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Cumorah Pageant

by Gerald S. Argetsinger

America's Witness for Christ has been presented at the hill Cumorah in upstate New York nearly every summer since 1937. Recognized as one of America's largest and most spectacular outdoor theatrical events, it attracts an annual audience of almost 100,000 visitors to its seven performances.

This tradition dates back to 1917, when B. H. Roberts and a group of missionaries went to the Joseph Smith farm outside Palmyra, New York, to celebrate pioneer day. Commencing in 1922, the "Palmyra Celebration" became an annual missionary conference for the Eastern States Mission. In July 1935, as part of the dedicatory exercises for the Angel Moroni Monument, trumpeters at the crest of the hill heralded the commencement of the first production at Cumorah. The next year a pageant, "Truth from the Earth," was presented, and plans were announced to make a pageant at the hill Cumorah an annual event.

Two pageants were presented in 1937: a play about the Mormon pioneer handcart companies, The Builders by Oliver R. Smith, on July 24, and America's Witness For Christ by H. Wayne Driggs on July 23 and 25. The latter script, with occasional revisions, was then presented annually for fifty years (excluding 1943-47). Harold I. Hansen, a missionary with theatrical training, was named codirector and thereafter continued as director for forty years, overseeing the installation of a sound system built by stereophonic sound pioneer Harvey Fletcher, the expansion of the all-volunteer cast and crew to almost six hundred participants, and the run extended to seven performances. In 1957 the pageant was recorded with original music by Crawford Gates.

On July 22, 1988, a new America's Witness for Christ, written by Orson Scott Card with music again by Crawford Gates, premiered. Its major theme—the reality of Christ's Atonement, resurrection, and ministry to the Nephites—is boldly portrayed through events recorded in the Book of Mormon. The visual aspects of the pageant were also updated, with new stages, seating, properties, costumes, and special effects, and a recontoured and landscaped hill.

(See Daily Living home page; Holidays home page)

Bibliography

Argetsinger, Gerald S. "Palmyra: A Look at 40 Years of Pageant." Ensign 7 (Dec. 1977):70-71.

Armstrong, Richard N., and Gerald S. Argetsinger. "The Hill Cumorah Pageant: Religious Pageantry as Suasive Form." Text and Performance Quarterly 2 (1989):153-64.

Whitman, Charles W. "A History of the Hill Cumorah Pageant, 1937-1964." Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1967.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Cumorah Pageant

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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