Church museum holds treasures of Mormon past

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

Perhaps it's the christening gown so carefully crafted by the young woman crossing the Atlantic Ocean a century and a half ago. She was anxious to rejoin her fiance, who had gone ahead to the Great Salt Lake Valley and homesteaded in Coalville. Once the two were reunited and married, the christening gown eventually was worn by not only the woman's children and grandchildren but her great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren as well — 86 descendants in all.

Or maybe it's the peg leg worn by the man who at age 6 lost his limb in a mining explosion in Wales. As an adult, he walked the Great Plains of North America with his wife, limping on a wooden leg that left his stump so painful and bloody that he couldn't sleep at night. Instead, he filled his journal with westward-trek worries of other physical toils — those suffered by his wife, who was pregnant with their first child.

They are among the narratives breathing life into the artifacts and exhibits of the Church History Museum, and "stories like these are examples of the miracle of Mormon history," said Steven L. Olsen, the former acting museum director who recently moved to work in the Office of the Presiding Bishop.

"And as Jimmy Durrante used to say," Olsen added, " 'We've got hundreds of them.' "

Chronicling those hundreds of stories and the rest of the two-centuries-long history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church History Museum this year celebrates its own quarter-century of existence.

It also stands ready to take history into the future.

Originally christened the Museum of Church History and Art when it opened in 1984, the Church History Museum still follows its original pattern — a collection of interpretive exhibits with the goal of telling a story with historical elements, whether they be actual artifacts, documents, photographs, three-dimensional recreations or other arts and visuals.

The result was a simple purpose — "a gospel message imbedded in a historical context," said Glen M. Leonard, the former museum director who retired in 2007 after a 26-year tenure of drafting, planning and guiding the museum.

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