Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Pilgrim on Carmer's Psychic Highway: Palmyra

            Carl Carmer visited the Hill Cumorah for the dedication of the statue of Moroni placed above the spot where Joseph Smith said he found the golden tablets inscribed with the Book of Mormon. Carmer’s dominant thought was that to him a folksy, homey landscape, was to Mormons, sacred ground. The sense that this is part of a pilgrimage road has grown stronger since his visit. The Hill Cumorah has a solid granite Visitor’s Center with a larger than life size stature of Jesus Christ, multi-media maps and videos. Campgrounds and parking lots surround the steep drumlin which also serves as the stage for the elaborate pageant presented yearly. 

             Just up the road is Joseph Smith’s farm, or a highly sanitized version thereof, with a housing development set down next to it. Up the road is the old Canal town of Palmyra, where the print shop that produced the first editions of the Book of Mormon has also been restored. 

             At the crossroads in Palmyra, five large churches stand as proof of the competing religions that Joseph Smith rejected. Back down the road to Cumorah are trailers and other signs of the rural poverty that was his original birthright. 
          At the Visitor’s Center, I’m welcomed by Elder Hill and his wife. They ask if I’m a convert to the Church. I explain that my interest is historical. Tears come to Mrs. Hill’s eyes and she offers me a copy of the Book of Mormon. As I never met a book I didn’t find interesting, I accept. After all, I’m at the Hill Cumorah. For once in my life, I resist being a smart aleck. I don’t ask about Joseph Smith’s reputation as a forger and diviner that preceded his miraculous discovery at Hill Curmorah. I respect their deep faith.

            In the early 19th Century, Joseph Smith felt compelled to people North America with the lost tribes of Israel. In the 21st, it feels like the intervening centuries have aged the land. Story, sacred and profane, populate it for me. Thank you Carl!

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