Mummies in the Temple

By: Mormon Heretic
January 31, 2011

Kirtland Temple

Did you know that the early saints charged admission to the general public to see Egpytian Mummies inside the Kirtland Temple?  John Larsen of Mormon Expression conducted a fascinating interview with John Hamer and Barbara Walden on the history of the Kirtland Temple.  I was so enamored with the interview, that I decided to transcribe the entire interview at my blog.  But knowing that most of you probably aren’t willing to wade through 10,000 words, I thought I’d give a snippet of the interview here.

Independence Temple

Last year, I visited the Independence Temple, owned by the Community of Christ as part of the Mormon History Association meetings.  I was saddened to hear a Mormon visitor whisper loudly, “These people don’t understand the purpose of a temple.”  Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we Mormons don’t understand the RLDS purpose of a temple.  I found that when viewed against the Kirtland Temple, the Independence Temple was much more similar in purpose than modern Mormons recognize.  Both the Kirtland and Independence Temples allow non-members to enter.  Here are some snippets of the interview.

John Larsen, “Now I think that one thing that’s really key about the temple is, and we sort of hinted at this, you know today in the Salt Lake branch of the church, after a temple is dedicated, it is sealed off to all but the most dedicated who have a temple recommend.  That was never the case with Kirtland.  Kirtland, as you mentioned, was always sort of an open house of worship and other function, right?”

Barbara Walden [former Director of the Kirtland Temple], “That’s right.  It was intended to be the center of community life.  As I mentioned, they had a high school that met up on the third floor.  There are great accounts of them inviting ministers of other churches to use the pulpits to preach.  On one account of a Unitarian minister, taking advantage of that and preaching from the pulpit.  I think it was a hope for the Latter-day Saints that if we invite you into our house of worship to allow you to preach, perhaps you too would allow us into your house of worship to preach as well.  It’s almost the beginning of some ecumenical work there in Kirtland.

They were also giving tours of the temple, I should point that out.  Joseph Smith Sr, was a pretty good guide.  Warren Parrish was another tour guide at the Kirtland Temple.  So they’re recognizing that the building is kind of a curiosity if you will, and people were dying to get inside to take a look.  So there is evidence that they were charging admission for the tours, and one of the highlights of the tours–for one man he paid to go back a second time–was to see the mummies that were on exhibit on the third floor.

John Larsen:  “Later those were in somebody’s basement, but they were at the Kirtland Temple, right?

BW, “They were up on the third floor, yes.  There were accounts of them on exhibit over at Joseph and Emma Smith’s house, and Frederick Granger’s house.  It seems like they have their own tour of the Kirtland area as well.”


JL, “I do know that in the Nauvoo Temple, Brigham liked to dance, so they would clear the floors and do dances.  Were there any more secular activities like that in Kirtland?”

BW, “I can’t say that we ever had a dance in Kirtland in the 1830′s.”

John Hamer, “There’s later accounts of dances on the second floor.”

BW, “That’s true.”

John Hamer

JH, “But not in the 1830′s time.  But that even shows that the Nauvoo Temple also has different uses and a different feeling for people in Nauvoo in the 1840′s than what LDS people are used to with the temples today.  So the Nauvoo Temple, when it’s built, it’s built in a way that’s based on the Kirtland model.  So again, the major portions of space in Nauvoo are these upper and lower courts.  The interiors are designed to look like the interiors of the Kirtland temple with these multiple sets of pulpits, and ultimately, some of the LDS temples:  The Salt Lake Temple, the Washington DC Temple, some of the other temples have preserved a court that have these pulpit systems inside them, but this is the major portion of space in the first two temples.

And unlike in Kirtland, in Nauvoo now there starts to be this new kind of temple worship that gets added into it.  But for the Nauvoo temple, it’s reserved essentially for the basement and the attic space, so in the basement is now the baptismal font for baptisms for the dead.  There is no font at all in Kirtland–that’s not part of temple worship in the Kirtland period.  And the same thing, this idea of the ritual endowment is very different from the Kirtland endowment.  The Nauvoo endowment which is relegated to the attic, the third floor, under the roofspace in the Nauvoo Temple.  Later, in LDS practice the central spaces of the temple get eliminated and essentially the attic and the basement spaces become the temple.

