John Taylor's Pocket Watch Saving His Life + Other Popular Myths About the Early Church You Thought Were True

Three Nephites. Bigfoot. President Spencer W. Kimball as a model for Yoda. Alice Cooper as a Mormon. 

Precious fine china crushed to help make the stucco of the Kirtland Temple.

You wouldn’t expect that some of our most beloved stories would be considered part of myth and folklore. But while researching an article about Mormon myths, I was surprised to find that a couple famous stories about the early Church may not have happened like we thought. (Although some, of course, did.) 

Kirtland Temple Stucco

Kirtland Temple, photo from Wikipedia, by John Hamer.

An oft-told story in Mormondom relates how the women of Kirtland sacrificed their fine china to help build the Kirtland Temple. Many stories tell of how they were called on to make this sacrifice—that the china was a much-needed addition to the stucco. 

It’s true that, when the temple was built, builders used china—or pottery and glass—to strengthen the stucco; this glass and pottery had the added benefit of making the surface glisten in the sun. Artemus Millet, the superintendent of construction of the Kirtland Temple, called the mixture of glassware and crockery with weather-resistant natural cements inspired.

But Millet’s own journal refers to these pieces as “old glass and crockery”—not fine china. (Interestingly, it is usually Millet who is credited with asking for the Saints to donate their china.) His son’s account further exposes the pottery as less than likely to have come from the Saints themselves: “Artemus sent men and boys to the different towns and places to gather old crockery and glass to put in the cement.” Kirtland was situated next to pottery plants, and the discard piles would have easily provided pottery for the stucco. Furthermore, stories that Latter-day Saint women crushed china for the temple do not appear until 1940. In other words, no contemporary accounts tell of such a sacrifice.

Elwin Robison, a professor of architectural history at Kent State and author of The First Mormon Temple, has spent hours analyzing the stucco of the Kirtland Temple and, though he found evidence of tableware in the stucco surface, he believes it is unlikely that the tableware was the Saints’ best china. “While some of it may have come from heirlooms, the bulk of it came from discard piles,” he says. “There are persistent stories of this, so it could have happened, but the direct evidence suggests that wasn’t the case.” 

Still, there is no evidence to directly refute the china stories. And that some of the Saints’ china was used is still a possibility—after all, the temple meant a great deal to the Saints, and it would not have been out of character for them to be willing (and even desirous) to include something of worth in its construction. But it certainly does not appear that they were called on to sacrifice their china—and if some of them did, it would have been the exception rather than the rule.

Robison feels strongly that the evidence indicates that fine china is unlikely to have been crushed for the construction of the temple. But, he adds, “it would be great if that conclusion could be changed, wouldn’t it?” 

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