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Mormon Myths: Early Church Stories

Kate Ensign-Lewis - -6373 minutes ago

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An exploration of the truth behind three commonly told stories of the early Church.

Mormon Myths: Early Church Stories

Photo from ldschurchtemples.com © 2012 Ricardo Ramirez Gallo.

Three Nephites. Bigfoot. President Spencer W. Kimball as a model for Yoda. Alice Cooper as a Mormon. 

Precious china crushed to help make the stucco of the Kirtland Temple.

You wouldn’t expect that some of our most beloved stories would be considered part of myth and folklore. But while researching an article about Mormon myths, I was surprised to find that a couple famous stories about the early Church may not have happened like we thought. (Although some, of course, did.) 

Read on for all the details I could gather on three common stories.

Kirtland Temple Stucco

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Kirtland Temple, photo from Wikipedia, by John Hamer.

An oft-told story in Mormondom relates how the women of Kirtland sacrificed their fine china to help build the Kirtland temple. Many stories tell of how they were called on to make this sacrifice—that the china was a much-needed addition to the stucco. 

It’s true that, when the temple was built, builders used china—or pottery and glass—to strengthen the stucco; this glass and pottery had the added benefit of making the surface glisten in the sun. Artemus Millet, the superintendent of construction of the Kirtland Temple, called the mixture of glassware and crockery with weather-resistant natural cements inspired.

But Millet’s own journal refers to these pieces as “old glass and crockery”—not fine china. (Interestingly, it is usually Millet who is credited with asking for the Saints to donate their china.) His son’s account further exposes the pottery as less than likely to have come from the Saints themselves: “Artemus sent men and boys to the different towns and places to gather old crockery and glass to put in the cement.” Kirtland was situated next to pottery plants, and the discard piles would have easily provided pottery for the stucco. Furthermore, stories that Latter-day Saint women crushed china for the temple do not appear until 1940. In other words, no contemporary accounts tell of such a sacrifice.

Elwin Robison, a professor of architectural history at Kent State and author of The First Mormon Temple, has spent hours analyzing the stucco of the Kirtland Temple and, though he found evidence of tableware in the stucco surface, he believes it is unlikely that the tableware was the Saints’ best china. “While some of it may have come from heirlooms, the bulk of it came from discard piles,” he says. “There are persistent stories of this, so it could have happened, but the direct evidence suggests that wasn’t the case.” 

Still, there is no evidence to directly refute the china stories. And that some of the Saints’ china was used is still a possibility—after all, the temple meant a great deal to the Saints, and it would not have been out of character for them to be willing (and even desirous) to include something of worth in its construction. But it certainly does not appear that they were called on to sacrifice their china—and if some of them did, it would have been the exception rather than the rule.

Robison feels strongly that the evidence indicates that fine china is unlikely to have been crushed for the construction of the temple. But, he adds, “it would be great if that conclusion could be changed, wouldn’t it?” 

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© LDS Living 2011.
Comments 11 comments

smalllady said...

02:17 PM
on May 12, 2011

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Kate, some stories are what I call Mormonisms. You mess with the Three Nephites and you got it coming....slingshot accuracy.

mamamarsha said...

04:03 PM
on May 12, 2011

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It is wise to debunk myths. I must share this link from the official church website about sacrifice. It includes a story about a girl named Hilda who helped her mother pack their nice china to make the walls of the temple sparkle. This is in the Young Women's manuel #2. http://lds.org/manual/young-women-manual-2/lesson-25-the-law-of-sacrifice?lang=eng&query=china+kirtland

sara said...

06:01 PM
on May 12, 2011

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I want to know about Spencer W. Kimball as the model for Yoda and Alice Cooper as a Mormon.

kmo98 said...

11:43 PM
on May 12, 2011

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HolyFetch.com is the best site for this kind of stuff. Here's a link about the Alice Cooper connection http://www.holyfetch.com/famous%20people/alice_cooper.html

susieblue said...

05:21 PM
on May 15, 2011

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Thanks Kate for your research into Mormon myths. I believe that we need honest and accurate reports of the experiences and events that make up Mormon history - which is filled with extraordinary reports of divine interventions and the sacrifices and faith of the early pioneers. The passing on of myths can bring into question the church's and our own integrity and call into question the veracity of actual events.

poisongirl said...

01:28 PM
on May 16, 2011

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Fascinating... Great information and research. I look forward to more. I thought that china in the temple stucco was Nauvoo. I remember going there around 1995 and the missionaries talking about it and displaying china at Brigham Young's house. The other two myths are interesting as well. We seem to have too many of them.

lange said...

01:18 PM
on May 17, 2011

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no good can come from repeating and believing in falsehoods. Thank you for this article. It is the truth that sets us free.

randyhut said...

05:02 PM
on May 17, 2011

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When John Taylors watch use to be on diplay, there was a notible round indent on the front face about the size of a .40-.50 cal ball. The picture shown is not of the same watch. Also, was any testing performed with a watch against a body which would act to abosrb the energy of the impact!?

rht said...

08:10 AM
on May 21, 2011

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Just a small correction: It was Napoleon's namesake, his nephew, Napoleon III not actually Napoleon Bonaparte who requested and received temple ordinances.

runner4life said...

06:30 PM
on Jun 08, 2011

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@ mamamarsha, The story you have linked to is a fictional story that was originally from the Friend's 1975 March issue and re-printed in the Young Women's manual. I believe that story was cited in the manual which one then can trace back to its origin. The Young Women's manual never stated that it was a true story. The story is simply a re-print of a fictional story once told in the Friend magazine.

troyboy1 said...

09:56 PM
on Jun 17, 2012

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Why were we always taught these things as fact? I clearly remember and have books and manuals that teach these things. Why is it now coming out that they are myths? Was the discernment just not as good in the old days?
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