SALT LAKE CITY — An estimated 31,500 mourners gathered to pay their final respects to late LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson during Thursday's public viewing at the LDS Conference Center, the first event of the final chapter of tributes that includes Friday's funeral and graveside services.
The viewing, held in the Conference Center’s Hall of Prophets, began with doors opening at 7 a.m. for church employees. They were joined by others from the public who arrived prior to the scheduled 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. public hours, filing through the hall and past President Monson's open casket.
President Monson, who was just a month shy of a full decade as the 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and who at 54 years was one of the Mormon faith’s longest-serving general authorities, died from causes incident to age on Jan. 2 in his Salt Lake home at the age of 90.
For many of the children and youths, President Monson was the only LDS Church president they had known.
"I really wanted to see President Monson's body and to feel the spirit," said 11-year-old Hayden Young of Saratoga Springs, decked out in a suit and tie as he departed the Conference Center. "And yes, that happened — I felt the spirit."
Leaving their three youngest children at home with a grandmother, Joseph and Jessica Young brought their two sons to help foster a memorable moment.
Nine-year-old Parker Young agreed with his brother. "I felt the same," he said. "I thought it was a good experience."
With the intent of eliminating lines outside in near-freezing temperatures, visitors entered the Conference Center from the lower-level, southwest entrances, where the United States and Utah flags flew prominently at half-staff. After passing a security checkpoint, guests were ushered into the Conference Center and seated briefly, with the main, plaza-level seating areas used as loading areas.
From there, visitors were directed into two parallel lines that quietly snaked from the lower-level concourses up escalators and toward the street-level concourses of the building's south and southeast areas.
As the lines entered the Hall of Prophets, visitors passed on either side of the casket bearing President Monson's body. Floral arrangements accompanied the bronze busts of church presidents encircling the area, and a folded American flag snug in a shadow box was fittingly placed at the foot of the casket to honor the U.S. Navy veteran.
At different times, Monson family members and general authorities stood not far from the casket to receive acquaintances.
Guests had stories and remembrances to share as they paid their respects Thursday, whether it was detouring from daily routines in and about downtown Salt Lake City or having made a special trip for the event.
President Jeremy R. Jaggi and his wife, Sister Amy Jaggi, of the Utah Ogden Mission made a timely visit to the viewing with a handful of missionaries. The Jaggis regularly take their soon-to-be-departing missionaries to the Salt Lake Temple the week before their return home, with the viewing able to be added to Thursday's itinerary.
Three young missionaries — Sister Saide Howard of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Sister Desiree Smith of Mesa, Arizona; and Sister Jennifer Perez of Dallas, Texas — were among the Ogden mission contingent who spoke of feeling a tangible spiritual feeling as they entered the viewing area for President Monson's body.
"You could see the casket — you could see it was him," Sister Perez said, as all three agreed "it made you feel close to heaven."
Said Sister Smith: "He's our prophet — he has been the prophet of our youth, and he inspired us to be our best."
Their mission call letters assigning them to the Utah Ogden Mission were among the more than 410,000 letters bearing President Monson's signature, with his signature also adorning the small church-issued ministerial certificate given to each missionary and often tucked inside their pocket-sized Missionary Handbooks.
"So we have carried his signature with us in our 'white handbooks' at all times during our missions," Sister Howard said.
President Monson’s viewing is the second such event held in the Conference Center, where a similar two-day viewing was conducted for his predecessor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2008. Prior to that, viewings for previous church presidents had been held in the Pillar Room on the main level of the Church Administration Building.5 comments on this story
The two-day final tribute continues Friday with a hour-long funeral service in the 21,000-seat Conference Center set for noon. The building opens at 10:30 a.m. for those ages 8 and older wishing to attend; guests are to be in their seats by 11:30 a.m., and overflow options include the Salt Lake Tabernacle and Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
The funeral will be broadcast live and in numerous languages via several internet sites, including DeseretNews.com, LDS.org, MormonNewsroom.org and mormontabernaclechoir.org as well as by KSL, Ch. 5, BYUtv, KBYU, Ch. 11, Mormon Channel and on the church’s satellite system.
Following the service, a private graveside service for the Monson family will be conducted at the Salt Lake City Cemetery, the site of interment.