Mormons: Why Are Thousands of Them Gathering in Upstate New York This Week?

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This week, thousands of Mormons are meeting up in Upstate New York for what's called the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

Of course, the pageant is getting a little extra attention this year, and not just because 2012 marks the fest's 75th anniversary.

G.O.P. presidential contender Mitt Romney is Mormon, and his politically uncommon faith has been subject to the same scrutiny as JFK's Catholicism had been.

But what is the Hill Cumorah Pageant, you might ask?

Let's rewind to the early 1920s.

Back in the day, a small group of New York City-based missionaries hit up the Joseph Smith Farm for the Cumorah Conference -- a gathering of Mormon faithful and leaders, if you will.

They were also celebrating Pioneer Day which, according to Mormon belief, marks Brigham Young's entry into Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Over time, the conferences started getting longer and bigger, including missionaries from the Eastern Seaboard and Canada. Programming also expanded to feature sermons, athletic events, and an organized pilgrimage to the Hill.

The Cumorah, billed as "the most notable of many hills, or drumlins, in New York State's Finger Lakes region," is a holy site in the Mormon religion. Here, in the 1820s, founder Joseph Smith claims to have discovered golden plates on which the Book of Mormon is written.

Religious episodes were first presented theatrically in 1923. The first notable expansion took place in 1930, when a production honoring the church's centennial boasted a cast of 30 and an audience of 200.

In 1934, after the Church of Latter Day Saints bought the Cumorah, leaders decided to move the entire conference from the Farm to the Hill.

What has since evolved is a Mormon musical of epic proportions: Some 750 actors -- complete with sets, lights, special effects, and costumes -- take to the stage to reenact the discovery. The 70-minute play features scenes from the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Estimates suggest that 35,000 people attend the weeklong annual fest, or some 7,000 daily. This year, shows are scheduled on July 13,14, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21.

Some interesting facts?

Apparently, Mormons take their special effects very seriously -- past productions have included fireballs, floods, and earthquakes.

Also, Orson Scott Card -- LDS member and author of the classic Ender's Game sci-fi series -- authored the present script, which shifts some emphasis from religious instruction to entertainment, as part of the Church's move to attract youth.

In 1988, Card's modernized version debuted, shaving 40 minutes off the original, and was accompanied by an entirely new score.

Past performers have included Metropolitan Opera alums and Donny Osmond.

Info from: "The Hill Cumorah Pageant: A Historical Perspective," Hill Cumorah, New York Times.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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13 comments
Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

I left the Army twenty years ago, and if you ask me to describe the last meal in the mess hall (dining facility for the politically correct), I might not remember the meal, might not remember the names of who I had breakfast with - - BUT I wouldn't get the details so messed up that one story I had breakfast with a dog, who turned into a soldier(well I was with the XVIII Airborne Corps for my final five months, home of the rangers, airborne, snipers, and SFs types, so maybe a dog can be a soldier). But the next story I would say I had breakfast with the Post Commander and Corps Commander - both generals. But wait, the story evolves, it has been twenty years, I had breakfast with General Schwarzkopf and former Defense Secretary/VP Dick Cheney - the equivalent of Joe saying his final story was God and Jesus Christ. (Dick Cheney would be both, he'd shot Stormin' Norman to take credit for both jobs himself) So for a vast detail discrepancies between Joe's story, and 1838 marked a year when a vast exodus of Mormon leaders were dumping Joe's party - Joe had to make his First Vision into an epic story - one which would attract new followers. Willard Chase - the Toad Story, KNEW Joe personally, Joe wouldn't return the Seer Stone that Willard found and loaned to Joe, Joe told Willard about the Toad, and about his various scams on people. I'm not here to convince you; die-hard Mormons can't be saved. They are given information, and blow it off because the Supreme Leader would never lie. But to those investigation joining the cult, these forums provide information for them to Google and evaluate on their own.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

In the fifth or sixth grade my best friend came over to the house excited, inside a small woman's makeup case, he said that his father helped him build a radio so we could listen to the FAA at National Airport in Arlington where we frequented like kids at Disney. There was tremendous excitement to look inside the case, but for over an hour that it took to walk to the airport, he wouldn't open the case. The radio was real on the walk. Then he opens up the case and the joke is on us - no radio, just an empty case. Several witnesses to the BOM witness seeing a makeup case that Joe held up, saying that a radio was inside. One witness said Joseph had the gold plates covered by a cloth, that he wasn't worthy to see them, but he could 'feel' them, or 'dream' about them. So this witness didn't SEE the gold plates with his eyes, but in a vision. Not exactly a witness. But then con men stick together to perpetrate the con, afterall, starting a religion paid well even in the 1800s.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

You lost the argument - The Toad story was brought up a being the FIRST First Vision story by Joey. A Mormon challenged saying that Mark Hofman made the story (1984). When clearly, whether the Toad story is verified, or whether Joey's final First Vision is verified, isn't the question. The question is that Mormon Defenders of the Fake rely on FairLDS and MormonVoices as their propaganda source, and proven to get egg on their face every time. A defense that Mark Hofman invented the Toad Story can't be changed once Mormon propaganda is proven wrong. It comes into questioning Mormon integrity - which, like virginity, can only be lost once.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

The discussion was Smith first having a First Vision of a Toad-to-a-Man, in which Mormon challenged as a story invented by Mark Hofman in 1984 - then it was pointed out that Willard Chase detailed the Toad story over 150 years prior to Hofman. But Hofman is the Mormon defense, and feeble minded cult member say, "Supreme Leader, you are right, Mark Hofman invented that story. Show us the Kool-aid, we are with you right or wrong, for our Supreme Leader is never wrong.."

