Mormon: Pioneer Day families rally behind Romney Lake Valley was settled by Mormon pioneers in 1847. Photo in public domainTUESDAY, JULY 24: If Independence Day were to settle in one state, it would look something like Utah does on Pioneer Day. Utahns celebrate with parades, fireworks, rodeos, dances and more. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remember the Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City, when their ancestors ended a torturous 1,300-mile journey and finally found a new home. (Wikipedia has details.) non-Mormon Utahns, the state’s rich history and the cultures that have contributed to it are cause enough for celebration. An official state holiday, Pioneer Day closes government offices and many businesses in Utah. The Days of ’47—commemorating the arrival of Mormon pilgrims in 1847—opens a slew of pioneer-centered events in a grand statewide festival. (Watch the 2012 Pioneer Day Concert here.)

What won’t end with the festival, though, is the national political spotlight on Mormons, this year. In news stories nationwide, the story of Romney-family roots in the LDS church continues to unfold.

THE MORMON EXODUS AND THE JOURNEY OF 1847 are these much talked about Romney-Mormon roots?
They relate to the establishment of the LDS church as we know it today. Early converts to the church gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, to help prophet Joseph Smith build a “New Jerusalem.” Things were going well. Smith became the mayor of Nauvoo and was contemplating running for president of the United States. As we reported in June, Smiths’ rise to prominence and that first big expansion of the church ended in tragedy. To this day, Mormons recall the murder of Joseph and his brother Hyrum by a mob.

The faithful were forced from Nauvoo and began a vast westward migration. By foot and horseback, approximately 70,000 Mormons survived disease, Indians and even threats by U.S. troops before entering Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. (Follow the trail and read participants’ stories at Each year, some Mormons reenact this entrance by dressing in period clothing and pushing handcarts along parts of the Mormon Trail. (The LDS Church advises members to be “modern pioneers.”) Of course, the entire Mormon Exodus, as the westward migration often is described today, took several years to complete.

THE ROMNEY CONNECTION WITH THE EXODUS RomneyThe Romneys are more than recent converts to the faith. They were early builders of the church, beginning with Mitt Romney’s Great Great Grandfather Miles Romney. Born in 1806, Miles was an exceptionally talented carpenter born in northern England. He and his wife, Elizabeth Gaskell Romney, were Anglicans and were well established in their community. Then, in 1837, some LDS missionaries knocked on their door—and the rest is Mormon history. Gaskell RomneyThey were baptized in a nearby river and moved to Nauvoo where Miles Romney’s talents blossomed. As it turns out, his skills weren’t limited to carpentry; soon he was working as an architect and supervisor of large-scale construction. He played a role in completing the Nauvoo temple. The Romneys were part of the Mormon Exodus and, once in Utah, Miles Romney soon was working on some of the church’s most ambitious construction projects. He was head of the construction team that completed the first Mormon temple—the LDS temple at St. George, Utah. Later, Brigham Young invited him to design what is now a U.S. historical landmark: Young’s Winter Home and Office.

Want more on early Romney family history? Wikipedia charts it all, complete with a handy family tree at the end of the article. Look at the photo of Mitt’s father with that article, compare that with Miles and Mitt—and you can see a resemblance in the men down through the centuries.


As the New York Times and other newspapers have reported, Mitt Romney’s connection with LDS pioneers isn’t historical trivia. For more, read the entire July 16 New York Times article, which was timed to coincide with the summertime Pioneer Day celebrations—but also draws contemporary connections. The NYTimes reports, in part: Now, more than 150 years later, descendants of those first families of Mormonism are joining together in a new effort: delivering the White House to Mitt Romney, whose great-great-grandfather Miles Romney settled alongside many of their ancestors in Nauvoo in 1841 and joined their torturous migration. These families—Marriotts, Rollinses, Gardners and others—have formed a financial bulwark and support network for Mr. Romney at every important point in his political career.

No, this reporting isn’t an East Coast plot against the Mormon church. This is a fascinating story of a minority community within the U.S., after many years of stereotypes and bigotry (including the murder of the Mormon founder), drawing on collective connections in an election year.