JL, “Ok, that’s a great segue into the worship.  So the Kirtland Temple actually predates the restoration of baptisms for the dead, at least inside the building.  Is that right?”

BW, “That’s correct!”

JH, “At all.”

Nauvoo Temple Baptismal font

JL, “So often times, the things we most associate with the temple: baptisms for the dead and the endowment of the mysteries, like Salt Lake does, come way after the concept of a temple came into Kirtland.”

JH, “That’s exactly right, so neither of those practices exist in Kirtland when they build the temple, and they wouldn’t be associated with temple worship for the earliest saints.  So in fact they talk about a great endowment coming upon the saints when they complete the Kirtland Temple.  It is a promise that happens, and then it happens in the course of the dedication, but this kind of temple endowment is not a ceremony.  It’s not a ritual or a mystery or a secret.  It’s essentially an outpouring of spirit.  It’s a promise that a gift will happen.  The original idea is that you will be endowed with a gift is the original meaning of that.  When we speak of a Kirtland endowment, it’s a very different thing from the Nauvoo endowment.

BW, “And that’s very difficult for those who are giving tours of the Kirtland Temple today when a visitor asks ‘were there any endowments that took place here?’  It’s difficult because the word ‘endowment’, as John has said, is used throughout the 1830′s, but they’re talking about something different than what later happens in later Nauvoo.  They’re talking about this spiritual empowerment for missionary work.  Now they did do annointings on third floor, and there was feet washings that were taking place; there were patriarchal blessings that were taking place in there, but not any of the endowments that we often connect to with the Nauvoo Temple.

The entire interview was awesome.  Any comments?

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18 Responses to Mummies in the Temple

  1. mh on January 31, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    let me pose a question. there are those (especially nom’s) who think that temples should be open to the public. we can see a precedent that kirtland was open. do you think it is a good idea for lds temples to follow more of a kirtland model?

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  2. Troy on January 31, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    I like the transcript, actually. And, I like the spin on the word “endowment.”

    I think our culture (myself especially) is quick to assign a definition to something based on what we understand of the word today. To me, today, it means something based on what we do in the temple and sometimes we forget that there are ancillary meanings.

    I quite like the “endowment” defined by Kirtland’s outpouring of the Spirit. And, by that definition of “endowment,” it’s been some time since we’ve had one. Did that transcript (not having a chance yet to read it) share the story of how part of the Nauvoo temple burned down the night following a prayer to dedicate it (2/8/1846)?

    Nibley once stated that our temples are basically little more than endowment houses these days and not the scripturally defined “temple” we think of.

    I’m not a NOM (I hate the labels we use), but I do wonder how the decisions for modern day temples happen. I’ve heard that it’s based off of little more than tithing receipts and activity levels, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate.

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  3. Nick Literski on January 31, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    I’ve heard that it’s based off of little more than tithing receipts and activity levels, but I’m not sure if that’s accurate.

    Lately, it seems economic interests play a substantial part in the decision:

    (1) Kennicott’s real estate division donated land for an LDS temple in the midst of their “Daybreak” subdivision in South Jordan, and their sales inquiries skyrocketed with the announcement. In other words, a major donor to the LDS church benefitted financially from the marketability of properties near an LDS temple.

    (2) Mr. Monson announced a “Kansas City area” temple which just happened to be planned in the midst of the Shoal Creek commercial/residential project, which is being developed by Zion’s Securities Company, one of the LDS church’s real estate holding companies. In other words, a subsidiary of the LDS church will benefit financially from the marketability of properties near an LDS temple.

    (3) A facelift was announced for the Ogden Utah Temple, which is located right across the street from “The Junction,” a large open-air mall development which includes several projects of Property Reserve, Inc., another real estate holding company of the LDS church. Further, Property Reserve has built apartment complexes nearby, the most recent including 210 “top end” units for “superior quality tenants.” In other words, a subsidiary of the LDS church will benefit financially from the marketability of properties near an LDS temple.