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

His Toad story is BEFORE the eight or so First Vision stories written by the Mormons. Everyone else just refined the story when people thought Joe was crazy thinking he seen a Toad morph into a Man. Maybe he should have written children's books - it pays well.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

But wasn't it you saying the story originated with Mark Hofman? A hundred years after Willard Chase submitting a doc to the courts? So you are using alternative defense to the Toad Story now. If they don't buy Mark Hofman, then discredit Willard Chase. I'll agree with that, if we apply the same standard to Joe and the First Vision - no witnesses, only second hand sources unverified - so it didn't exist.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

Brigham Young was credited with using the term Latter-day Saints as a maneuver to NOT BE Mormons on their exodus out of Ohio after the Mormons embezzled the life savings of Mormons and non-Mormons in the Kirkland Safety Society - the Mormon's illegal, uncharter banking operation. They didn't want to claim to be Mormon, hoping to avoid detection since many arrest warrants were issued for the Mormon leaders of the 'bank.' It is interesting though how uncertain the Mormon God is, "Thus saith the Lord: call my church Church of Christ." Opps "Call it Church of Latter-day Saints." No, wait, I'm an indecisive Mormon God - let us stick with Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since it all comes from revelation - seems pretty much like the Mormon God has some mental issues to work out in the self-confidence area.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

Best comment you have? Hate is pointing out the lies of Mormonism?

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

Mark Hofman based his forgeries off of the Toad story as set forth in court documents from Willard Chase - over a hundred years prior to Hofman. But if the feeble Mormon psyche is so frail, that you have to believe Mark Hofman invented the story; you are a dedicated cult member. Simon says jump; you jump. Simon says the Toad story originated with Mark Hofman, not Willard Chase, you buy the lie. It's ok. Some people have such low self-esteem that they feel a need to follow the Supreme Leader, because they can't think for themselves. People's Temple with Jim Jones, Branch Davidians with David Koresh - Mormons are in the same boat - the Supreme Leader does no wrong. All others, they can research Willard Chase and many sources of his testimony against Joseph Smith are available.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

Who plays the part of the Toad that Joseph Smith first saw in the "sacred grove' that changed into a man and slapped him silly? This version of the First Vision took over 11 years to evolve from the Toad to Jesus Christ and God. This pagent is much like someone going to Universal Studios and believing that Harry Potter is actually real.  Maybe the Mormons should rent a booth at Comic-Con with the other costumed characters of fiction.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

The Church of Latter-day Saints was one of the many variations of Joe's name for his church.  But it didn't market well with the missionary efforts, so he added Jesus Christ. Identity Theft of Christ's good name doesn't make one a Christian.

Timothy Lee Unrine
Timothy Lee Unrine

The "Sacred Grove" where the Mormon Fairy Tale evolved, much like man evolved from the apes, slowly over time, until the refined version of the story celebrated today was presented to the world. 1827 - Joseph Smith Sr and Joseph Smith Jr give the Toad-to-Man First Story talk to Willard Chase, who repeats in a 1833 affidavit - this is the earliest First Vision of conster Joe. 1827 - Martin Harris gives an account of the First Vision story to Rev John A Clark, which was written about later in 1842 in the book Gleanings By The Way. This version an angel tells Joey where to look for the buried plates, but he must get married in Pennsylvania first and have a child. 1830 - First Vision story related to Peter Bauder in an interview of Joseph Smith, later printed in his book The Kingdom and the Gospel of Jesus Christ printed in 1834.  In the interview, Joey made no reference to meeting God or Jesus Christ, told him an angel told him where the gold plates were located, had to return in a year, and after translating, the angel took the gold plates back. It has been noted in the 1830 version, that after this unsuccessful interview by Joey, that religious aspects started to appear in later First Vision acccounts. 1832 - this is the first First Vision revision which started to incorporated Christian religious aspects, bible readings, forgiveness, praying.  Smith first mentions heavy study of the scriptures since age 12, first mention of all churches being wrong, he seen Jesus Christ in this version only, NO GOD, just Christ. 1834 - 1835 - Joey Smith and Oliver Cowdery both co-authored a First Vison story printed in the Messenger and Advocate, a Mormon publication.  FIrst ever mention of a revival, first mention of a angel visiting his bedroom, told about gold plates and location. 1835 - Joseph Smith talking to a Jewish Minister, Joshua.  His vision had in the Grove, he seen first one personage, then came another personagle, and also had many angels appearing (mini-version of the Tabernacle Choir maybe). 1838 - An actual account by Joseph Smith, was not printed until 1842, this became the official version.  Local revival.  Was at age 14, he was in the Grove, seen two personages - God and Jesus Christ - was told all churches were wrong. 1844 - Joseph Smith wrote the chapter on Mormonism in the book An Original History of Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States.  No mention of a revival.  He was 14 at the time, in the Grove, had a vision of two personages who did not identify themselves, was told all churches are wrong. 1859 - First Vision Account by Martin Harris.  Interview with Tiffany's Monthly.  Origins of Mormonism tied to the gold plates.  No mention of the revival.  Joseph finds the plates while with his wife.  Angel later appears to Joey and tells him to knock his crap off, God needs the plates translated, and to quit being a con-artist.  This angel also was the one telling Smith that Martin had the money to publish the book. So it wasn't some miracle of a vision, the First Vision was a carefully crafted story that evolved over more than a decade. This is a short-short summary, a full detailed reporting is available at: www.irr.org/mit/first-vision.html

Don Pritchard
Don Pritchard

You don't think the omission of Jesus Christ from the name of the church was accidental do you? Otherwise it wouldn't fit their bias. 

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