As Dr. Wayne Baker reports in the OurValues column, this matchup between an African-American president seeking re-election and a Mormon candidate seeking to break the religion barrier is historic.

In Utah, journalists also are closely examining these links. The Salt Lake Tribune’s award-winning religion newswriter, Peggy Fletcher Stack, just reported on July 20 that Romney referenced the Book of Mormon in his remarks after the tragic theater shootings in Colorado.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Singin’ in the Rain this year with St. Swithun? legend has it that if it rains on St. Swithun’s Day, it will rain for 40 days following. Photo in public domain, JULY 15: OK, we just can’t resist making this connection! We cover Holidays, Festivals and Anniversaries and this story has elements of all three.

St. Swithun’s Day is a rain-associated holiday that is popular way beyond the saint’s actual Christian significance. The reference has shown up in pop music, comic books, TV series (in an episode of “In Plain Sight” among others) and movies, too.
No, there’s no reference to St. Swithun in Singin’ in the Rain—but there should be this year because the Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor classic from 1952 is turning 60.
So, we’re making the connection.

Here’s some useful trivia to share with friends this week: Know the connection between St. Swithun and rain? Well, his feast day functions like a Christian-style Groundhog Day in the middle of the summer.

Bishop Swithun served at Winchester Cathedral from 852-862 CE; for such a renowned saint, his lifetime proved uneventful. Known only for charitable works and a passion for rebuilding fallen churches, St. Swithun gained some popularity for a lone miracle: rebuilding the smashed eggs of a peasant woman. Though the saint is sometimes featured with broken eggs in Christian artwork, it’s his posthumous miracles that have made him famous.

Morbid or not, St. Swithun’s feast day marks the date his remains were moved—and not his birth or death date. The story goes that Swithun requested to be buried outside the cathedral, where rain could fall “from on high” onto his grave, and passersby could walk over it. More than a century later, when Winchester was going through a reformation, he was annointed patron saint of the cathedral—and his grave was moved inside the cathedral. (Wikipedia has details.) It’s said that Swithun was so upset about this move that it rained for 40 days. St. Swithun’s remains were later split between locations, but he is still the patron of Winchester Cathedral. Get more of the English perspective from the BBC.

Here’s the traditional proverb:
St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare


Worried about rain? Just grab an umbrella—and belt out the title tune with Gene Kelly. Never seen the movie? The 60th anniversary of the movie is celebrated nationwide on July 12, with showings in select theatres. Click the video screen below to enjoy the song … (Note: If there is no video screen in your version of this story, click here to reload the story and the screen should appear.)

Best of the Woody Guthrie centennial coverage GUTHRIE (1912-1967).“I hate songs that make you think you were born to lose—songs that poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.”
Woody Guthrie

LIKE WOODY GUTHRIE IN HIS PRIME, ReadTheSpirit aims to inspire—to give you the fuel you need to boost your spirits and make fresh connections in our world. So, at major milestones (like the ascension of Walter Cronkite to CBS’s network chair 50 years ago), we gather tips on the very best media we can find. When Mike Wallace died in April, we reported on an aspect of his career largely missing in other news media—his tough take on religion. Right now, Woody Guthrie’s famous songs are ringing out for the centennial of his birth on July 14, 1912. On his birthday approached, Google-News reported that there were more than 22,000 newsy centennial items, photos and stories floating around the Internet. That’s just a small portion of the 42 million Web pages mentioning Woody. So here is …

The Best of
Woody Guthrie
Centennial Coverage

Our favorite piece on Woody?
It’s the poem about Woody written by singer-songwriter (and lifelong Guthrie fan) John Mellencamp. A few of Mellencamp’s lines:
This bird don’t mind volunteering
Is not afraid to lose
Is too moral to be a whore
And too honest to steal
But cares enough to write it all down in song

And, leave it to the Brits! As usual, some of the best journalism about the Woody centennial comes from British newspapers. Perhaps their perspective is clearer, when peering at Woody’s life and legacy from across the Atlantic. The London-based Telegraph has published a number of stories, including this one that provides both biographical background and smart analysis. The Telegraph writes, in part: This Land is Your Land is now considered by many to be America’s alternative national anthem. Woody Guthrie has been mythologized as a dust bowl troubadour, a spiky-haired, boxcar-riding, hitchhiking king of the open road, clutching a guitar emblazoned with “This Machine Kills Fascists”. But Guthrie the man was more contradictory, calculating and complex than Woody the myth. “Woody was not an icon, he was an iconoclast,” argues Billy Bragg. “I see him as the halfway point between Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.” (NOTE: That Telegraph story also includes links to even more about Guthrie, Springsteen, Dylan and Lomax.)

