- 1 / 1412 MUST-SEE MORMON SITESAmerica's largest homegrown religion might also be its most misunderstood. Parodied by South Park, the subject of a major Broadway hit—and always with an army of missionaries pedaling their bikes in a neighborhood near you—Mormons are, literally, all over the place.
But dig beneath the surface and the Latter-Day Saints share a far more fascinating and complex history than your average restorationist, communitarian New World church. The real story of Mormonism is one of rare faith, frontier towns, religious migration, and the Old American West. Curious travelers would do well to check out the following.
- 2 / 14SACRED GROVE
Palmyra, New York
This pretty patch of old-growth forest in upstate New York is the very spot where, according to the Book of Mormon, a 14-year-old Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ, a spiritual vision that gave rise to new religion. The summertime Hill Cumorah pageant tells the real story behind the Book of Mormon.
PHOTO BY ALEX QUISTBERG/FLICKR
- 3 / 14KIRTLAND TEMPLE
- 4 / 14ADAM-ONDI AHMAN
Daviess County, Missouri
Mormon prophet Joseph Smith taught that after being expelled from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived among these 3,000 acres of Midwestern farmland. Currently empty, this is where Mormons intend to build the New Jerusalem after the Second Coming of Christ.
PHOTO BY TODDAND/FLICKR
- 5 / 14JOSEPH'S RED BRICK STORENauvoo, Illinois
While the entire old-timey town Nauvoo is well worth exploring, the little red brick store near the city center is Grand Central for Mormon History. Some of the more interesting aspects of Mormon doctrine and practice (including, yes, polygamy) originated in the upstairs room of Joseph’s General Store.
PHOTO BY SFGAMCHICK/FLICKR
- 6 / 14CARTHAGE HALL
The small stone jailhouse is where, in 1844, the prophet Joseph Smith and brother Hyrum were shot and killed by an angry mob of opponents in 1844. Some tours include a close-up view of the prophet’s permanent bloodstain on the oaken floorboards.
PHOTO BY J.STEPHENCONN/FLICKR
- 7 / 14MORMON PIONEER CEMETARY
The Mormon Trail of pioneer wagons crossed Iowa and into Nebraska where they established their “Winter Quarters” during 1846-1847. Several hundred pioneers are buried in this cemetery, mostly victims of exposure and disease. A heartrending statue of a young pioneer couple laying their baby in a shallow grave remembers their sacrifice.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MORMON TRAIL CENTER/FACEBOOK
- 8 / 14BEEHIVE HOUSE
Salt Lake City, Utah
Just a short walk from the more obvious Temple Square, the historic Brigham Young home is open for tours. As the second prophet of the Latter-Day Saints, an ardent polygamist, and the father of 57 biological children, Brigham Young and his family outgrew this house and spilled over in the newer (and nearby) Lion House. For a time, the Beehive House was the official Utah Governor’s Residence.
PHOTO BY ALLANHARRIS/FLICKR
- 9 / 14MORMON BATTALION HISTORIC SITE
San Diego, California
Southernmost California marks the end of the historic 2,000-mile march by the only religion-based battalion in the United States Army ever, formed during the Mexican War of 1846. Over a thousand Mormon soldiers (and 4 women) completed the epic journey across the southwest. Today’s I-15 (San Diego to Salt Lake City) traces their footsteps.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MORMON BATTALION HISTORIC SITE/FACEBOOK
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- 11 / 14MORMONAPOLLUR
Westmann Islands, Iceland
On May 5, 1851, a group of Icelandic converts were baptized in a natural lagoon on the island of Heimaey, now dubbed the “Mormon Puddle”. A monument stands near the spot, dedicated to those early Saints who went on to settle the town of Spanish Fork, Utah.
PHOTO BY STEVEFERNIE/FLICKR
- 12 / 14ALBERT DOCKS
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