The Community of Christ (formally the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) has their world headquarters here. The religion has about a quarter of a million followers. Their temple is located across the street from the LDS visitors center, and is an interesting structure, winning numerous awards for it's unusual architecture. They do offer tours of the building, as well as some information on their beliefs
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) owns a visitor's center here. Back in the early 1830's, missionaries from the church came here to proselyte. Eventually, the church's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., said that the church was susposed to be based in Independence, Missouri. So, the majority of the church moved from Kirtland, Ohio to here. Because of the large number of church members moving in, the local people were not pleased. Religious persecution followed, driving the Mormons out of Independence, and eventually out of the state of Missouri. The visitor's center focuses on the history of the church in Missouri, as well as aspects of their beliefs. During Christmas, the place is lit up with thousands of lights, and a gingerbread display with hundreds of gingerbread houses is shown inside. Admission is free and is open from 9am to 9pm.
This interesting site is best described as an interpretive center. In fact, it is the only such center devoted to the three major frontier trails leading to the west - the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails. Independence was the principal "jumping-off" point for all three.
The main attractions here are not the relics and artifacts on display, but the displays outlining life on these trails, with most of the written narratives taken from diaries and letters written by the settlers. This is an extraordinary opportunity to become acquainted with the extreme hardships endured by those seeking new lives in the American west.
(Personal note - I have a special interest in this center because of the contributions of several acquaintences. Two men I know were heavily involved in the production of the prize-winning introductory film, and Charles Goslin contributed two outstanding murals as well as a painting.)
The house of the 33rd President of the US is here in this relatively modest middle class Independence home on Delaware Street. Harry and his wife Bess called this ‘home’ from 1919 when Harry, after returning from WWI to marry Bess, moved in with her and her family. The home is as simple today as the man, himself, was. Tours of the home include the simple kitchen, Truman’s library room, the dining room - Harry and Bess used to dress up for meals even though they usually ate by themselves - the parlor and the music room. Upstairs bedrooms are not on the tour. Come off-season as I did and you might get your own personal tour, but don’t worry too much about tour group size as they are limited to eight in a group - so get your reservations early in the summer as they fill quickly. You don’t get your ticket at the house door but must buy them five blocks to the east where the old town fire station has been converted into a National Park Visitor Center. Rooms in the house are much as the Trumans left them when they died, including Harry’s hat and coat hanging in the hall from their pegs. $4 for tour tickets.
Lying about a half mile north of the Truman House but also on Delaware Avenue is the Truman Museum and Library. This Presidential Library is a part of the National Archive system. First stop inside the museum is the very informative 45 minute film offered which illustrates Truman’s life. The times and prevails of Truman’s presidency are offered by many exhibits which go a long way to letting you discover the times and the man who was the 33rd President of the United States. Harry and his wife, Bess, are buried in the courtyard of the Museum. The ashes of their daughter Margaret and her husband are interred nearby. This museum is an excellent monument to Truman and I heartily recommend you spend the $8 (only $6 if you find the coupon in the Independence Chamber of Commerce brochure about Independence!).
During the summer of 1831, Joseph Smith, Jr., came out from Kirtland, Ohio to where one of the first significant gathering of adherents to his new religious movement was taking place, in order to gain a better appreciation for the efforts of missionaries he had set out to make contact with the native Americans of the nearby Indian Territories - what is now Kansas. Joseph was duly impressed by what he found and he revealed that it was here that the Garden of Eden had actually been located and it was here that Jesus Christ would appear at the Second Coming in time to usher in the New Millennium. Smith placed a stone to mark the spot where a future temple was to be erected. The land was owned by the State of Missouri at the time but was purchased in December of 1831 by Jones Flournoy who then sold a 63.33 acre lot - 'Temple Lot Property' - to the local Mormon bishop, Edward Partiridge. Two years later, Flournoy would be among those that banished the Mormons from Independence. The original lot was subsequently divided into city lots and sold into private hands, but today most all of the parcel belongs to one branch of the Mormon tree or another - maybe 2/3 belongs to the RLDS/Community of Christ branch in grounds occupied by their Temple and Auditorium and associated parking areas; a little over 1/4 belongs to the Utah-based LDS church with a Visitor Center, local congregational church and park taking up their section; and a large grass covered empty vacant lot with a smallish church on the north side taking up the area between the RLDS Temple and Auditorium. This last area is owned by the Church of Christ and it is on their land that the cornerstone laid down by Joseph Smith was rediscovered in 1929. From this stone, the other cornerstones of the future temple are marked out in the grassy expanses.
