Historic sites, the temple, and the Nauvoo Pageant are three reasons why visitors come to Nauvoo, Illinois, between the end of May and the middle of August. Yet Old Nauvoo in the summertime bustles with other shows, rides, events, and activities—and all of these are free. Young and old enjoy entertainment performed by senior missionaries, young performing missionaries (YPMs), brass band and bagpipers, and BYU dancers and singers.
Cathy Thomson, a first-time visitor to Nauvoo, observed that being in Nauvoo for only three days was not enough time to see and savor everything. “I need to come another time,” she said. “I need to see the shows like ‘High Hopes and River Boats’ at least twice to get more out of them.” She added, “I absorbed emotional and spiritual food while having fun. It was neat to see how excited the missionaries were, how much fun they had, the friends they made, and the testimonies they shared.”
What can sightseers expect to see this summer in Old Nauvoo? Here is a sampling of what will make this a spectacular summer to visit Nauvoo.
Historic Sites and Activities
Visitors must experience the Joseph Smith Homestead, Mansion House, and Red Brick Store, which are owned by the Community of Christ. LDS sites to see include homes of early Church leaders and saints, businesses—such as Scovil Bakery with its famous gingerbread cookies—pioneer cemetery, and Nauvoo Visitors Center with its Monuments to Women garden and Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration film.
Old Nauvoo activities include Pioneer Pastimes with pioneer games and stories for children. In the Family Living Center, senior missionaries make rope, candles, and other pioneer items. Carriages pulled by horses take passengers to Inspiration Point, a favorite spot of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and to nearby properties owned by early saints. Senior missionaries offer guided tours through the streets of Nauvoo in wagons pulled by draft horses. Near the Mississippi River , yoked oxen haul passengers in a covered wagon across a ten-minute “Mormon Trail.” Visitors can even experience a handcart trek while they are in Nauvoo.
Tourists, whose ancestors lived in Nauvoo from 1839 to 1846, can find their homes and property at the Land and Records Office. “The Land and Records Office was really cool,” said Cathy Thomson, “because my family had lived in Nauvoo.” Senior missionaries helped Cathy locate her ancestors’ property. “We were out walking and found the corner lot where their home was.”
Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo
The musical comedy “Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo” is based on life in Nauvoo near the time of the exodus. Abigail Wallace is from the wealthy upper class in Warsaw , and she is not impressed with Nauvoo’s inhabitants. Yet she falls in love with Peter Johnson. She can’t understand why he loves his church more than she. “’Rendezvous’ tells the story of Nauvoo in play format, and within that play are small vignettes. Conversion stories are what I get out of ‘Rendezvous,’” said senior missionary Elder David Chumley, who performs in ‘Rendezvous.’ Sister Cathi Williams noted that “’Rendezvous’ is a perfect encapsulation of what went on here every day with people’s lives and prejudices.”
Senior missionaries perform “Rendezvous” 52 weeks a year, six nights a week, and once or twice a night. Few senior missionaries are actors before their “Rendezvous” debut. “We don’t practice for ‘Rendezvous,’” said Elder Chumley. “We take the songs home to practice when we first get here. Then we’re put on stage singing songs. We learn the parts and start doing it after watching other shows.” Senior missionaries are too busy to rehearse. During the summer, their day begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 9:30 p.m.
Nauvoo Pageant, Pre-show, and Vignettes
The Nauvoo Pageant, an outdoor pageant of music, dance, and drama, depicts19 th -century saints who gathered to build Nauvoo. Performers include a core cast of professional-quality actors, young performing missionaries, and five family casts, each containing about 140 people.
Last summer nine-year-old Alayna Cushing from Idaho participated in the Blue Cast. “I got to meet new friends,” she said. Alayna and Anna Low from Canada shed tears after the last performance when they turned in their costumes. Alayna also “liked performing for other people so people who aren’t part of the Church can be inspired to go there. I liked getting to dress up in something I’ve never worn before.”
Every evening before the pageant, family cast members supervise pre-show activities near the pageant site. Visitors walk on stilts, stitch a quilt, throw a horseshoe or wooden hoops, pull sticks or a handcart, compete in parlor games, dance a reel, make crafts, and watch a puppet show.
Last summer Alayna Cushing and her younger brother Gavin assisted their mother with parlor games. But Alayna and Anna Low preferred participating in other pre-show activities. Alayna had never walked on stilts until she came to Nauvoo. By the end of the week, she walked 35 steps before falling down. “Learning to walk on stilts gave me another talent.” Alayna also liked the “hula hoop on a stick” and the handcarts because “you carried each other.”
To begin the pageant, bagpipers play at the pre-show site and march to the stage with a parade of adults and children behind them. During the day, the bagpipers play at vignette sites before core cast members present these six vignettes about Nauvoo:
- “Trail of Hope”—Visitors stroll down Parley Street to the river to hear stories of pioneers leaving Nauvoo in 1846.
- “King Follett Discourse”—In a pioneer grove, Joseph Smith recites parts of a funeral sermon he delivered in honor of his friend King Follett, who died while building the temple.
- “Women of Nauvoo”—In the Relief Society Garden, Nauvoo sisters describe how the Relief Society was organized and what the Prophet taught them in Nauvoo.
- “Letters of Emma and Joseph”—Near the Mansion House, Emma and Joseph Smith share letters they wrote to each other. Lucy Mack Smith narrates this vignette.
