In May 2007, I visited Nauvoo, Ill., a former historic Mormon community of nearly 25,000 residents in the 1840s. The Latter Day Saints’ purported prophet, Joseph Smith, and his brother, Hyrum, lived there prior to their arrest and then mob killing in Carthage, Ill., in 1844. The LDS were violently attacked and persecuted in Illinois, culminating in the burning of the Nauvoo Temple in 1848, which was further destroyed by a tornado in 1850. Much of the Mormon community headed west to Utah from here.
Nauvoo Temple, which I as a non-believer can never enter, was rebuilt in 2002. The historic area, on a bluff and bend on the Mississippi River, is a remarkably beautiful place, and tens of thousands of LDS faithful travel from around the country visit and pose for pictures in front of the rebuilt temple and statues of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The historic site also has a visitors center that doubles, in my opinion, as a proselytizing facility for the Church of Jesus Christ the Latter Day Saints. (The dioramas inside are similar to those in Salt Lake City.) As someone who remains eternally curious about how groups express their faith, naturally I enjoyed my short visit on a lovely spring day.