When my family returned to America from four years in Spain, we headed straight for California, with a brief stop to visit relatives in Utah. While here, we visited the very heart of our faith: Temple Square.
Long separated from this icon of Mormonism, my parents got teary at the sight of the familiar spires. Temple Square left a distinct impression on me as well. Terror. It was my first exposure to dead people.
I’m not talking about proxy baptism for the dead. These were actual corpses, or the displayed mummified remains of a few genuine “Lamanites,” known more appropriately today as early Native Americans.
The early ’60s was a different time. The feelings of the mummies’ descendants didn’t really count. The twisted, grimacing ancient remains simply were offered as proof of claims in the Book of Mormon.
It isn’t hard to imagine how Latter-day Saints would feel today if someone were to dig up Joseph and Hyrum Smith and put their remains on display as proof of their existence.
Eventually, someone got a grip. The remains were removed and treated with some degree of respect.
I told you that to tell you this: Temple Square is being dug up, torn down and reworked.
Turns out that the everlasting hills from which the rock was quarried to build it don’t exactly ensure an everlasting temple. The building is old. My great-great-grandfather helped build it.
Note: According to family legend, somewhere on an inside block of granite is scrawled: “When are we ever going to be done? Korihor Kirby, September 1875.”
I learned about this legend almost exactly a hundred years later when I got married in the very building my ancestor helped construct.
Among other things, the Salt Lake Temple is being retrofitted to better cope with seismic activity — which everyone knows is one of God’s favorite ways of expressing his annoyance.
It simply wouldn’t do for the signature temple of the one and only true church to fall down during the big one geologists have been predicting is long overdue.
But what about the rest of Temple Square? Well, some things are being removed and others added. It’s all intended to provide a more up-to-date experience of eternal progression.
And before you ask — no, the new and improved Temple Square will not have a food court. I was told this by someone at the Church Office Building when I submitted some suggestions for the upgrade.
Instead of scaring children into silence with dead bodies, maybe a better way is to give them something to do while Mom and Dad marvel at the new and improved (but otherwise still boring to kids) temple.
My suggestion is that a small part of Temple Square be devoted to faith-promoting experiences:
• Coming to America. Journey to the new world with Nephi and his family on a roller-coaster boat. The Jaredite version offers free flashlights shaped like stones.
• Whack-a-cricket. A game in which kids use rubber mallets to mash the heads of locusts that pop up among fake crops.
• Call me on a mission. Put four quarters into the Mission Machine and out will come a pretend mission call to strange and exotic places like the moon, Alpha Centauri, the center of the Earth and Kearns, Utah.
• Cohabs hide and marshals go seek. A game featuring the closing days of plural marriage.
• Get trunky. Pet and even ride a genuine Nephite elephant.
My guess is that none of these suggestions will be taken seriously despite the more positive impression each would have on young minds than the withered hams of an ancient Lamanite.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.