I have enjoyed interviewing Dr. Mark Staker, who has written a book about early Kirtland, as well as Dr. Richard Bennett (no relation to me) of BYU who is writing a book on the evolution of temple work. In my first interview with Dr. Staker, he told me that the Kirtland Temple was originally designed to be a school
The School of the Prophets meets regularly in the Newell K. Whitney Store in the upper floor in Newell K. Whitney’s store and as they discuss having another space to meet, they’re talking about it as a school. They want to build a schoolhouse and they talk about building this school of logs. Lucy Mack Smith [Joseph Smith’s mother] shares that story in her biography of Joseph Smith coming in and saying, are we going to build a house to our Lord of logs? The Lord has a better plan for us, something more grand, and reveals information about that building and what we now call the temple. Well it was still a schoolhouse. It was not to be a log schoolhouse. It was to be something grander.
The House of the Lord also becomes more than just a schoolhouse. It is the schoolhouse. The School of the Elders meets there instead of what they were calling the School of the Prophets before. The names are changing a little bit but they’re also holding other kinds of meetings such as to study Hebrew and they have a Hebrew school. They hire a teacher to come in and teach them Hebrew. They’re studying grammar, and they’re studying composition and writing, and they’re studying these other things and it becomes so influential that the local community starts meeting down in the schoolhouse on the flats and they organize an adult education program. They’re trying to do some of the same things. Theirs ends up failing after just a couple of days and they’re not able to do it. This is before adult education becomes widely practiced in America. This is some of the earliest efforts to do that. It’s all part of this Kirtland schoolhouse, Kirtland House of the Lord experience.
It’s not until after the building is dedicated, then Jesus Christ appears there, where he had promised earlier: Behold, suddenly I come to my temple.
I just found it really interesting that when we talk about the temple as “a house of learning”, the original Kirtland Temple was designed to be an actual school! And it wasn’t known as a temple until after the vision of Jesus and Elijah! Were you aware of this?
Have you heard that the saints crushed up their best china to make the plaster for the Kirtland Temple, In my second interview, I asked BYU professor, Dr. Richard Bennett about this story. I was surprised by his candid response.
Dr Bennett: No that’s not a true story. It’s one of those Mormonisms that have come through, somewhere along the line.
However, Dr. Mark Staker did some archaeology work in Kirtland.
Dr. Staker: As I did archaeology out there, I worked under T. Mike Smith who was a lead archaeologist on that project. I was digging in the ashery pit. It’s 30 feet across, probably about 15 feet deep pit of ash, and I went through bushels of ashes and I found fragments of ceramics after fragments of ceramics that had been swept up in people’s fireplaces and as they brought the ash in all the time, so I thought, you know, why would they take their best china and break it up when they have all this stuff here just thrown out on to the ground? As I went back to adult’s accounts as children, I was going around and gathering up the garbage, putting it in the plaster, I thought, this is how it was done. They went and got garbage just like these people were saying they did. They didn’t break up their best china, which doesn’t make sense.
GT: Oh so there is a little bit of truth to that. It wasn’t their best china, it was their worst china, or something like that.
Dr. Staker: It was the broken stuff. They gathered up the garbage, and as I tried to then trace it out, well how did that that story get started? I was able to push it clear back to 1910. An individual who was looking at the plaster, and saw these fragments of broken china and other things suggested that well, they must have taken and broken up stuff to put it in there, so it kind of grew from that. They broke up their china, and then they broke up their best china and it was this great sacrifice.
Were you aware of this story?
I also wanted to share a video of these interviews. There are some old public domain photos that show the Kirtland Temple was not white like it is now, but more of a granite look.
What are your thoughts about the Kirtland Temple?