- “Go Ye into All the World”—In the Seventies Hall, Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, and other brethren recount missionary experiences.
- “Youth of Zion ”—Across from the Post Office young people in Old Nauvoo share their stories of bravery, testimony, and fun.
“The vignettes were so special,” said senior missionary Sister Cathi Williams. “When I served in Carthage and studied Joseph Smith, I felt like I knew him and Emma.” But she gained greater understanding after watching the vignettes. “I appreciate their sacrifices. It gives me an appreciation for Heavenly Father’s plan and our part in it.”
Young Performing Missionaries
The sound of brass floods the air as Nauvoo Brass Band young performing missionaries travel the streets of Nauvoo in a horse-drawn carriage playing patriotic and other band music. The brass band also displays its musical talent during “Sunset by the Mississippi .”
On the stage in the Nauvoo Visitors Center , young performing missionaries present “High Hopes and River Boats,” a musical drama about residents of early Nauvoo. After the Bailey family moves to Nauvoo, the parents die of malaria. Sara Jane Bailey marries the local school master, teaches school with him, and cares for her younger siblings.
Romance and conversion move the plot along until covered wagons line Parley Street and families look back at the city and temple they labored hard to build. Stories for this production come from journals of early Nauvoo saints.
“Just Plain Anna Amanda” is a delightful one-act children’s musical performed by young performing missionaries. Twelve-year-old Anna Amanda wishes she is somebody else or some place else or something else. She wants to be a grown-up, a riverboat, or a red cardinal—and she wants to be important. To become someone important, she trades her slippers for “Mr. Boots’” boots and various items from other people. Amanda finally discovers it is much easier to be herself. Young and old learn that happiness comes from being who we are.
When asked how and why she decided to be a young performing missionary, Michelle Clark said she grew up in a musical family. She took voice and violin lessons and dabbled in dance. Later, she learned to fiddle in a blue grass group. When Michelle realized she met the requirements, she applied and completed the rigorous audition process. “Usually 10 gals and 10 guys are accepted,” she said, “but last year 12 gals and 12 guys were accepted.”
Sunset by the Mississippi
Young performing missionaries and senior missionaries join together to present “Sunset by the Mississippi .” In this outdoor evening variety show, young performing missionaries share their singing and dancing talents.
Senior missionaries present a humorous melodrama. A villain poses a threat to poor Charity, a damsel in distress, but the play ends happily. Last summer Sister Williams played Charity in the melodrama. “I never had done any acting,” she said. When asked to play Charity, “I was delighted but a little astounded. It was really fun to come out of myself and be someone else, to be silly. It’s exciting when little children come up at the sites and say, ‘You were the one on stage!’”
During “Sunset,” senior missionaries play spoons, penny whistles, “gut buckets,” harmonicas, jug and bottles while others play guitars, banjos, and tambourines. Still others clap and sing. “Quite of few of us had never played an instrument before,” said Elder Chumley. “They learned it here.” Elder Chumley admitted that “I never had been on stage or sung in my life.” Yet, he sang “When the Sun Goes Down” as a solo.
“’Sunset’ is a fun, lively, family-oriented presentation,” Elder Chumley said. “There is a patriotic segment where those who served in the military are honored, and YPMs escort them on stage.” Elder Chumley enjoyed the “intermingling of YPMs and senior missionaries—young, talented people and seniors with talents but are not singers and dancers. This makes a unique show.”
Sister Williams said, “I loved performing with the YPMs. They bring so much love, joy, and enthusiasm. I just wanted to take them all home with me. I didn’t feel like their grandma. I felt like their friend.”
Vocal Point is returning to Nauvoo this summer. Nine male BYU students combine vocal talent with clever arrangements, harmony, humor, and staging in an a cappella singing group that energizes its audience. Vocal Point has released six albums, and audiences in Nauvoo can experience their talent.
This summer BYU Ballroom Dancers will also be in Nauvoo. “Capture the Magic” features a variety of dances, such as the Viennese waltz, swing dances from a 1950s sock hop, and Latin dances. BYU Ballroom Dancers entertain with elegant formation routines, fast-paced rhythm, lifts and spins, and colorful costumes. This talented group will present a stunning visual treat to visitors in Nauvoo.
Visitors to Nauvoo
Nauvoo is a community of 1,100 residents, one grocery store, and a few restaurants and businesses. During the summer with more than 50,000 tourists, the town buzzes with activity. The people of Nauvoo welcome visitors. Since Nauvoo is a melting pot of people, history, and religions—not only LDS history and religion—manners and patience are appreciated.
Here are a few suggestions for a great Nauvoo experience:
- Feel the spirit of the City of Joseph by not trying to see everything in one visit.
- Make reservations early for accommodations, activities, and temple attendance.
- Treat the locals with courtesy. Local businesses try hard to please their guests.
- Take time to socialize. Nauvoo is a place to make new friends.
- Enjoy an 8:00 a.m. sacrament meeting designed for visitors. Local wards meet at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
- Keep a journal of impressions while in Nauvoo.
- Make sure to visit to Carthage.
This summer is a perfect time to bring the family and savor the feelings and history of a pioneer past. Young performing missionary Michelle Clark said of her summer in Nauvoo, “It was the most testimony strengthening experience of my life. Every day I think of Nauvoo, and I miss it. I came back in December and felt its spirit again. I’ll always remember it as beautiful Nauvoo, and it is beautiful.”
(For schedules and more information about Nauvoo events, see www.historicnauvoo.net.)