As the wagons carrying the lifeless bodies of Joseph and Hyrum Smith rolled into Nauvoo on Friday, June 28, 1844, thousands of solemn mourners lined up to greet them.1 News of their deaths had reached the city the day before. The mourners remained outside as the bodies were carefully carried into the Nauvoo Mansion, where they were washed and dressed in clean clothing.
Their families were then allowed into the room, where pained cries of “Father!” “Brothers!” and “Husband!” rent the hearts of all who heard. As Emma Smith was carried back to her room “in a state of almost insensibility,” the martyrs’ mother, Lucy Mack Smith, prayed, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken this family?” She later recalled, “A voice replied, I have taken them to myself that they might have rest. . . . As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I seemed to almost hear them say: mother, weep not for us; we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved—they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power—their ascendancy is for a moment—ours is an eternal triumph.”2
An estimated 10,000 mourners viewed the deceased3 before they were buried secretly to avoid mob disturbances.4 News of the Prophet’s death traveled quickly, and believers expressed their sorrow in various ways. These two items in the museum collection illustrate examples of public and private mourning.
“Awful Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith!”
The Times and Seasons, Nauvoo’s official newspaper, ran this “blackline” edition to report the leaders’ deaths and present eyewitness accounts of events leading up to the assassination. It was common practice for 19th-century newspapers to add a black line of mourning to the front page of newspapers reporting the deaths of prominent leaders.5
News of the Prophet’s death reached Church members in England weeks later. Thirteen-year-old Mary Ann Broomhead stitched this sampler as a tribute to Joseph and Hyrum shortly after the martyrdom. She worked the delicate flower border in silk, and she embroidered the text with her own hair, a common element in memorial art of the day.6 It reads: “Sacred to the Memory of Joseph and Hyrum Smith Who fell as Martyrs for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. June 27th 1844. Aged 38 and 44 years.”
Mary Ann completed the memorial with a brief verse, which she apparently adapted from an elegy Eliza R. Snow wrote following the death of Joseph Smith Sr. in 1840:7
Zion’s noblest sons are weeping,
See her daughters bathed in tears,
Where the Prophets now are sleeping,
Nature’s sleep—the sleep of years;
When the earth shall be restored,
They will come with Christ the Lord.
At the bottom of the sampler is a funeral bier embroidered with the martyrs’ initials and topped with an urn.8 Even though Mary Ann Broomhead had never met Joseph and Hyrum, she felt their influence in her life and created this loving tribute to their memory.
As sad as this news was for Church members on both sides of the Atlantic, the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith bound them together and for many people brought increased commitment to the faith. Those who hoped to destroy the Church by killing its leaders would be disappointed to learn the greatness and reach of their legacy today.