A new exhibit at the Church History Museum invites visitors to “get a sense of the adventure of the journey” of pioneers and their trek west.
The “Mormon Trails: Pathway to Zion (1846 to 1890)” exhibit, which opened to the public on July 13 and is located on the second floor of the Church History Museum, takes a look at the experiences and artifacts of thousands of pioneers who traveled across the United States from the years 1846 to 1890.
“It is not just a story of the trails,” said Alan Johnson, director of the Church History Museum. “It is a story of the people who came across those trails.”
The exhibit includes two large maps, a digital map, an interactive game, as well as 50 of the museum’s most treasured pioneer artifacts. It also invites visitors to follow a pioneer on their journey west.
“[The exhibit] downstairs ends at 1846, and one of the biggest questions we wanted to answer is how the saints went from the Midwest out to Utah,” said Johnson. “This helps not only tell that story, but also it introduces people to real individuals through some of the educational programming we have.”
The exhibit highlights several modes of transportation — handcart, wagon, locomotive and ship — and provides 3-D maps showing the different trails and diverse terrain, whether on land or at sea, of the early Mormon Church members.
“We wanted it to be visual and to use maps to tell the story,” said Bryon Andreasen, a historian. “It is dramatic to see the central United States and follow the trail that way. We have color changes that show the typography of the area. One of the maps shows the hardest part, when they hit the mountains, at the end of their trip.”
But the exhibit covers more than the handcart and wagon trains traveling west. A digital, interactive map, allows guests to search specific routes and times — both the year and the season — of saints traveling west.
“In six minutes a person can see 109 trails traveled,” said Maryanne Andrus, exhibition and programs manager. Andrus began working on the exhibit in March 2016, and said it has been neat to see how the personal stories have made the exhibit come to life.
“We came up with the character cards with the idea that you could look at the person and learn their story as you look at the artifact,” Andrus said. “And the idea that the artifact carried those people’s stories was really essential.”
The backdrop of the exhibit shows the four vehicles of travel and has hand drawn images by Keith Beavers.
“[The exhibit] shows railroads, it shows ships, it shows handcarts, it shows covered wagons — all the different modes of transportation and all of the different trails by time, over time,” said Johnson.“It comes together ending in 1890, showing how many people came, when they came and how they came.”
Among the artifacts featured in the exhibit is the wedding dress of handcart pioneer Maria Linford, a clock, a press, candy mold, violin, roadometer owned by Brigham Young as well as an artificial leg.
“I hope [visitors] walk away with the feeling of being connected to Church history,” said Johnson. “That’s one of our main goals, and this exhibit [highlights] people who are doing hard things. You’ll also find that ... there is evidence that they did find joy in the journey as they came across. ... Regardless of their circumstances they were still able to find joy in the journey as President [Thomas S.] Monson continues to teach us.”
For people who are unable to visit the exhibit in person, an online exhibit features a narrative of the trek west supplemented with photos of artifacts and places. Visit history.lds.org/story/mormon-trails for more information.
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