Mormon Turtles 1: The Salt Lake Tabernacle, etc

By February 3, 2015

In the next two posts I?m going to look at turtles as symbols in a Mormon context. I resisted the titles ?Mormon Testudines? and ?Mormon Chelonians? as being bit obscure for a non-science blog. For our purposes today, ?turtles? will include ?terrapins? and ?tortoises,? acknowledging that some versions of English make distinctions among the three. It turns out that almost everything I found with Mormons and turtles in the same sentences involved comment on the shape of the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

The Salt Lake Tabernacle was completed in 1867 and immediately compared to turtles and other things. Henry Grow, the principle engineer of the roof, was reported to say ?that any person who has not seen the building can have a very good idea of the roof by imagining the back or shell of a common eastern ground turtle, of huge proportions.? [1] Another 1867 visitor with an eye for chelonian architecture wrote home to say that ?This is a wonderful building; a huge tortoise shell roof supported by complicated, tied, arched small timbers on prodigiously strong side walls of stone.? [2] A later reminiscence by a visitor to Salt Lake City puts the turtle imagery ?irreverently? in the mouth of First Presidency member George Albert Smith in the early 1870s. [3]

Other turtle descriptions include:

?The Tabernacle is a huge, featureless building, like the back of a turtle or an oblong dish-cover: the profane call it ?The Church of the Holy Turtle.?? [4]

?The turtle-back tabernacle is the most conspicuous building in the city, and from an architectural standpoint, the most wonderful. The roof, humped up like the shell of a terrapin, was another idea of Brigham Young, conceived to represent the gathering of one flock under one umbrella.? [5]

?The whole affair is strikingly like a prodigious tortoise that has lost its way, and is thinking which turn it shall take.? [6]

We could go on. [7] Christine Edwards Allred has collected more examples. [8]

I did find a very small number of instances where someone used turtle imagery in conversations involving Mormons. A 1907 piece compared some non-Mormons living in Utah to terrapins in order to discount their opinions about Mormons:

The rounders, boozers, proselyters, society moths, and religious bigots do not know the Mormons, and the fact that they live in the same block has no bearing on the case. Ask a terrapin its opinion of an eagle, and the reply will be worth as much as Goodwin?s opinion of President Smith. [9]

A visitor to Utah writing in 1913 made the only direct, text-based comparison between Mormons and turtles I have found:

I have some criticisms to make on the older members of the church. I have met quite a few who were very narrow in their views, they remind me of a terrapin in his shell; if you disturb his highness, he closes up, he is not able to answer you with argument, but he closes himself in his vault and lets the rain and hail pour. [10]

I close out my collation of Mormon/turtle comparisons with a few lines from Eliza R Snow, reflecting on the changes in transportation [11]:

The present transit across the plains,
Compared with the early ?Mormon trains,?
Is much like the antelope?s fleety race
Compared with the terrapin?s burden?d pace. 

I have not noticed any Mormon / Gamera comparisons.

————

[1] ?Mr. Grow thinks that any person who has not seen the building can have a very good idea of the roof by imagining the back or shell of a common eastern ground turtle, of huge proportions, but it is more frequently likened to the hull of an old fashioned ship, without any keel, and turned topsy turvy.? Henry Grow, as paraphrased in No author listed [TBH Stenhouse, editor], ?The New Tabernacle,? Salt Lake Daily Telegraph, Salt Lake City, UT, 1867 Oct 06 Sun, p 2.

[2] ?Monday, the 7th, I attended the Mormon ?Conference? morning and afternoon. It was held in the ?New Tabernacle.? This is a wonderful building; a huge tortoise shell roof supported by complicated, tied, arched small timbers on prodigiously strong side walls of stone.? Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, letter to his wife, Boise City, Idaho, 1867 Oct 15, as quoted in Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Reminiscences of a Missionary Bishop (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1906), 343.

[3] Justin McCarthy, recalling in the late 1890s a visit to Salt Lake City in the early 1870s, George A Smith (misidentified as ?George L. Smith?) ?talked well, in a deep rolling voice, and with a dash of humour in his words and tone—he it was who irreverently but accurately likened the Tabernacle to a land turtle.? Justin McCarthy, Reminiscences, Volume 1 of 2 (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1899), 258.