Confused about Woody allegedly being a “Communist”? Let’s put those poisonous old accusations to rest, shall we? Of all the commentaries sorting out this issue, we especially like the column by veteran religion newswriter Jeffrey Weiss, who writes in part: While Woody was sympathetic to many avowed communist goals, he was too loose a cannon for any canon. Yup: the Communists wouldn’t let Woody be an official Communist, even if he’d really wanted to join. Turns out the Communist bosses were right: Woody would have made a terrible commie.

Some commentators look deeper. That includes Tom Watson, a scholar and journalist who occasionally writes for Forbes, certainly not a left-leaning publication by any means! Tom’s column was among the most thoughtful in the past week, including these lines: Guthrie wrote songs for and about outsiders. And though the U.S. remains an aspirational society in terms of both wealth and social standing, most people are still outsiders. Since the Great Recession of 2008 and its echoes of the 1930s, social movements both online and off have become more earnest in using the language of the outsiders—words Woody Guthrie worked into his songs of the 30s and 40s. When Tom Morello led a virtual army of guitarists through the streets of Manhattan earlier this year in one of the last big public moments of the Occupy Wall Street movement (to date) it was a given that one of the tunes the musical collective played was Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, the classic alternative national anthem.

Is the world really celebrating? Sure thing! That’s the conclusion of Reuters in a column that was posted on the MSNBC website along with a new photo of Woody’s famous son Arlo. The Reuters story includes these words: This year, from California and New York to Germany and Italy, the man dubbed the “Dust Bowl troubadour” is being analyzed and fondly remembered at Guthrie centennial gatherings great and small. Not bad for a singer and songwriter who was a commercial flop, despite writing the iconic American song “This Land is Your Land.”

Musician Charlie Maguire offers an eloquent tribute to Woody Guthrie’s passion and his talent as a songwriter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune website. Maguire writes in part: Along with his no-nonsense, piston-engine melodies, it’s Woody’s words we love. They are the plainly sung simple words written by a man who knew what he wanted to say, and just said it. Woody used words carefully chosen for clarity and dignity, like he knew that his work would be heard and read by generations unknown to him, in languages he could not fathom, and on devices he could not imagine.

Are you looking for a photo of Woody that you can use in your own media? You’re planning a blog post, a home-made greeting card, a slide show for a group you lead? Wikimedia Commons shares two high-res versions of Woody playing his “This Machine Kills Fascists” guitar in his prime. Those photos are free to use and reproduce. And, of course, don’t miss Wikipedia’s jam-packed bio page on Woody. That page includes even more photos related to Woody, plus a complete Discography and loads more.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Anniversary: Don’t forget Indian in Decathlon Centennial on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.FRIDAY, JUNE 22—to JULY 27: The U.S. Track and Field Trials, on June 22, held the first celebration of this year’s centennial of the decathlon, the event that traditionally identifies “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” But, the event’s history will be highlighted all the way through the 2012 Summer Summer Olympics in London, starting July 27.

What is our interest in promoting this sporting milestone? We hope that many of our readers will take this occasion to remember and honor Jim Thorpe, the first decathlon gold medalist. After a century, his story seems to be fading from American culture—even though his biography includes so many fascinating milestones in American history. He was coached by “Pop Warner,” who lent his name to Pop Warner Little Scholars, a sports-and-academics nonprofit that currently involves more than 400,000 kids. Thorpe graduated from the infamously abusive Carlysle Indian Industrial School. He played a wide range of sports, including professional baseball, football and basketball. However, the legacy of racism against Indians and his own alcoholism led to a tragic demise and death in 1953. Nevertheless, today his legacy is widely celebrated among native peoples. His story is featured in the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian.

