Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Descendants mark graves of Smith family

Headstones honor Prophet's parents and brother Hyrum
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2002

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NAUVOO, Ill. — About 120 descendants of Joseph and Hyrum Smith gathered in the family cemetery here June 22 to pay respects to their fallen ancestors, and view two new headstones over the graves of the Smith parents, Joseph Smith Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith.

Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred
Scenic view from Smith Family Cemetery toward Mississippi River.
Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred
Elder M. Russell Ballard showcases new headstones placed by Smith descendants over the graves of Joseph Smith Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith in the Smith Family Cemetery.
Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred
The Homestead, first home of Joseph and Emma Smith after arriving in Nauvoo, is behind grave site of Hyrum, Joseph and Emma Smith.

Family members living in Midwestern states had gathered in Nauvoo to visit the Nauvoo Illinois Temple on the last day of the open house and see improvements to the family cemetery.

With diamond-like sparkles of early morning light shimmering off the Mississippi River, they first paused at the headstones of Hyrum, Joseph and Emma, then strolled down a newly extended brick path and around a corner to the graves of the Smith parents.

The headstones, which were unveiled in May, are a result of a family project that had been approved in August 2001. The project included locating the grave sites of Joseph Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith, and placing headstones. It also included replacing the deteriorating flat headstones of Emmeline Smith, first wife of Joseph Smith III, and their two children, Arthur and Evelyn, and extending the brick pathway to the graves.

Location of the parents' graves was pinpointed by researching historical information and using ground penetrating radar.

Construction work began April 24 and was completed in four days. Improvements included the installation of a concrete walkway that was covered by brick and lighted with ground lights.

"This amount of work was only completed so fast because of the dedicated LDS [couple] missionaries," said Daniel M. Larsen, great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith. These missionaries are serving in Nauvoo and volunteered their time.

"One of the great rewards for me on this project [came] when we completed the work. I went to each elder and thanked him for using his particular construction skills to help complete the project," Mr. Larsen said. "All of them responded by thanking me for letting them work on this special project, a labor of love for everyone."

By mid-May, after laying sod and planting flowers, Mr. Larsen went to see the completed cemetery project. "I walked down the existing brick walkway to where the new walkway started and sat on one of the benches facing the new headstone area. It looked so peaceful and beautiful, like it had been that way for a long time," he said.

"The white marble headstones of Joseph Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith were very elegant and almost glowing, even on that cloudy afternoon. Tears came to my eyes. It looked better than I envisioned it eight months earlier."

The Smith Family Cemetery, owned by the Community of Christ, was beautified and is maintained by the Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Foundation. It is located beside the old Homestead where Joseph and Emma Smith first lived in Nauvoo.

The cemetery served as the family burial ground from 1840 to 1891. The bodies of Joseph and Hyrum, which had been hidden in the walls of the nearby Nauvoo House following their martyrdom in 1846 were later buried beneath a shed near the Homestead, and finally placed in the family burial ground in 1928.

Over the years, the area was generally not maintained until the family foundation began improving the property into the garden-like setting of today. In 1991, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve joined Wallace B. Smith, president of the then Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, on Aug. 4 to dedicate the cemetery that included landscaping and placing new body-length headstone of Hyrum, Joseph and Emma in a beautiful granite.

Motivation for the cemetery, and especially for the headstones of Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, stem from a letter written by Emma Smith to Joseph III dated Dec. 2, 1867, from Nauvoo. She wrote that she was concerned about the "neglected condition" of the cemetery and had $25 to apply to a headstone. She then wrote, "I think we can ask our Smith relations to mark Father's and Mother's graves, if no more."