Mormons believe that at least one temple will be erected on the lot prior to the Second Coming of Jesus and the New Millennium, but there is widespread disagreement among the various branches as to the timing or purpose of that structure. The Church of Christ actually started to build a temple in the 1920-30's on the lot site and it was during the excavation phase that Joseph Smith's cornerstone was uncovered. Money problems and schisms within the church's ranks led to an eventual discontinuation of their efforts and the excavations were refilled, awaiting later developments.
Known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) until 2001, the 200-250,000 strong Community of Christ faithful live in 50 different nations with slightly over half coming from the U.S.. The Church dates to 1860 when disparate Mormon groups which had stayed behind when the bulk left with Brigham Young in 1846-47 following the death of Joseph Smith, coalesced behind the leadership of Smith's eldest son, Joseph Smith III. The doctrine and practices of the Community of Christ have evolved separately from the other Mormon denominations since at least 1844 - the practice of polygamy was never accepted by the RLDS. Recent years have seen larger changes yet, changes that have caused many to leave the faith. No change was greater than that of allowing the ordination of women in to the priesthood in 1984. Seen by some as a sop to those that remained true to the church after that momentous decision, the then President/Prophet Wallace B. Smith declared that the time to build a temple on the greater Temple Lot in Independence was at hand.
This small Mormon church owns the Temple Lot, the site where Joseph Smith, Jr., founding prophet of the Mormon movement, declared to be the site where Jesus would return to when he created the New Jerusalem at the time of the Second Coming. The church descends from Mormon congregations in Illinois and Indiana that coalesced behind the leadership of Granville Hedrick following the exodus of the bulk of Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois in 1846-47. He gathered up his Saints and brought them here to Independence in 1866-67 for the purpose of reclaiming the Temple Lot site from which the Mormons had been expulsed in 1833. The church's history has been an interesting one. Not believing in the position of president/prophet that many other Mormon branches do, they are led by twelve apostles with much more autonomy being maintained at the congregational levels than is found in the more patriarchal Mormon organizations like the LDS and Community of Christ churches. They also believe - as do the other Mormon churches to some extent - that prophecy is not subject to church office and that has led to problems in the past when would-be prophets have changed the focus and led away some of the faithful. The Church of Christ - which was the name Joseph Smith originally gave to his movement in 1830 - claims a membership of around 5000 - a good sized chunk living on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The church has served as a haven for disaffected RLDS/Community of Christ members at different stages of time.
There is a small Visitor Center located beneath the main chapel where the original Temple Lot stone markers are on display. The center is open Mon-Fri 9am-4.30pm, Sat 9am-noon October - April; daily 9am-5pm May - September. church members are present to discuss their beliefs and the importance they hold for this particular ground. My briefing was handled personally by one of the churches apostles, Elder Sheldon, who was very enlightening as to both the Temple Lot and his church.
The Stone Church sits across the street from the original Temple Lot, which Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Jr., had pointed out was both the site of the Garden of Eden and the place to where Jesus would return when at the time of the Second Coming. The church was completed in 1889 and is home to the original RLDS congregation in Independence, which, in turn, dates back to 1873. The church hosted its first RLDS General Conference in 1892 though conferences would be held in Lamoni, Iowa for the most part until 1920. Different additions and renovations have taken place over the years, the newest being a lovely new bell carillon which sounded great when I visited. The carillon complements a beautiful pipe organ that fills the chapel with a grand sound. Light is filtered through four sets of gorgeous stained glass windows, each commemorating a different theme and were designed by Irish-born artist %LRonald Dixon. The Stone Church has been the original font for ten additional congregations over the years.
Mormonism is seen by all branches of the Latter Day Saint tree as a church of restoration - a return to the early church as led by Jesus, but lost due to changes introduced by men over the years. Restoration is a very important term and thought used by all. The Community of Christ uses the term more carefully than the others, however, as they try and move their peculiar faith toward paths taken by more mainstream liberal Christian faiths.
