LDS Students Visit Historic Grave Sites

By By Andrew Kirk

By Andrew Kirk

“Today we’re going to talk about real live people. They’re dead, but they’re still real and they’re still alive,” said John Peterson, U LDS Institute of Religion instructor at the start of a tour through the Salt Lake Cemetery.

Peterson guided about 20 students to various grave sites of famous early leaders of the LDS Church and territorial Utah Tuesday afternoon. The purpose of the tour was to increase understanding about former church leaders’ lives and their contributions to the community.

“Their lives aren’t all sugar coated,” he said.

The tour began at the tombstone of William Clayton, author of the famous LDS hymn, “Come Come Ye Saints.”

At the grave of Dr. Willard Richards, an early LDS apostle, Peterson commented on how people often interpret history.

“Sometimes we make the dead larger than life,” he said.

But on the flip side, he also condemned those who speak of the dead too harshly.

“We learn through history. We can’t judge people in an earlier day because they don’t live like we live,” he said.

At the grave of Karl Maeser, a German immigrant who was the first instructor at Brigham Young Academy in Provo, which is now Brigham Young University, he told the history of the University of Utah.

According to Peterson, although BYU is often referred to as “the Lord’s University” by die-hard loyalists, the LDS Church’s first university was the University of Nauvoo. When the school was re-established in Utah, it was renamed the University of Deseret, and after statehood, the name changed again to the University of Utah.

The grave of Porter Rockwell, bodyguard and friend to Joseph Smith, gave Peterson the opportunity to talk about how LDS standards have changed over time.

Rockwell was known for swearing, defending his beliefs with violence and drinking before it was prohibited by LDS Church teachings.

“You can see what I mean by cleaning history up,” he said.

Beyond the grave of Truman Osborn Angell, architect of the Salt Lake City LDS Temple, Peterson pointed out the resting place of James Talmage.

This famous educator, scientist and LDS apostle, best known by members of the LDS Church for his literary works, is honored for his contributions to the U by the science building named after him on President’s Circle.

A geology professor at the U, he is famous for his support of the theory of evolution while many LDS Church leaders condemned it. The debate prompted the president of the LDS Church to make an official statement of neutrality toward the issue which still stands.

“We sometimes clean history up because it’s messy. We’re about to do it in Iraq. We sanitize it and make it straight. When we’re done, it’s a much-prettier picture,” he said. “It’s like how they ‘face’ cans in a grocery store. We put the good face forward. There’s nothing wrong with ‘facing,’ but keep in mind there’s things on the back.”

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