The Exodus Commemoration provides both church members and the public an opportunity to relive the departure of the Mormons from Nauvoo to a new home in the West.
“It was a tremendous sacrifice to abandon your home, your temple and go West. They barely made it past Iowa,” said Sister Barbara Renouf, who handles public affairs for the church in Nauvoo. “As time goes on, we think it’s important to look back and remember.”
Thursday night’s Reader’s Theatre program tells the story of the early Latter-day Saints, their stay in Nauvoo and the story of the great Mormon Exodus West. Friday morning, a memorial walk down Parley Street recreates the launch of the Great Migration with participants carrying the name of an early pioneer who left Nauvoo on Feb. 4, 1846.
“It’s an amazing story,” Renouf said.
Church members fled Missouri during the winter of 1838-39 after being threatened with extermination, crossed into Illinois and settled into a community they named Nauvoo. The community’s growth led to tensions with its neighbors that spilled into a mob killing Latter-day prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum on June 27, 1844.
As early as 1840, church leaders began contemplating a move to someplace safer. As tensions continued to escalate, “on 4 February 1846, in the heart of a Midwestern winter so cold and bitter the Mississippi River froze over, the Latter-day Saints were driven from their homes and lands down a street which came to be known as the ‘Street of Tears’ and into the unknown mystery of the western frontier,” according to the church Web site.
From February through September 1846, the site said, thousands of Mormons abandoned Nauvoo.
“I don’t know if people here realize their impact. Nauvoo was one of the largest cities in Illinois with 12,000 people,” Renouf said. “For them to leave and not know where they were going, just somewhere out West to the Great Salt Lake is significant unto itself.”
The commemoration grew from last year’s Reader’s Theatre and re-enactment to include a musical tribute, a musical comedy performance, presentation of the PBS documentary “Trail of Hope” and a commemorative fireside featuring Sheri Dew.
Dew, chief executive officer of Deseret Book, is an author and advocate for women and families. A leader in the church, she stands out, in part, because she is single in a denomination centered on marriage and family.
The expanded series of commemorative events help tell the story not only of the exodus but of Nauvoo.
“We have a good story to tell,” Renouf said. “It helps clear away some of the baggage people have carried with the impact of the Mormons here in Nauvoo.”