Mormonism believes in personal prophecy and that belief has helped continue a scene of scattered flocks as new prophets arise and try to arouse the faithful. Religious schism has always been a prominent feature of the Mormon landscape and the Community of Christ/RLDS movement is no stranger to that phenomenon. Almost 30% of its membership fell away in the 1920-30's in response to what was seen as a more autocratic rule imposed by the church's second prophet/president, Frederick M. Smith. Time brought many of these people back to the main RLDS flock but with the introduction of ordination of women into the priesthood in 1984, new seismic shocks rolled over the flock. Thousands fell away throughout the 1980's and 1990's and that evidence is all around you in Independence. Just across the street from the Community of Christ Temple housed in the former William Chrisman High School is the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Most of whom left the RLDS movement have stayed in separate congregations, but several of these have coalesced into this organization which is basically a conservative RLDS movement as opposed to a liberal Community of Christ movement. Of course, as the Community of Christ continues to evolve, their separate paths continue also to widen.
The Utah-based LDS church is far and away the largest branch of the Mormon tree boasting somewhere in the region of 13-15 million members worldwide. This church evolved from those followers who accepted Brigham Young - he was the leader of the movement's Twelve Apostles at the time - as their leader in teh aftermath of the death of Joseph Smith, Jr.. Young led some 12-15000 people from Nauvoo, Illinois to create a new cultural landscape in the Great Basin lands surrounding the Great Salt Lake. The church initially followed doctrines and practices that Joseph Smith had introduced in the Nauvoo period of the church which included polygamy, a peculiar set of temple rituals all geared towards the potential of eternal families and exaltation of man. Political necessity brought about the discontinuation of polygamy near the end of the 19th century - though many small groups have fallen away from the LDS tree over that decision - but the other tenets have been maintained. Because of the importance of the Temple Lot to overall Mormon theology, the LDS church maintains its presence across the street from the Community of Christ Auditorium and Temple. Tours in the Visitor Center inform - or reaffirm since the majority of visitors are LDS travelers out in search of their religious roots - as to LDS basic beliefs and hopes with a little history thrown in.
Exhibit features wagon like those used on Santa Fe Trail with many of the goods transported from Independence and Kansas City to Santa Fe. Also shown is a portion of the Santa Fe town square market mural by Charles Goslin.
Located on the ground floor of the Community of Christ Temple, the Museum displays many important exhibits from both early Mormon history and from the history of the RLDS/Community of Christ church including the 1976 Missouri statute which rescinded a 1838 order issued by the then Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs to drive out of the State or exterminate all Mormons. There is also a bookstore/gift shop associated with the museum
Made to house the World Conferences of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS and now Community of Christ), the Auditorium was designed by church architect Henry Smith with inspiration from church president Frederick M. Smith back in the 1920's. Originally, the Auditorium was designed 66% larger than it is today with another balcony but budgetary constraints imposed due to the Depression and a large schism in the RLDS church occurring in response to what was seen by many as increased autocratic church rule by Frederick M. - he introduced the concept of 'supreme directional control', something the Utah-based LDS church has been much better at; up to 30% of the RLDS broke off, reducing tithe funds, though with time, many did return to the fold. The present capacity of the building is 5800 - by contrast, the new LDS Conference Center seats over 21000 - and even with this reduction in total volume, it was not until 1962 when the Auditorium was finally formally dedicated - construction had run from 1926 to 1929 and then resumed in 1956.
The Auditorium hosts many local community events in addition to the Community of Christ World Conferences - formerly held every two years and now every three - such as concerts and graduation ceremonies for high schools and colleges, besides being the venue for many well-known speakers from Harry Truman to Colin Powell to Bill Clinton. Many administrative offices for the Community of Christ are also maintained in the Auditorium and there is a Lower Assembly Room which can seat up to 1000 people. Providing music is one of the larger free-standing organs in the US, an 111-rank organ with over 6500 pipes ranging in size from 1/4 inch to 32 feet. The organ was built by Aeolian-Skinner of Boston and installed in 1959. You can listen to 30 minute recitals every Sunday at 3pm between September to May/daily during the summer. Tours of the Auditorium are also given Mon-Sat 9am-5pm and Sundays 1-5pm.
"Give 'em Hell Harry" never forgot his midwestern roots. When retiring from office after the tumultuous years of his Presidency, he gladly returned to the Missouri home that he and Bess loved. Until shortly before his death, he could be seen taking his daily walks around Independence, usually followed by a number of reporters who could count on Harry for a juicy quotation.
The home is now open to the public. (I have been by the house on a number of occasions, but have never been inside.) In order to take the 15 minute guided tour, you must make reservations in person on a first-come, first served basis on the same day of the tour at the Truman Home Ticket and Information Center. The center is located at 223 North Main Street, just off the Independence Square.