“The Book of Mormon” in Des Moines

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).

This shelf in the Salisbury House Library is almost entirely dedicated to Mormon literature.

This shelf in the Salisbury House Library is almost entirely dedicated to early Mormon literature, including “A Plea for Polygamy.”

Title page, first edition "Book of Mormon."

First edition “Book of Mormon,” published in 1830 in Palmyra, New York.

1845 "Doctrine and Covenants," published in Nauvoo, Illinois.

1845 “Doctrine and Covenants,” published in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Mormon Church published many immigrants guides to make it as easy to get to Utah as possible.

The Mormon Church and its partner presses published many immigrants’ guides to make it as easy to get to Utah as possible.

Once you arrived in Utah, this book would help you navigate.

Once you arrived in Utah, this book would help you navigate.

Signature of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church. It is from the signature block of a letter to one of his wives.

Signature of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church. It is from the signature block of a letter to one of his wives.

Letter signed by Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormon Immigrants to Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City and later become governor.

Letter signed by Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormon Immigrants to Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City and later become governor.

One of many letters in our archives from Utah/Mormon writer Maurine Whipple, in this case thanking Carl Weeks for advancing her funds to complete a book.

One of many letters in our archives from Utah/Mormon writer Maurine Whipple, in this case thanking Carl Weeks for advancing her funds to complete a book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s