Mummies, Lightning, Roller Skating All Part of Kirtland Temple Lore

19 03 2011

by BARBARA WALDEN, Community of Christ Historic Sites Foundation

• Historians and economists estimate the cost of building Kirtland Temple was $40,000–$70,000. This was at a time when the average farmer and family brought in less than $400 a year.

• The Temple dedication on Sunday, March 27, 1836, was attended by 900–1,000 people. The lower court filled to capacity. Overflow guests gathered in the schoolhouse behind the Temple. Others surrounded the Temple and listened through windows despite the cold weather.

• The brilliant white Kirtland Temple we see today would not have appeared white in the 1830s. The Temple was rather colorful at its dedication. The exterior stucco had a blue tint with sparkling, crushed glass imbedded. The roof had wood shingles, perhaps dipped in a red lead paint to preserve them, thus giving a reddish-brown appearance. Finally, the front doors were olive green.

• The Temple was declared a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior and the National Park Service in 1977. Fewer than 2,500 places bear this distinction. They include George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Empire State Building, and the Alamo.

• In the 1830s, lines were painted on the exterior stucco to resemble mortar lines. From a distance, the Temple appeared to be made of smooth-cut stone blocks.

• Heavy canvas curtains once hung from the ceiling of the lower court. Leaders could lower the curtains to divide the assembly room into four smaller areas of worship. Curtains also hung over the east and west pulpits, providing privacy to priesthood members for prayer, meditation, or small meetings.

• In the 1830s, Egyptian mummies were exhibited, often a tour highlight for visitors.

• Workers installed the Temple bell in 1890. After reinforcing the belfry, the local Saints bought a bell from the Buckeye Bell Foundry of Cincinnati, Ohio, for $357.

• During massive restoration in 1883, the Temple caught fire. Cassie Kelley reported the incident in the Saints’ Herald and shared that a bucket brigade saved the building:

“By letter from Kirtland to Coldwater, Michigan, we learn that the roof of the Temple at Kirtland caught fire from the tinner’s kit, employed in the tinning [of] the belfry; and but…for the timely discovery, and the energy and assistance of Bro. C. Scott and Sr. E.L. Kelley, the old building would have been burned. Sr. Kelley wrote: “Five minutes later and the whole building would have had to go…NO damage was done to the building to the amount to anything as it was.”

• Lightning struck the bell tower in 1904, badly damaging the roof and belfry. An adjacent barn caught fire. Again, a bucket brigade prevented extensive fire damage.

• Kirtland High School used the attic for classroom space in 1836–37. Oliver Cowdery reported that 135–140 students climbed the stairs to the third floor for reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, Latin, and Greek classes.

• James Ryder used the upper court in 1850 as a photography studio. He built a temporary platform over desks and invited locals and visitors to sit for a daguerreotype.

• In the 1880s, a local resident pleaded with Cassie Kelley to allow him to rent the upper court for a roller skating rink. Cassie refused.

• The church’s first seminary was on the third floor of the Temple. The Kirtland, Ohio, Theological Institution was among the first five seminaries in Ohio.


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