John O. Anderson’s Hill Cumorah Experience in 1937
In the summer of 1937, the Ogden and Salt Lake Area Councils of the Boy Scouts of America headed off for adventure: the first National Boy Scout Jamboree, to be held in Washington, DC. Brother John O. Anderson, then a 14-year old Scout, recalls “We were gone about 3 weeks, travelling in railroad passenger cars…We went to Chicago, Detroit, Palmyra, Albany, then Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Going home we went through St. Louis. Anyway, at some point, we ended up in Palmyra and saw the Pageant.” “The Pageant” was the first of the Hill Cumorah Pageants, now one of the largest outdoor pageants in the world. Following are a few of Brother Anderson’s memories of that first one:
“The stage was at the bottom of the Hill and all of the Scouts just sat on the grass on the hillside of Cumorah. I can’t remember whether there was more than one night of the Pageant. Probably there was. I don’t know. I don’t know if all of the Scouts were there at the same time. We sat on the grass on the hillside and we covered the hillside. I still remember the warriors coming out with the trumpets and so forth. I remember colorful warriors off to one side. I don’t know if they blew trumpets or if the soundtrack had trumpets. It seems to me that they came out on the right side as I looked down from the hill. I don’t remember anything else regarding the staging. That was a long time ago.
“Of course we had time to go to the Sacred Grove and the Joseph Smith home and other historic places. I saw a missionary there from Tremonton—Porter Giles. We had read about this, and now we were here. I could just witness his father saying by the fence for Joseph to go home. The thing that was interesting to me, at least, was that a lot of Boy Scouts were running around there. But I especially remember how a bunch of rather noisy Scouts became quiet at the Sacred Grove, without anyone telling us. When we walked into the woods, the entire feeling… the whole situation changed, in terms of the fact that it was just different. The atmosphere changed. People weren’t shouting. It impressed me that everyone was quiet—it was just sacred.
“I was just kind of in awe of the whole thing. I was just 14, and I couldn’t fight, bleed, and die for it [like in the Pageant] and I was no Book of Mormon scholar, but I remember it was a good thing for us to see.”
Brother Anderson went from Palmyra on to the Jamboree, and then back to Tremonton, Utah. As he said, "Obviously, for a person from Tremonton, this was the adventure of a lifetime." During the Pageant and Jamboree, he could not have known that he would live to travel around the world four times, raise his children in Southern Illinois with a two-year stint in Kathmandu, Nepal, pioneer efforts in rebuilding Nauvoo, become a District President, Stake President, Stake Patriarch and serve two missions with his sweetheart, Verna Meyer Anderson. But, looking back, Brother Anderson wonders how much the trip to the Jamboree and the Hill Cumorah contributed to his ability to have the confidence to leave home and live elsewhere. If nothing else, it was a testimony-builder; like so many others who have and will continue to see and participate in the Pageant and visit the Sacred Grove, Brother Anderson was changed and grew in the knowledge of the truthfulness of the Restoration. While the sets and staging have changed over the last 75 years of the performance, many others still leave with that same almost indescribable feeling of awe, but with the sure knowledge that “it was a good thing for us to see.”
Story given to his daughter, Cathy A. Merrill, in September 2011