Des Moines Performing Arts is one of the most crucial cultural resources in Central Iowa, working tirelessly to offer exceptionally high-quality, often challenging theatrical, musical and educational experiences at their three great downtown performing arts spaces: The Civic Center, The Stoner Theater and The Temple Theater. I’ve already enjoyed many performances through their great work, and look forward to another fabulous experience next Tuesday, when my wife and I will be going to see the Tony-winning play, The Book of Mormon.
It’s wonderful to see the advance enthusiasm that this theatrical performance is generating within our market, and its week-long run will no doubt play to rapt, packed houses, show after show. But, then, as happens with touring productions, The Book of Mormon (musical) will move on to Minneapolis after its exciting run here . . . while The Book of Mormon (first print edition, 1830) remains in Des Moines, in the Salisbury House Library, along with an extraordinary collection of other historic Mormon books and documents.
Just after the turn of the 20th Century, Carl Weeks (who built Salisbury House) was doing poorly. His first business — The Red Cross Pharmacy in Centerville, Iowa — had not been successful, and he had been diagnosed with “tubercular glands” which precipitated three painful rounds of surgery. Imagine how he must have felt when he then learned that his initial diagnosis had been incorrect, and he actually had nothing more than a case of tonsillitis. Needing a reprieve period to recover — physically and emotionally — and following the advice of his brother Deyet, Carl traveled to “Mormon Dixie,” the then-largely unexplored and unpopulated southwestern corner of Utah.
Carl’s time in Utah was clearly both restorative and formative. He returned to Des Moines, met, courted and married Edith, worked with his brothers in their patent medicine and toiletry businesses, and in 1915 launched the Armand brand that made him his fortune. The trip to Utah also instilled a love of the American West in Carl, and from the very first plans for what became Salisbury House, he clearly identified a need for an “Indian Room” where he could display his collections of Native American art and culture.
Carl also came home from Utah with a strong interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church), and he collected many important books and documents related to its history and culture. Additionally, he maintained a fascinating, lively correspondence for many years with Maurine Whipple, a nationally-prominent novelist and short story writer who lived and whose work was primarily set in Mormon Dixie.
Many of these documents and books remain in our collection today, and in honor of Des Moines Performing Arts’ opening of The Book of Mormon (musical), I share some of them with you, below. At our February Treasures Tour, Curator Leo Landis and I will have The Book of Mormon (first print edition) available for viewing, so if you’d like an up close and personal view of it, come see us! (Click on photos below to enlarge them).