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Picturing history: The Hill Cumorah Pageant

There is a hill in Ontario County, New York, known to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Hill Cumorah. Through a series of purchases from 1923 to 1928, the hill and surrounding farmland, totaling 487 acres, were acquired by the church.

View of the staging and seating areas from the top of the Hill Cumorah.
View of the staging and seating areas from the top of the Hill Cumorah.
Kenneth Mays

Following the major acquisition of the hill in 1928, the first Book of Mormon Pageant was presented at the Smith Manchester frame home some 3 miles from the hill. In 1936, a pageant titled “Truth from the Earth” was staged at the base of the hill with the audience sitting on the hillside. The following year, things were reversed with the audience at the base viewing the “America’s Witness for Christ” presentation above them on the slope of the hill, which was first year of what is known as the Hill Cumorah Pageant (see Larry C. Porter contribution in "Sacred Places, Vol. 2: New York and Pennsylvania," edited by LaMar C. Berrett, pages 159-160).

The essence of the presentation is to portray stories found in the Book of Mormon and the role of the Prophet Joseph Smith in bringing that book to the world. According to literature distributed by the church at the pageant, the pageant is “a testimony through drama, music, and spoken word that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.”

The presentation uses stunning sound and special effects along with 950 cast and crew members, including 770 in this year's cast and all are volunteers, according to pageant officals. Beginning at dusk, the largest crowd they've had was on the second night of the pageant this year at nearly 7,000 — more than the typical 5,000-plus attendees. In all, there were about 42,000 who saw the pageant this year, according to information from pageant officials.

In 2018 it was announced that the Hill Cumorah Pageant would be one of several pageants that would be discontinued following the presentations in 2020 (see "Church finalizes pageant decision: 4 to end, 3 to continue," by Tad Walch, Deseret News, Dec. 5, 2018).

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated at this year's pageant there were 800 cast and crew putting in 350,000 volunteer hours. There were 950 cast and crew members putting in some 230,000 volunteer hours. In addition, an average of about 5,000-plus people attend the pageant, not 8,000-plus, on a single evening.