When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.

Travel: Vermont

Let's start with the premise that Vermont is awesome in all seasons, and that you should definitely visit. Lord knows I'm going back someday. If you want some presidential fun, go read the Calvin Coolidge or Chester Arthur pages.

Joseph Smith birthplace

September 15, 2009

Love the Mormons, hate the Mormons or be a Mormon, you gotta admit it's a pretty interesting phenomenon. Any religion bigger than a cult these days is usually rooted way in the past -- modernization hasn't been all that kind to the sorts of wackiness that you have to swallow to get a starter faith up and running. But the Mormons are a couple million strong and they're younger than America. And Vermont has the monument to prove it!

The birthplace of Joseph Smith wasn't on my original trip itinerary the other week; I picked up one of those tourism maps at a rest stop. There are lots of things to see on I-89, it turns out. But I've taken brewery tours before, and I don't usually see the birthsites of major religious figures, so the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints got my extra hours. And what hours they were!

You get off around exit 3, drive along a river and then head straight uphill past a few homes and farms. Then there's a really big gated entrance where you pull into the campus. It's really nice: tree-lined roads and pathways, carefully maintained gardens, neatly mown lawns. Oh, and non-stop religious music! I thought I was having either a stroke or a religious experience for a few seconds before I noticed, in the middle of the trees, speakers on poles constantly pumping out choirs singing hymns.

It's all just a prelude to the big show: A GIGANTIC OBELISK!

That's solid rock, baby, on top of (or very close to) the spot where Joseph Smith was born on Dec. 23, 1805. Yes, Joseph Smith was born on Festivus. The place was just a simple farm them, and the Smiths weren't exactly reaping the whirlwind. All the good Mormony stuff (visits from Angels, finding the Book of Mormon on a set of golden plates) happened after they had pulled up stakes and moved to upstate New York; outside of the obelisk there's nothing historical to see (the house is long gone).

There is a little Mormon-operated museum, though, with a snapshot of Joseph's life. The basic pattern: telling people about a religious revelation, getting run out of town on a rail, setting up in a new town, having an even stranger revelation. Repeat four or five times. Then the cycle breaks when some people in Illinois off him. Put that story in the 3rd century and you wouldn't bat an eyelash. Put it in the the 19th century and it's just mind-boggling. Here's a statue of the man himself:

Note the tissues; there were about five boxes around the room, because people are obviously crying at the sight of the statue. I didn't go for the missionary-guided tour of the grounds (families were there in Sunday best waiting for it), instead opting to look around myself and then get back on the road. For me, it's history, for other people, it's a religious experience. Better to let them have that moment unspoiled.


One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2014, Chris White