Surprised, Inspired, and Immersed
By Aaron L. West, Senior Historian, Historic Sites Division
Current view of President Joseph F. Smith's room, in process of restoration.
The first time I toured the Beehive House, one room took my breath away. That room, like many other blessings from God, surprised me and then inspired me.
Before I tell you about the room, I should tell you a little bit about the entire building. Beginning in 1854, President Brigham Young and one of his wives lived in the Beehive House with their children. Attached to the home was an office, where President Young carried out some of his responsibilities as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and, for a time, as governor of Utah Territory.
Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith also used the office—each during his service as President of the Church. Presidents Snow and Smith each lived in the home. And this brings me back to the room that took my breath away.
I remember my guide pointing to the room and telling me what happened there on October 3, 1918. President Joseph F. Smith sat in the room—his bedroom—that night, pondering the scriptures and reflecting on the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He was reminded of the epistles of the Apostle Peter, so he opened his Bible and read 1 Peter 3 and 4.
In those chapters, President Smith read two passages about the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached to the dead. He pondered the passages, and the eyes of his understanding were opened. He received a vision. He saw the Savior visiting the spirit world between the time of His Crucifixion and His Resurrection, organizing righteous spirits to preach His gospel to those who had not yet received it.
So there I was, standing in a space where a prophet had seen the Savior. There I was, standing in a space where the Lord revealed truths that had helped me understand life after death. I sensed that I was on holy ground.
President Joseph F. Smith's room before its renovation.
Unfortunately, my responsible guide had to say something like this: “Today the room doesn’t look anything like it did then.” The room was decorated in a high Victorian style, not at all as it had been decorated in 1918. This didn’t ruin the moment for me, but it interrupted my experience.
Since that day, I have had the privilege of guiding tours at the Beehive House myself. I have seen the look on other’s people’s faces as they, like me, have been surprised and then inspired outside President Smith’s room. And I have had to interrupt their experience by telling them that the room isn’t historically accurate. Sometimes I have simply closed the door rather than allow them to look inside.
That will no longer be necessary. The room has been restored to represent President Smith’s bedroom on October 3, 1918. Members of the Smith family have donated precious artifacts to add authenticity and meaning to the space. Others have donated time and artistry to create replicas of a dress and a quilt. Others have made financial donations that have allowed historians and skilled artisans to return the room to the way it looked and felt over 100 years ago. Visitors will now be able to walk into that space and experience it for themselves.
This is the power of the Church’s historic sites. These places surprise us, inspire us, and immerse us in sacred stories of the Lord manifesting Himself to His people. Thank you for being part of this great work.