    Call me cynical, but I’m noticing a Monson-era trend in temple building.

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  4. mh on January 31, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    there wasn’t any information about the nauvoo temple fire in this interview.

    I think it is interesting how much more open the kirtland and nauvoo temples were. I think it would be nice for a bride and groom to have a dance at the temple following weddings, or even to have spontaneous dances like brigham young did. however, with the church growth, it would be much harder logistically. the sl temple is so packed with sealings (especially in the summer) that it just isn’t feasible to hold dances there anymore. but I think the openness of kirtland, nauvoo (and even independence) is really cool. we just don’t seem to have a multi-purpose building like that anymore. perhaps the conference center is like that a little, but there is no room to dance.

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  5. Bored in Vernal on January 31, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    I have danced in the Conference Center.

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  6. mh on January 31, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    where? weren’t the seats in the way?

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  7. Bored in Vernal on January 31, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    well… it was not in the auditorium part, it was in one of the art galleries. And it was quite spontaneous, unpartnered, and uncorrelated.

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  8. mh on January 31, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    I had a feeling…. :)

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  9. Jeff Spector on January 31, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    It’s a very dancable place!

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  10. mh on January 31, 2011 at 1:48 PM

    I did a post about rock and roll in the conference center when the osmonds did a reunion concert, but it.s not as routine as I would like. it also felt kind of funny to see ga’s in the audience.

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  11. diane on January 31, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    Although I like the Osmond’s I would not consider them Rock and Roll. Pop, for sure but not Rock and roll

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  12. Mike S on January 31, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    I don’t know about charging non-members for open houses, but I think it would be really cool if ALL family members were able to participate in weddings/sealing and not have some inside and others waiting outside.

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  13. Troy on January 31, 2011 at 3:22 PM

    ” I think it would be nice for a bride and groom to have a dance at the temple following weddings, or even to have spontaneous dances like brigham young did. however, with the church growth, it would be much harder logistically.”

    That and/or Mormon dances are an especially frightening site these days – no rhythm, everyone worried about those supervising the dance, the dress codes, yada yada yada.

    As to Nick’s comment:

    Thank you for those connections. I appreciate them. I suppose it may not necessarily be a Monson thing as much as it is a Burton thing – Burton was, after all, a Kennecott executive before joining the Presiding Bishopric. And, Burton has stated, on record and on more than one occasion, that he finds a great deal of joy in creating value where he can and leaving his mark on various developments – be it City Creek Center or other developments.

    And, the financial connections are incredibly interesting. Are the contractors, that you know of, the same ones (Jacobsen + Okland, principally) that are used on most of their temple projects?

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  14. mh on February 1, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    I am really surprised that nobody has made a wisecrack about ordinances for the dead, and mummies in the temple. perhaps this was the inspiration? :)

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  15. Rigel Hawthorne on February 1, 2011 at 1:58 PM

    I would have liked to see the ground floor of the new Nauvoo temple open to the general public–the area with the congregational style seating and 4-corner choir seats. The recommend check area could be on the sides. This would have allowed COC visitors entry to the part that be most significant for them, and perhaps even provided for them a space to meet for special events. The baptistry and endowment rooms could be maintained for use in the way the LDS church uses them. There is precedent for this in the multi-use temple-buildings in Manhattan and Hong Kong, if I am not mistaken.

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  16. kelly on February 1, 2011 at 2:05 PM


    Donny would disagree with you. Although Marie is a little bit country, he claims he is a little bit Rock and Roll!

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  17. Bishop Rick on February 2, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    Well not a wise crack, but you do have to wonder if the mummies could have been baptized if there was a font. People don’t realize that the baptism for the dead was exactly that in early church. People were baptized after they died. Baptism for the dead was not done by proxy. That is an LDS invention.

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  18. [...] poor understanding of the Kirtland Temple, and we would have a hard time reconciling the fact that Joseph Smith charged admission for non-members to see Egyptian mummies in the Kirtland Temple.  Such a concept would seem strange to modern Mormons.  John Hamer and Barbara Walden gave a [...]

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