“Salt Lake City, Ensign to the Nations: Hallowed Ground, Sacred Journeys” Walking Tour – “Salt Lake City, Ensign to the Nations: Walking Tours”
DVD – ““Hallowed Ground, Sacred Journeys: Salt Lake City, Ensign to the Nations”
Authors: John P. Livingstone, W. Jeffrey Marsh, Lloyd D. Newell, Craig James Ostler, John P. Starrs, and David M. Whitchurch
Publisher: BYU Religious Studies Center
Year Published: 2008
Number of Pages: Book – 211 Walking Tour Book – 102
Binding: Book – Hard, Walking Tour – Soft, Spiral Bound
ISBN: Book with DVD – 13: 978-0-8425-2671-5 Walking Tour – 13:
978-0-8425-2670-8 DVD Only – 13: 978-0-8425-2689-0
Price: Book with DVD - $29.95 Walking Tour - $8.95 DVD Only - $9.95
Reviewed by Andrew Hamilton
“Hallowed Ground Sacred Journeys: Salt Lake City” is a Book/DVD/Walking Tour book set produced by the BYU Religious Studies Center. Much of the information, and many of the stories in the three parts is the same, although each media has a slightly different focus. In this review I will discuss all three starting with the book.
“Salt Lake City, Ensign to the Nations: Hallowed Ground, Sacred Journeys” is a glossy, oversized, “Coffee (Postum) Table” style book that discusses the historical and modern day layout of the greater downtown Salt Lake area. For convenience the book divides this territory into eight parts: “Ensign Peak,” “Temple Square,” “Brigham Young Properties,” “John Smith and George A. Smith Properties,” “A Stake of Zion in the Desert,” “Government, Leisure, and Business in Zion,”
“Southwest of Temple Square,” and “Capitol Hill.” Each of these sections is divided into chapters that deal with specific sites in those areas.
Much of the focus of the book is on photographs. If you took out the pictures it would be lucky to make it to fifty pages in length. In fact, the large book and the “walking tour” book share many of the same stories and text. The photography alone makes this book worth acquiring. The modern photographs are rich and beautiful and the historical photographs are priceless and fascinating.
Each section in the book contains a section text that provides a narrative description of the site including historical descriptions and significance and the modern use or significance of the site. There are also numerous “human interest” style stories, most of which tell some sort of spiritual story from LDS history. One such story, found on page
96 of the large book and on pages seven and eight of the walking tour book, tells of how future apostle and Church President George Albert Smith was miraculously saved when his mother listened to the advice a disappearing stranger. Another story that I really enjoyed and found quite fun was about a young James E. Talmage, then president of the University of Utah. It told of how one day he decided that he was now adept enough at riding his bicycle that rather than dismounting and walking it across a foot bridge near his home that crossed City Creek, as he had previously done, he would instead try to ride across. On his first attempt he crashed hard into the river bank. Determined to conquer the bridge he tried and failed repeatedly for an hour before he succeeded in crossing without crashing. He then tried a few more times to make sure he had the skill down. When he finally returned home, over an hour late, he was so beaten and bruised that he sent his wife into shock. (see page 125)
Each section of the book also includes detailed descriptions of the photos, and sections of text off set “sidebar” style in brown background boxes and titled “Interesting Facts.” Many of these are very interesting and often provide bits and pieces of history that seem almost obscure. They often provide construction and architectural related information, who contributed to certain features, famous visitors who visited the sites, data on previous occupants and owners, etc.
I quite enjoyed the book. It is well done and was enjoyable to read and look at. It provides no in depth history, so professional historians and those who read a lot of LDS or Utah history will not find anything useful here and probably not like it. However this book definitely allows those who are not from the area and may never get here to “experience” Salt Lake and to learn some basic, fun, and interesting facts about Salt Lake City’s LDS sites.
The walking tour book is divided up into three tours: “Temple Square,”
which essentially covers the downtown LDS Church campus; “Pioneer Business District,” which runs from South Temple to 150 South and West Temple to State Street; and “Capitol Hill and Pioneer Memorial Museum.
Each site is numbered with instructions offset in blue telling you how to get from one site to the next. Some give actual directions, “cross street,” “exit Temple Square through East exit,” etc. Others give a general description of a building or tell you which direction to look.
Like the coffee table book the walking tour book gives a description of the current use of the site as well as the historical use of the site.
For instance, you learn that the LDS Family History Library sits on the former site of the George A. Smith home. Included in this section is the previously mentioned story of young George Albert Smith’s miraculous preservation. Another spotlighted spiritual story that gets two pages in the walking tour book tells of how a dream led John H. Morgan to join the LDS Church, go on a mission to the Southern States and eventually convert a whole village (pp. 74-75). Many other such stories are included as well.
Some of the included history is somewhat obscure, how many people would have known that the Deuel Log Cabin (site number 2, between the Family History Library and the Church History Museum) also served for a time as the home to Apostle Albert Carrington’s daughter Frances and her husband Zebulon Jacobs. Heck, how many modern Latter-day Saints have even heard of Albert Carrington. Some included trivia and facts are architectural in nature, example; the modern Deseret News building windows are designed mathematically to the exact measurements of the columns in the daily newspaper. (p. 58)
Since I grew up in the greater Salt Lake area, worked near downtown for many years, and visit the area frequently, I wasn’t expecting to learn much from the tour book, but it really surprised me. Besides learning a lot of the historical uses of Temple Square and the Business District, I noticed a lot of small things I had walked right past and never seen before. I may be blind but before using this book I had never noticed the “Temple Square Arch” (site 3) or the “Charles Savage Monument” (site
7) before. Again, I wonder how many modern LDS have even heard of Charles R. Savage, or know of his significance. I knew about him before using this book, but I had no idea that he had a monument in downtown Salt Lake.