[4] Not to be confused with a church of the same informal name (the Second Unitarian Church in Brooklyn) in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York City, 1858-1962. William Garden Blaikie, Summer Suns in the Far West: A Holiday Trip to the Pacific Slope (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890), 43.

[5] FL Davis, ?Utah?s Pioneer Jubilee,? The Illustrated American 22.389 (1897 Jul 24): 106 (104-107).

[6] Henry William Lucy, East by West: A Journey in the Recess, Volume 1 of 2 volumes (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1885), 97.

[7] Continuing: ?turtle-shaped Tabernacle?; ?in the shape of a tortoise?; ?the old tortoise-backed Tabernacle?; ?like a tortoise shell?; ?tortoise shaped Tabernacle?; ?tortoise-shaped building?; ?an immense, singular-looking affair, with a roof like the shell of a huge tortoise.? No author listed, ?Among the Mormons,? Home Mission Monthly 12.12 (1898 Oct): 274 (273-274). ESB, ?Place Aux Dames: The Ladies of Salt Lake City,? Lippincott?s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science 31 (old series; new series: 5) (1883 Jan): 105 (104-106). Mrs Frank Leslie, ?Our Transcontinental Caravan,? Frank Leslie?s Popular Monthly 33.5 (1892 May): 519 (514-526). No author listed, ?The New Inter-Mountain Home of Crane Co., Salt Lake City, Utah,? The Valve World 7.1 (1911 Jan): 580-581. David Lebcher, interview credited to the Beacon and Republican, Akron, Ohio, 1891 May 29, excerpted in ?Utah and Grape Culture,? The Latter-day Saints Millennial Star 53.28 (1891 Jul 13 Mon): 446 (446-447); also reprinted in ?Grape Culture in Utah,? The Deseret Weekly 43.1, Salt Lake City, 1891 Jun 27 Sat, p 2. Frank Morton McMurray and Almon Ernest Parkins, Advanced Geography: Part One (New York: Macmillan Co, 1921), 142 (caption to Figure 163 [photo of Temple Square from East-Southeast]). Milton M. Shaw, Nine Thousand Miles on a Pullman Train: An Account of a Tour of Railroad Conductors from Philadelphia to the Pacific Coast and Return (Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott, 1898), 154-155.

?He showed us many cabinet photographs of Salt Lake City, his own family, leading Mormons, and the like: especially of the Old Tabernacle, like a monstrous tortoise, and one from a finished drawing of the new, of even more tasteless architecture, being the most gigantic piece of perpendicular ever perpetrated, and full of unsightly windows.? Martin Farquhar Tupper, My Life as an Author (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1886), 332-333. There was an ?old? tabernacle, but in this context, I imagine the author is comparing the ?new? tabernacle (ie, the one that is still in Salt Lake City) and the Salt Lake City Temple.

?The exterior of the Tabernacle, from its oval shape, is often likened to half an egg bisected lengthwise; to me it looks like a tortoise, with its low curved roof and its remarkably short pillars, only a few feet apart. [¶] But it is a mammoth tortoise, 250 x 150 feet, with not a column nor a pillar to obstruct the view—the largest span of unsupported wooden roof in the world.? Morris Phillips, Abroad and at Home: Practical Hints for Tourists (New York: Brentano?s, 1891), 239-240.

