Walking through this museum feels like rummaging through all the long-forgotten junk in someone’s grandmother’s basement … that is, if it were an enormous and well-organized basement.
The Pioneer Memorial Museum is the final resting place for many of the objects Mormon pioneers carried with them on their westward journey from Nauvoo, Illinois, and the museum strangely boasts that it is the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one particular subject. The museum is operated by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, an organization devoted to remembering that fateful trek across the nation in search of the promised land.
Behind the glass cases are objects that tell of the everyday domestic life that the Mormon migrants brought with them on their perilous trek—quilts, pianos, guns, dresses, and more. Some of the items are somewhat unexpected, such as Buddhist sutra scrolls in the manuscript room, brought by Chinese and other Asian laborers working on the transcontinental railroad, or a Kris dagger brought by a pioneer, originally from Indonesia. But some of the items are truly bizarre: One woman’s collection of rattlesnake rattles, a petrified potato, Victorian hair art, and a bloodstone that Mormon leader Brigham Young believed to be endowed with magical properties. There are even grim specimens like bottles full of teeth, and a wooden prosthetic leg a man made for himself after an accident. Pioneering was no easy feat.
The museum also displays artifacts from the short-lived, theocratic State of Deseret, including currency and materials in the Deseret Alphabet, an alphabet invented by Young that never quite took off.
Know Before You Go
Museum hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Entry is free. The 500 bus line stops on the northeast corner of Main Street and North Temple, and it will take you up the hill to the museum (also for free).