After 15 years of planning, four years of construction and a million artifacts moved, Elder Marlin K. Jensen from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints placed the last historical item on the shelf in the new Church History Library in front of local media.
Jensen, the historian and recorder of the Church, explained that this last item was one of the 100 scrapbooks kept by President David O. McKay. “It is a personal record filled with photos, letters and journal entries that documented his travels as an apostle in 1921 to the far corners of the earth.” Elder McKay’s world tour took him 55,000 miles to such countries as Australia, France, England, Italy, Switzerland, Samoa, Palestine, India and Egypt to survey the Church’s missions. One photograph captured a moment in Egypt with Elder McKay and his traveling companion, Hugh J. Cannon, both sitting on camels in front of the famous Sphinx. Elder Jensen was joined by President McKay’s grandson, Alan Ashton, when the journal was placed in one of the many vaults of the Church History Library.
The scrapbook was the last item but certainly not the least of the priceless artifacts and records Elder Jensen and assistant Church historian Richard E. Turley presented to news reporters as part of a media tour on June 11, 2009. Assistant executive director Elder Paul K. Sybrowsky and managing director of the Church History Department, Steve Olsen, were also in attendance and shared their knowledge of Church history with members of the media.
The group was given a first glimpse of what the public can expect to see during the upcoming open house at the Church History Library on June 12 and 13.
In addition to a media presentation and tour of the library, journalists were given a rare look at dozens of one-of-a-kind and intriguing pieces of Church history treasures on display. Perhaps one of the most unique items was an early edition of the Book of Mormon that was printed in French and German — on alternating pages. This early edition, the only one in existence, was translated through the supervision of John Taylor, an apostle and the eventual third president of the Church, while he was serving a mission in Europe in 1852.
In keeping with the Church History Department’s efforts to collect modern and current history, Elder Jensen spoke of the significance of the newly published LDS first edition Spanish language Bible. Another important undertaking on display was the Joseph Smith Papers project; the second volume is due out later this year.
In an extraordinary operation, thousands of similarly valued documents, books, photos, diaries, microfiche and film were moved from their old home at the Church Office Building across the street to the Church History Library. It took just 19 days to physically accomplish the move, but it took hundreds of volunteers a year and a half to tag and categorize each piece slated for the move. One project leader compared the mammoth undertaking to moving the Library of Congress.
The most priceless and sacred records and documents were the last to make the move, under heightened security measures. They now join more than 600,000 other historic records housed and preserved on nearly 50 miles of shelving in temperature-controlled vaults with fire and seismic protection. Items such as film will even be kept in sub zero chambers. Brent Thompson from the Church History Department says the new temperature-controlled vaults will ensure that “not only will the artifacts be available in 100 years but they will look good 100 years from now.”