For further reading on Thorpe, we recommend: Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe, by Kate Buford, who also wrote a biography of Burt Lancaster. This is the most complete, definitive biography of Thorpe. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm purchsed his copy of the book at the Smithsonian, where it is recommended. Some online reviewers have complained that the book is too long. They prefer shorter, punchier dramas about sports stars, which is an understandable preference. In that case, we also recommend the less-factual, but hugely entertaining Jim Thorpe: All American, produced just two years before Thorpe’s death and starring Burt Lancaster. Even six decades later, the Michael Curtiz movie still stirs viewers. (And, for movie buffs: Thorpe did act in more than 60 movies, often in Westerns as an uncredited Indian bit player. However, he did not appear in the Curtiz movie, even as an extra. Contrary to myths about that era, Thorpe was paid for his story and did serve as an advisor to the production.)

For further reading on Native Americans, we recommend the ReadTheSpirit book, “Dancing My Dream,” a memoir by Odawa elder and teacher Warren Petoskey. Warren’s book is an inspirational retelling of life in a multi-generational Indian family, but his book also confronts the painful legacy of Indian boarding schools.


Trans-Atlantic friends celebrate War of 1812 bicentennial Tall ship Guayas entering the port of Baltimore as part of the Star-Spangled Sailabration commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812MONDAY, JUNE 18: If you live in the region of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., then you’ve seen the huge preparations for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. More than a million people are expected to converge on Baltimore to see an international array of tall ships, among other festivities. That’s a prediction published in The Washington Post. How glorious to recall a war in which combatants are now best friends!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughed about this with British guests at a reception. She began: In our relationship, it’s always spring. It’s always being renewed, it is always durable, it is a cornerstone of both of our nations’ foreign policies, and it has such a great resonance between our two peoples.

Clinton then told an 1812 story: It was my predecessor in one of my other lives, Dolly Madison, who actually saved the extraordinary portraits of George and Martha Washington. Having received word from her husband, who was truly being a Commander-in-Chief in the field, that unfortunately the British truly were coming—(laughter from the audience)—she rushed from the White House, taking some treasures with her, leaving behind the meal that she had prepared for her husband and his officers. And the British officers ate the meal before they burned the White House. (laughter from the audience) So, we are looking forward, but nevertheless, there are certain memories that are also of significance.

LIVE IN THE MIDWEST? BICENTENNIAL OF BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE milestone in the War of 1812 took place on Lake Erie in September 1813, but the financially strapped City of Detroit is more focused on survival than on launching major international celebrations. The big news in Detroit actually is about U.S.-Canadian cooperation in trying to complete a second bridge from the city into Ontario. That complex deal was just unveiled this week—negotiated secretly to counter well-heeled opponents backed by the private owner of the existing bridge to Canada. Even though there is relatively little public sign of it, the Midwest is coming up on the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, when Commander Oliver Hazard Perry penned his most famous lines. The words were scrawled in a hasty note to army commander General William Henry Harrison (later our 9th president). Perry’s exact words were: “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry.” Of course, with apologies to Perry, Americans now tend to remember the line as revised by Pogo possum: “We have met the enemy—and he is us.”

Will you be in or near Michigan this month? Although Detroit isn’t planning much for the bicentennial, this summer, a special traveling exhibition on the War of 1812 is opening at the museum on Belle Isle, still a major gem in the Motor City’s crown. The Detroit News reports that the exhibit eventually will appear in many other cities.