Now let me comment on the DVD. The DVD which comes with the book or can be purchased separately installs the “Virtual Tours” program onto your computer. There were things I liked and disliked about the DVD. I will address the problems I see with it first. The program took a very long time to load on to my computer and when running it required a lot of memory causing it to be slow and sluggish in its reactions at times.
Admittedly, my computer is several years old now, but it has a gig of ram, I update it routinely, and I do not usually experience this problem with other similar programs or movies. I also experienced problems while trying to navigate within the program. It has forward and backward navigation buttons that are supposed to move you around as you select different sites to view but often they did not work quite right and sent me to the wrong part of the program.
My two biggest problems with the DVD relate to the production of the
video clips. The authors and compilers of the books and DVD take turns
presenting the video clips. They may be great writers and excellent teachers but several of them struggled in the video presentations.
Lloyd Newell, who reads the “Spoken Word” for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, presents his segments flawlessly as one might expect from a professional radio and television personality. The others aren’t so lucky, especially Craig Ostler. He has a lot more “Uh’s,” “Ahh’s,”
“Umm’s,” and awkward pauses than you would expect from a professional television style production. One thing I learned as a camera operator for KBYU television years ago is that just because a person can teach a college class in front of an audience of hundreds, doesn’t mean they do well in front of a camera. I think that future volumes of this series would be better off if the authors hired someone else to read the video segments.
My second major complaint deals with the use of background music. I realize that in our culture it seems to be expected that all television productions, movies, films, and video segments will have background music in them. While I personally disagree with this practice, especially for documentary style productions, I’m okay with it as long as the background music stays in the background. I’m reminded of an experience I had while working for KBYU. One of the productions I worked was a concert show with a Memorial Day theme involving many of the BYU Choirs that was meant as a follow up to their popular show/CD “Thanksgiving of American Folk Hymns.” We recorded four performances of the same show. Between the third and fourth shows the director came out of the production truck and chewed out the singers. He started his remarks by stating that show would be aired on PBS around the country and made special mention of the Southern States. He then said, “You’re not crying enough as you sing. I need to be able to get close up shots of you crying so that when all of those Baptists in the South watch this production they will feel the Spirit and join the Church.”
As I watched parts of “Hallowed Grounds,” I was reminded of this experience. I felt as if the producers were using the music in an attempt to manipulate me into having a “spiritual experience.” The best example of this is on the “Welcome” segment. As it starts you see various pictures and images moving around to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing a “stirring” rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King”; this transitions it to video shots of various sites from downtown Salt Lake City as the Orchestra At Temple Square plays a “majestic” rendition of “Praise To The Lord Almighty.” This may not bother some, but as I watched I felt that this use of music that many would consider to be almost sacred was a blatant attempt to force me to have a “spiritual” or emotional response in connection with these sites and the product.
While flawed, the DVD also has many strengths. I feel its strongest point was the treasure trove of historical photographs. This aspect of the DVD will put these photos into the hands of many who would otherwise never experience them. It also has a number of modern photos, many of which have a special navigation function that allows the user to pan 360 degrees with in the photo, some limited up and down tilting, as well as the ability to zoom into details within the photo. If you have ever used “Google Earth” it is similar to what can be done within the street level photographs in that program. It also has many interviews with LDS Church history department personnel, staff, and missionaries from the various sites featured in the program.
Besides the problems with the DVD, the set, especially the “Walking Tour” book, has one major problem. At times, to me at least, it seemed a bit schizophrenic. From statements on their website about the project and future intended productions, which I will discuss at the end of this review, it seems that the authors' main intent was to assist LDS tourists in Salt Lake as well as those LDS around the world who will never make it to Salt Lake to understand more about the city and to give them a chance to experience the various Church related sites it discusses. At other times it seems to shift into a mode where it is trying to present Church history and doctrine in a way that non-Latter-day Saints would understand. The problem with this is that the overall tone of the books and DVD is so overtly Mormon that I think that anyone who is not LDS would feel like the set is trying to proselytize them rather than inform them. If the authors want this to work for non-LDS they need a version with fewer spiritual stories and testimonies and more straight history and information.
I must admit, I was a little skeptical going into this review. As I previously mentioned I have spent a lot of time in Salt Lake and I have read a lot of LDS and Utah history so I didn’t feel that this set would have much to offer me, but I was wrong. I enjoyed reading this book and using the Walking Tour book and interactive DVD. I learned some new facts while reading, touring and using the interactive DVD, and had a fun time doing it.
“Hallowed Ground Sacred Journeys: Salt Lake City” is the start of what is hoped to be a multi volume series of interactive multi-media programs that will eventually include other important LDS historical sites including locations in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania. Filming for these volumes has already begun. If the authors get the funding they would also like to do volumes on: Ohio, Missouri, Nauvoo, and the Mormon Trail. They are even considering eventual works on other sites from around the world like Great Britain, Middle Eastern cities, and Book of Mormon lands. Their goal is to allow Latter-day Saints from around the world, who will never be able to visit these sites in person, a chance to experience them as much as possible. For more information visit their website http://hgsj.byu.edu/.