Nauvoo, Illinois. By no means does this town make the list of top ten places in the world to visit. Goodness, it probably wouldn’t even make the top hundred plus. Nevertheless, it was there, in a town of less than 1, 200 persons, that I enjoyed the most uplifting, rewarding, memorable vacation with my family.
Granted, rewind to the 1840s when the location seemed destined for greatness as the population and growth rivaled that of Chicago. However, as the town’s denizens, most of them Mormons, trekked west to Utah the place virtually fell off the map. Now most visit the site for history, culture, and to remember the people who once lived there.
That is all fine and dandy, but my family traveled to Nauvoo for a very different reason: to participate in a 120-member family cast of the annual Nauvoo Pageant. Actually, our days were so busy of singing, dancing, rehearsing, and talking, we didn’t even find time to visit many of Nauvoo’s historical sites. For two weeks, mornings began as early as 8am, and nights concluded as late as midnight. Everything was high energy, no matter lack of sleep, no matter physical exhaustion, no matter heat or mosquitoes. Pursuits of relaxation and pleasure were not the purpose of this vacation. Rather, our family trip was to tell a story.
Come late afternoon we donned bloomers and bonnets or britches and boots to help visitors feel as though they’d stepped into 1840 Nauvoo. Early evening was always a fanfare at the Frontier County Fair. There my sisters fiddled and fluted traditional folksongs and polkas, while I taught visitors the Highland Fling and round dances. Scores of other participants assisted in activities from hoops to stilts to quilting to arm wrestling to rag rugs. It was a Nauvoo heyday experience. Nauvoo streets may not have as much traffic now, but at the Pageant’s Fair visitors would think the Mormon pioneers never left.
But did the night end there? Was our vacation only about recreating an 1840 county fair? No. Emphatically no. Our true purpose in being in Nauvoo was yet to come. The reason years later I still consider this the greatest family trip ever. The reason my youngest sister, then two-years old, still remembers the trip. The reason my family repeated the trip a year later, and has been trying to get back since. The reason: our physical participation and performance in the Nauvoo Pageant.
In many regards the Pageant is nothing more than a historical play. There are real and fictional characters, there is a plotline, and there is a theme. Yet by playing a part in the performance, everything we had been doing transitioned from stories to reality. We were telling the life of people in Nauvoo. The wonder of a swamp to city conversion, the beauty of a temple erected from poverty, and the grief with which they left it all behind. There were faces for individuals I’d long read about; there was a voice to years old journal entries; there was music to accompany both joyful and sorrowful times of Nauvoo. And I was now a piece of the story.
Really, the play was much more than entertainment. It was about showing the audience this is who the Mormons were and what they believed. Not to mention that this remains who they are and what they believe. We were not asking people to be converted one way or another; we were simply sharing our beliefs then leaving each individual to choose. In this I found true satisfaction as I could engage in something personally precious without forcing anything on anyone.
Our two week venture to Nauvoo was undoubtedly exhausting yet exhilarating. What a joy to pay homage to a people who sacrificed all for what they believed. Every day as I learned more about those persons I learned more about myself—messages I hope never to forget. History can teach us so very much in a myriad of ways, and I’m grateful for each and every lesson gleaned.
About the Author: Aviann Germany’s first love is her growing family and the time she is able to spend with them. However, in between reading Curious George to her daughter, quilting a baby blanket for her son, and keeping a house orderly for her husband, she still finds time to write.
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