When I was 15 years old, I was sent by my family to a small private school called Wasatch Academy in little Mt. Pleasant, Utah, just north of Manti on scenic Highway 89. Manti is the site of the fifth temple built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you can't miss that white stone edifice when you cruise through town because it sits high atop a hill overlooking the Sanpete Valley.
Most people know Manti because of the Mormon Miracle Pageant, which has been held on the temple grounds every summer since 1967. But, alas, the church has announced that 2019 will be the last time visitors can see the outdoor theatrical performance which depicts Christ's visit to America. You might say, "This ain't my circus and not my monkey," but the fine folks of this tiny central Utah town are mighty sad, and pageant-goers will miss Manti's famous barbecue turkey sandwiches. The two-week extravaganza draws more than 15,000 people to a town of just more than 3,000 residents, and it's a massive money-maker for gas stations, hotels, restaurants and the businesses that line Main Street.
The pageant details the early days of the church (think handcarts) and LDS stories of ancient American inhabitants, as recounted in The Book of Mormon. The pageant is based on a story written by Grace Johnson in the 1940s. It was adapted into the pageant form in 1970 by Macksene Rux, who directed the shows in Manti from 1970 to 1989. During the early years, it was funded by local donations. Because vehicles were banned on temple grounds, props, scenery, chairs and equipment had to be hauled up the hill or lifted over a fence. The show was an instant hit with locals and tourists, and more than 4.5 million visitors have watched it since its inception. There are more than 1,000 cast members, each in costume, and all are unpaid volunteers.
What's odd is that in 1991, the church announced that the production would cease after 25 successful years. But the vice-chair of the pageant, Gordon B. Hinckley, then first counselor in the First Presidency, refused to cancel it. Will someone from the LDS hierarchy step up and save the event like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney saved vaudeville in the 1939 movie Babes in Arms? Only the church will tell. My guess is the final production in June 2019 will sell out almost as fast as the Tabernacle Choir's Christmas Concert with Kristin Chenoweth. Want to witness it firsthand? You can get tickets at mantipageant.org.