angel Moroni on the Salt Lake Temple faces east and bookends with the Angel Moroni on the Nauvoo Temple that faces west.