?The Tabernacle, which is just west of the Temple in the same square, is one of the architectural curios of the world. It looks like a vast terrapin-back, or half of a prodigious egg-shell cut in two lengthwise, and is built wholly of iron, glass and stone.? The quoted lines or near variants appeared multiple times. However, the authorship, titles, publishers, and relationships among the texts are unclear to me. Patrick Donan, with rhymes by Cy Warman, Utah: A Peep into a Mountain-walled Treasury of the Gods (Buffalo, NY: Matthews, Northrup, & Co, 1891), 92. Patrick Donan, with Rhymes by Cy Warman, Utah: Being a Concise Description of the Vast Resources of a Wonderful Region, 12th edition (Denver: Passenger Department of the Denver & Rio Grande System, 1904), 75. ?The Tabernacle resembles in appearance the back of a vast terrapin, or half of a prodigious egg cut in two lengthwise. This building seats 13,462 people, and its acoustic properties are so marvelous that a faint whisper or the dropping of a pin can be heard all over it.? No author listed, prepared by Union Pacific Railroad Company, Utah: Its Resources and Attractions, 1901, 10th edition (Omaha: EL Lomax, 1901 Mar), 97. ?The Tabernacle resembles in appearance the back of a vast terrapin, or half of a prodigious egg cut in two lengthwise.? No author listed, prepared by Union Pacific Railroad Company, Resources of the State of Utah, 12th edition (Omaha: EL Lomax, 1905 Mar), 103. A Darlow and Harry Brook, The Rand-McNally Guide to California Via ?The Overland Route?, (Chicago: Rand McNally and Co, 1903), 139. ?The Temple is not intended to be a house of worship, but will be used wholly for conducting the ceremonial rites of the Mormon priesthood. The Tabernacle in the same square is one of the architectural curiosities of the world. It looks like a vast terrapin-back or half of a prodigious egg-shell cut in two lengthwise, and is built wholly of glass, iron and stone.? Thomson P. McElrath, A Press Club Outing: A Trip Across the Continent to Attend the First Convention of the International League of Press Clubs (New York: International League of Press Clubs, 1893), 38.

[8] Ronald W Walker, ?The Salt Lake Tabernacle in the Nineteenth Century: A Glimpse of Early Mormonism,? Journal of Mormon History 31.3 (2005 Fall): 210-211 (198-240). In the notes to the article Walker wrote that ?Christine Edwards Allred researched and wrote a preliminary draft? and ?Many of the travelers? quotations that appear in Allred?s manuscript also appear in this article? (p 198). Further: ?Throughout this essay, I have drawn on the quotations compiled in Christine Edwards Allred?s unpublished essay, but never more so than in this listing of Tabernacle images. Allred, ?A Huge and Hideous Edifice,? 11-16, unpublished manuscript, photocopy in my possession, used by permission? (p 212, n 48).

[9] ?In Salt Lake City lives one Goodwin, a wiggling, jiggling, ink-fish whose life is given over to reviling the Mormons. To Goodwin and his ilk I pass out this: If you want to know what sort of person a man is, ask his near neighbors—and then believe the opposite of what they say. Prejudice is often a matter of propinquity. Goodwin constantly argues that because he has lived long in Salt Lake City he fully understands the Mormons, and knows them far better than a mere visitor possibly can. I suppose he would argue that the people who put Jesus Christ to death knew Him a deal better than we do. In other words, that proximity proves insight and knowledge. [¶] ?The man who sifts his ashes only when the wind blows your way, and your wife has her washing on the line, will always refer to you as a rogue. Goodwin has calumniated the Mormons so long that his punishment now is that he believes his own fabrications. [¶] The rounders, boozers, proselyters, society moths, and religious bigots do not know the Mormons, and the fact that they live in the same block has no bearing on the case. Ask a terrapin its opinion of an eagle, and the reply will be worth as much as Goodwin?s opinion of President Smith.? Elbert Hubbard, no title, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest 26.1 (1907 Dec): 25 (18-28).

[10] John Samuel Dearing, A Drummer?s Experience (Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak Publishing Co, 1913), 484.

[11] E. R. S. [Eliza Roxey Snow], ?Change,? poem, The Latter-day Saints? Millennial Star 30.7 (1868 Feb 15 Sat): 112; later reprinted in Eliza R Snow [Eliza Roxey Snow], Poems: Religious, Historical and Political, Volume 2 (Salt Lake City: The Latter-day Saints? Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1877), 115.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Love that footnote 9. Good stuff. As is this entire series! Thanks, Edje.

    Comment by Amy T — February 3, 2015 @ 7:42 am

  2. Awesome, as always, Edje. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — February 3, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

  3. I love your posts, Edje. Thanks for the post!

    Comment by J Stuart — February 3, 2015 @ 1:14 pm

  4. Great stuff, Edje.

    Comment by admin — February 3, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

  5. Thanks, all.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — February 3, 2015 @ 4:42 pm

  6. Thank you for introducing the phrase “chelonian architecture” to my lexicon.

    Comment by Saskia — February 4, 2015 @ 4:19 am


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