Throngs of Mormons filed past the casket of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson on Thursday, many having gathered in the pre-dawn darkness to pay their final respects.
The doors of the downtown Salt Lake City Conference Center initially were not to open until 8 a.m. — church employees entered at 7 a.m. — but early-arriving mourners were allowed to wait inside the sprawling structure as a concession to freezing temperatures.
Stephen and Landryanne Steenblik, of Salt Lake City, were grateful to get themselves and their baby daughter, Camilla, out of the cold.
“It is an honor for us to be able to come and see him,” Stephen said. “It is sad that he’s gone, but we know he is in a better place. President Monson was a great prophet and example of Jesus Christ.”
Landryanne remembered Monson’s fame as a storyteller, especially treasuring tales that revealed him to be all too human.
“A couple of conferences ago, he talked about kind of being a rebellious youth, and deciding to set fire to a field of weeds,” she chuckled. “[The fire] got a little out of control.
“I thought, ‘You know what, even though he’s a prophet of the church now, growing up he was just like any of the rest of us,’” Landryanne added. “It made him more relatable, more real.”
Young and old, fathers and mothers with babes in arms, some clad in suits and ties, and others in work clothes who would rush to clock in after viewing their prophet’s body, they all were seated inside the cavernous, 21,000-seat auditorium.
“We loved President Monson so much,” said Orem resident Wayne Murray, who came to say farewell with his wife, Klissa. “He had a lifetime of service in the church and was full of love and compassion.
“There are so many stories of how he tended to the needs of widows in his ward,” he said, “and as they grew older and passed away, he attended all their funerals.”
Klissa Murray added: “He taught us best just by how he lived, and his example.”
Attendees were ushered, section by section, through the main lobby, past paintings depicting scenes from Christ’s ministry and of pioneer leader Brigham Young, and from there up several flights of escalators to the center’s Hall of the Prophets.
There, under the benevolent stares of bronze busts of past Mormon presidents, mourners filed in somber procession past a flag case honoring Monson’s World War II-era naval service and urns bursting with flowers surrounding the wooden, white linen-lined open casket.
Monson wore the white shirt, white tie and white robe typical of Mormon temple attire, his body still, the pallid and frail shell of a once-robust man whose failing health caused him to curtail office visits and miss the faith’s General Conference last fall.
Monson, an LDS apostle for 54 years and the faith’s 16th president for nearly a decade, died at his Salt Lake City home Jan. 2 at 90 of causes incident to age.
“I came today as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s why I’m here, to honor President Monson; I loved him as our prophet,” said Mark Callister, an engineer from Bountiful.
Callister also expressed faith in Monson’s expected successor as church president, 93-year-old senior apostle Russell M. Nelson. “The Lord is in charge, guiding this work. I have full confidence that President Nelson will continue to move us forward.”
As mourners completed their procession around the casket, they moved past portraits of Monson and his late wife, Frances, and through the top-floor lobby. Before descending escalators back to street level, many paused to see sunlight breaking through gray clouds, silvering — with a rim gold — the snow-tipped Wasatch Mountains to the southeast.
In a corner, a tall, thin, elderly man bent painfully to comfort his small, sobbing wife. Men in business suits moved quietly by, some wearing wan smiles and their eyes distant in memory. Young couples moved toward the exits, occasionally slowing to exchange whispers with questioning children.
When the doors closed on the viewing at 8 p.m., more than 31,500 people had filed past Monson’s bier, the church reported.
A public funeral is set for noon Friday inside the Conference Center for those ages 8 and older. Overflow audiences will be ushered into the Salt Lake Tabernacle and Assembly Hall on nearby Temple Square. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m., and attendees must be seated by 11:30 a.m.
The service will be broadcast worldwide by LDS Church satellite systems and via several church-owned websites. Other outlets, including KSL-Channel 5 and KUTV-Channel 2, plan live coverage.
Afterward, the funeral procession, which was changed slightly Friday, will travel south on West Temple, turn east onto South Temple, then north onto N Street up to the historic Salt Lake City Cemetery, where the late LDS leader will be buried in a private service.