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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended December 22, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 20Dec00

By Kent Larsen

Palmyra Becomes A Mormon Mecca

PALMYRA, NEW YORK -- While Palmyra, New York hasn't seen the influx of Mormon residents that Nauvoo, Illinois has seen, the town has become a major Mormon tourist destination, drawing thousands of visitors to see its historical sites and long-running pageant. Today's New York Times looks at Palmyra's transformation in an article titled "Tourist Chapter to the Book of Mormon." The article looks at the effect this tourism has had on the town, and the LDS Church's history in the area.

While Mormonism began in Palmyra in 1820, the town didn't really accept that heritage. Even when missionaries Willard and Rebecca Bean arrived in the early part of the 20th century, the town didn't welcome them. Neighbors even yelled at them to go home to Utah. "I remember my mother would say, 'Just be nice and friendly, and things will change,' " said Palmyra Bean Packer, 85, the Bean's daughter, who was named after the town and grew up there. "She was right. They just accepted them like anyone else by the time the 25 years were up."

The Bean's began the town's attitude change with their friendliness and the introduction of the Hill Cumorah Pagent. Since then the Church has acquired 984 acres in the area, worth $9.8 million according to local records. The holdings include the Smith homestead and cabin, the Sacred Grove and neighboring Temple, and the Grandin Printing establishment in downtown Palmyra. This is a huge presence in a town that even today has about 7,700 people.

And Mormons have come to visit in large numbers, giving a boost to the local economy, which might have otherwise led to a long, slow decline. Shops on Main Street in Palmyra sell Mormon souveniers and a main intersection including Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist and Presbyterian Church includes a large sign pointing the way to the LDS Temple.

Town supervisor David Lyon, a Methodist, says that the town now welcomes the Church and is glad for the attention, "The town has worked closely with the Mormon Church for years," he said. "It puts us on the map, and it gives the town an economic boost. It helps all the local businesses except the bars and smoke shop, but the rest are happy."

Sociologist Jan Shipps, who has devoted her career to studying Mormonism, says that it is natural for Mormons to seek out historical locations like Palmyra, "They were trying to create pilgrimage places," she said. "Places where people could literally go, and stand, and say, 'It happened here.' "


Tourist Chapter to the Book of Mormon
New York Times 20Dec00 N1
By Winnie Hu
[Note: Most New York Times articles are only available free on the day of publication - Ed.]


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