Our Hill Cumorah

A recent article on lds.org, Reclaiming Hill Cumorah1, prompted me to share some interesting Hill Cumorah stories of our own. My grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark’s book of remembrance and collection of letters reveal her deep connections to Hill Cumorah’s beginnings, both through her mentor Torleif Knaphus and her parents Hyrum and June Bushman Smith, who were missionaries at the Cumorah Farm from 1935 to 1939.

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Dorothy Smith Clark with parents Hyrum and June Bushman Smith, c. 1928

Partly as an effort to expand Dorothy’s educational and artistic opportunity, Dorothy’s family moved to Salt Lake City from Lethbridge, Alberta in 1930. In 1931, the recently widowed Torleif Knaphus took an interest in Dorothy. As her artistic mentor—and for a time—her suitor, Torleif escorted her on artistic excursions, instructed her in sculpting, and employed her in making handmade Christmas cards and sketches. Dorothy must have been flattered, as my grandfather Ellsworth was also competing for her attention. In her diary she writes

Sunday April 23, 1933

Went by Orem Electric to annual Springville Art Exhibit with T.S. Knaphus, sculptor. Spent 3 hours in Provo, sight-seeing on our way back to S.L.C. Took kodak snaps on B.Y.U. campus.

This was a very interesting day for me and rather an outstanding one I suppose, inasmuch as I was so kindly favored and well treated by one so prominent in his sphere.

En route he gave me valuable instructions and criticisms on art. Urges strongly that I begin to busy myself with “oils” and harness the talent he believes lies dormant. (I hope to do this soon, as I have been so inspired today)

Left Knaphus at 8 P.M. to finish the day with Ellsworth. Youth does have its preferences.

Indeed it does, as Dorothy settled on Ellsworth and became engaged that summer. Still, Dorothy maintained her friendship with Torleif and continued to be mentored by him. In September of 1933 she wrote:

Was invited to Knaphus studio this evening where be showed me a newly-designed model of the shaft for the Hill Cumorah Monument.

We ate some ice-cream there and talked of my doing some more painting there and maybe helping him with some new panels. Thrilled about getting into that work again.

Grateful for his attention and interest in her art, she writes:

Saturday, November 12, 1933

I have Christmas card orders to fill for Torleif S. Knaphus in return for clay which he gave me for modeling.

He certainly has inspired me and been a great help in pushing me, as it were, along the road to accomplishment.

I don’t know many other grown people who have so influenced me to good and been as companionable.

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Dorothy in Professor Wildhaber’s studio, 1931

During their engagement, Dorothy encouraged Ellsworth to serve a mission. After he departed in December 1933 to a Western States mission, there is some hint that Torleif still carried a torch for Dorothy as he sought out her company. Dorothy writes:

Wednesday, January 24, 1934

Attended night class tonite and made my first water color scene (copy of Moser’s) in new style (from my former teachings.)

Mr. Knaphus met me after work – asked me to go to Beaux Arts Ball this Saturday but I declined.

Although she didn’t attend the dance with Torleif, their close friendship often proved torturous to Ellsworth during his absence while serving as a missionary. On a temple trip to Manti that included the Knaphus family, Dorothy played an April Fool’s joke on Ellsworth and wrote to him that she and Torleif decided on a whim to be sealed there. Needless to say, Ellsworth was not amused.

Still, Dorothy’s heart proved true and she and Ellsworth married shortly in the summer 1934. A few months later, her parents Hyrum and June Bushman Smith were called to be missionaries on the Hill Cumorah Farm.

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Dorothy and Ellsworth moved to Idaho, but Torleif’s connection to the family remained  as he completed the monument and attended its dedication in July 1935. Over the next year, Dorothy regularly wrote to her family in Palmyra, discussing plans for the Cumorah Monument dedication and future pageant. In her letters, Dorothy even sketched out possible local advertisements for the pageant. On May 26, 1935, Dorothy’s brother Oliver—a missionary in the Eastern States Mission—wrote about local missionary efforts and preparations for the monument’s dedication:

Along with 37 other missionaries of the Easter States mission I am engaged in a special drive in the area within a 20-mile radius of Palmyra, which will continue until the dedication of the Cumorah Monument on July 21. We hope to do some good work by this concentration of effort, which has significance with the connection of the monument. We are visiting every home—rural and urban—in the section. Eleven of us stay together at the LDS hall in Palmyra and drive out 5 or 10 miles every morning to a rural section in which we go tracting until late afternoon, when we return. Our week-ends I have visited Rochester and Buffalo for publicity work. At Buffalo I stayed at Mary Payne Chamber’s place. She has three children. Girl 11, girl 9, and boy 7….

Every day or so there are visitors here from somewhere we have been. Today Bro & Sis Douglas Anderson visited us and went to the Peter Whitmer farm with us in the afternoon. The church was organized there. Next Sunday we are having a session of the Cumorah District Conference here.

The 1935 dedication proved a moving experience for the entire Smith family, and in the in the spring of 1936, Dorothy and Ellsworth made plans to visit Dorothy’s parents in Palmyra that summer with their young son Norman. The 1936 pageant was a family affair. Her parents Hyrum and June and brother Oliver had key roles developing the pageant. Sisters June and Lois Smith participated in the pageant. Even her one-year-old son Norman rode in a wagon as part of the festivities. The images below are pages from Dorothy’s book of remembrance that chronicle their trip.

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Dorothy lays out scenes from early church history as they were in 1936.

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Hill Cumorah as seen from highway leaving Palmyra 1936

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Great Grandfather Hyrum Smith (center) standing at the base of the monument. He is a first cousin once removed to Joseph Smith, and served as Torleif’s model for Joseph Smith in this panel.

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Dorothy saved local newspaper clippings of the Hill Cumorah Page

One Comment Add yours

  1. Amy Whetten says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful bit of history involving my sweet Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Ellsworth, and my grandparents, Hyrum and June. I am Don’s daughter, Amy June Smith Whetten.

    Like

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