Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in the unveiling of the Pioneer Children’s Memorial at This Is the Place Heritage Park on Saturday in Salt Lake City. The new landmark honors the lives of more than 650 known children who died during the 1,300-mile journey Latter-day Saints made in the mid-1800s from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Utah.
One of the leaders present Saturday morning was President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who offered the dedicatory prayer for the new memorial.
“How grateful we are as Thy children to be gathered here at the base of this memorial that has been prepared to honor the little children who, in their faith and trust tried to come here, but did not make it,” President Ballard said in his dedicatory prayer. “Watch over and bless those who do come, that they will feel and know what a wonderful privilege it is to have a place like This is the Place Heritage Park. . . . We dedicate this memorial now for the building of faith of any and all who will come here to celebrate the wonderful pioneering efforts for this, the Salt Lake Valley.”
The names of the children are etched in 17 large stones. Many of their stories are told through graphic displays, text, audio and video narratives, and 47 bronze statues that communicate something of the emigration history and the grit and resilience of the pioneers. Artists created the statues in conjunction with the Metal Arts Foundry in Lehi, Utah.
Church leaders say the memorial is also a bridge that connects the pioneering efforts of past and present.
“Utah is becoming more and more ethnically diverse [and] they’re all pioneers. So, this is really a way for us to highlight what Utah stands for,” said Utah Area President Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Seventy. “We hope it’s not lost that this is a memorial for children. And part of the sacredness of the gathering was the sacrifice that little children made, and mothers and fathers made to get here. And we see that in Utah today. You see immigrants coming here, looking for a better life and focusing on what they have to do to make a better life for their children. That’s really why this is important.”
In addition to underlining the connection between past and present, President Ballard noted the deep foundation of faith possessed by Utah’s early settlers.
“We must never forget that those early pioneers survived because they had great faith — as you know, the faith that built this marvelous community,” President Ballard said in remarks prior to giving his dedicatory prayer. “Many of [them] were limited in their education. Some of them could not read or write. But they knew deep in their hearts that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ would always be with them. Today we gather at This Is the Place Heritage Park to honor today’s pioneers — defined as those who begin, launch, instigate, initiate, put in place, take the initiative in, take the lead in, spearhead and establish. . . . We are all bound together, the 19th to the 21st century pioneers, in our great journey to follow God’s teachings, which work miracles in our lives.”
The site is intended to be a place of meditation and reflection. It includes seating and shade for contemplation, conversation, and appreciation of Utah’s pioneer heritage. A tour of the memorial ends with a view of the Salt Lake Valley and a bronze sculpture titled, "Journey's End."