Behind the Scenes Tour of the Kirtland Temple From Basement to Bell Tower Author: Ronald Romig Published by: John Whitmer Books
Genre: Non-Fiction – History
Published: 2019, Paper binding, 72 pages
“establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God”Community of Christ D&C 85:36b; LDS D&C 88:119
A short time later, the fledgling Church of Christ, soon to be known as The Church of Latter-Day Saints, began construction on the edifice that would come to be known as the Kirtland Temple. Built at much expense[i] and sacrifice over three years’ time, the building was completed and dedicated in early 1836. The events of this dedication are well known in the Joseph Smith Restoration Movement. Many reported seeing angels and heavenly manifestations with Smith stating that he and Oliver Cowdrey were ministered to by Jesus Christ, Moses, and other Biblical figures. The sacrifices and experiences connected to the Kirtland House of the Lord led to it becoming one of the most important and sacred sites in the Restoration movement.
After various challenges and trials, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, now the Community of Christ, obtained title to the Kirtland Temple in the late 1800’s[ii]. Since that time, it has preserved and maintained the temple as a place of worship and pilgrimage for all interested parties. In 2006, modern “Behind the Scenes” tours of the temple were started. These came to be known as “From Basement to Bell Tower Tours” (see p. iv). This book is based on these special tours which must be scheduled in advance, are limited to one day a week when they are offered, and which normally costs a preservation fee of $200 for 1-4 participants, $250 for 5 participants, and $300 for 6 participants[iii].
At 72 pages in length, “From Basement to Bell Tower” is a short book, but a large investment. In those brief 72 pages you will see pictures and views of the temple available nowhere else while you learn facts that were previously only available if you traveled to Kirtland and took a tour that must be scheduled in advance and is only offered once a week to intimate little groups.
The book, as brief as it is, has 11 chapters or parts that each correspond with a different portion of the tour. Your tour starts with an “Overview of the Artifacts’, moves on to the “Temple Exterior,” through the various courts, to the “Kirtland Temple Basement,” until finally, as the name states, your tour concludes at the “Bell Tower Level”, with a brief mention of the temple builders at the end. The book reads just like you are on the tour, including reminding you to wear your hard hat and to watch out to not bang your head. The text is both fascinating and fun. It includes descriptions of what you are looking at on the tour (and in the pictures) and numerous stories from when the temple was built or that have occurred over the years as the temple has been maintained and preserved. It even tells of close encounter with snakes! The pictures and illustrations are plentiful with over 120 of them packed into the book’s lean 72 pages.
I have no “Criticisms” for “From Basement to Bell Tower”, but I do have one hope or wish. This book is filled with fascinating and rare “behind the scenes” photos, many of which you will see nowhere else. I understand that John Whitmer Books is a very small publishing company with a limited staff and budget. I am grateful that they made this book very affordable. I also understand that the Community of Christ and their historical department want to encourage people to actually visit and support the temple and not just read a book about it. My comment would be that I wish that all of images in this in this book, which are printed in a fairly low resolution and in black and white, could be made available, if it were possible, in high resolution. The pictures and illustrations in this book are amazing, they are fun, old, unusual, and rare. I would love to see a version/edition of this book where these special photographs are available in a high-resolution form and in color where applicable. I’d pay the increased amount for such an edition and I imagine that many others would as well. Since the Community of Christ requests that visitors do not take pictures inside the temple (this even comes up several times in the book), for most people, “From Basement to Bell Tower” will be the only way to see or save these unusual views and images, so it would be nice to have them in higher resolution.
“From Basement to Bell Tower” is a real steal and an amazing little book. Ron Romig and any who assisted him are to commended for creating it. I got my copy for Christmas, began reading as soon as I opened it, and did not put it down until I finished it. I cannot recommend this book enough, in fact, I highly encourage people who are interested in Restoration history to get a copy. My friend, and Kirtland temple caretaker Tom Kimball, has come to affectionately call the Kirtland temple “Grandmother.” He uses this name for the temple because it is the shared sacred space that is common to all of the branches of the Joseph Smith Restoration Movement. These various branches of the Restoration may dicker and argue over who has authority, who can get revelations, and what various verses of scripture mean, but they all agree that sacred experiences have happened and can still happen in this beautiful building that was built and preserved at great cost and sacrifice. This makes the House of the Lord in Kirtland very much the “Grandmother” that gathers and unites her diverse Restoration family together; just as diverse families will often gather and unite in their grandmother’s houses on holidays and special occasions.
“From Basement to Bell Tower” will help readers to see and understand Grandmother in a unique and special way. Purchasing copies will also help to preserve the Temple. If you decide to buy a copy, I hope that you will make your purchase directly from the Kirtland Temple Mercantile. If you buy it from them the proceeds will be used for the care and maintenance of this grand old lady, this shared sacred space. For more information you can visit their Facebook site or their website
[i] Leonard Arrington calculated that the Kirtland temple cost 40000 to build. Most online inflation calculators that I found only go back to the beginning of the 20th century, but I found one that let me go back to 1836. It estimated that 40,000 in 1836 would equal $923,178.78 in 2018
[ii] The ownership of the temple shifted hands over the years and was sold by an Ohio Probate court in 1860. In 1874 the deed was purchased by Joseph Smith III and Mark Hill Forscutt. In 1880 the RLDS Church initiated what became known as the Kirtland Temple Suit to gain the clear legal title. By 1901 the RLDS Chuech, now the Community of Christ had clear legal title. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirtland_Temple for a brief recitation of this history.
[iii] See https://www.kirtlandtemple.org/basement-to-bell-tower-tour for scheduling and details