Each year, June 21, is National Aboriginal Day (also widely called First Nations Day) in Canada. So, Canadian commentators on the bicentennial are paying particular attention to the Aboriginal role in the War of 1812. In the United States, centuries of anti-Indian policies have twisted our historical perspectives on native peoples. Americans tend to find our “war heroes” among the U.S. armed forces. From a Canadian perspective, however, native peoples were heroes of the War of 1812. Here is a fascinating column by the Globe and Mail’s James Bartleman, headlined: “Remember the native warriors duing War of 1812 bicentennial.” Bartleman writes, in part: Ontario, and probably a good part of the rest of present day Canada, would now be part of the United States were it not for the native warriors who overwhelmingly came to the defence of the British Crown in the first year of the War of 1812-1814. When Congress declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, former president Thomas Jefferson, speaking from his estate at Monticello in Virginia, said “the acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.” more from Indian perspectives? ReadTheSpirit publishes the memoir of Warren Petoskey, a well-known advocate for Indian concerns who is part of the Odawa people. The Odawa homeland once spanned Michigan and Ontario and these families moved regularly through the Great Lakes waterways. Warren writes in inspiring ways about Indian appreciation for the spirituality of the earth. He tells stories handed down to him through many generations. And he writes about the difficult legacy Indian families face even in this new millennium.

Want a more detailed history of the War of 1812? Wikipedia has quite a detailed overview, plus dozens of links to additional articles about individual participants and battles.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Come up! Come up for James Joyce and Bloomsday Bloomsday, 1954, from left: John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, Tom Joyce.SATURDAY, JUNE 16: Get ready …

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air.

He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely: Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. 2009, actor actor Barry McGovern reads aloud from Ulysses atop James Joyce Tower on Bloomsday.And, there you go! Those opening lines already are saluting James Joyce’s classic Ulysses. That’s the way countless fans around the world salute James Joyce today—cracking open copies of Ulysses and reading the text aloud. The novel is set in Dublin on June 16, 1904, and was published as a complete novel 90 years ago (parts of it were serialized earlier). The tale begins on a real stone tower, where Joyce spent a very brief but tumultuous part of his life. And, once again, Joyce fans will gather at what is called James Joyce Tower to do the one thing all Joyce fans do on Bloomsday—read aloud from Ulysses.

Wikipedia’s overview of celebrations in Ireland, Hungary, Italy, Australia and the U.S. also includes this summary of the very first Bloomsday: Bloomsday (a term Joyce himself did not employ) was invented in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, when John Ryan—artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine—and the novelist Flann O’Brien organized what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin). Ryan had engaged two-horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The participants were assigned roles from the novel. They planned to travel around the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown. The pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the weary companions succumbed to inebriation and rancor at the Bailey pub in the city center, which Ryan then owned, and at which, in 1967, he installed the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition.


Looking for an observance around your home? Check with local libraries, Irish-themed organizations and institutions. Or, start your own—it only takes a circle of friends to begin the annual practice. (Email us if you do decide to organize something, even if it is small, at [email protected]) Events are scattered across the U.S., often in unlikely places. For the eighth straight year, the Ocean City Repertory Theater in Ocean City at the southern tip of New Jersey will present “Bloomsday,” a staged reading of Joyce. In the Cincinnati area, the Irish Heritage Center will host a Bloomsday party. In the Syracuse area, Le Moyne College is hosting Bloomsday. By far, the most impressive Bloomsday event in the U.S. is held at Symphony Space on Broadway in New York: Even the New Yorker magazine recommends this event as The Place to celebrate Bloomsday. Among the performers at this annual event will be Fionnula Flanagan (famous for many years in Ireland and best known to Americans, these days, as the mysterious matriarch in LOST), who will end the evening with a reading of Molly Bloom’s nighttime monologue.

Going for a Guinness Record: And here’s a literally “record-setting” Bloomsday-related event. The Irish Writers Centre in Dublin—home of the biggest Bloomsday bash each year—is attempting to set a new Guinness record to highlight Irish writers. The goal to break the record for Most Authors Reading Consecutively From Their Own Books over a 28-hour period from June 15-16. So, the shot at the record does not involve reading Joyce, per se. Rather, the goal is to highlight the continuing wealth of literary talent in Dublin. The current record was set at Berlin International Literature Festival and featured 75 authors. The Irish attempt at breaking the record is looking to up the ante with a confirmed 111 authors reading from their own works. Each author will read for 15 minutes from one of his or her works.

Bloomsday qualifies as a holiday in our column, but does it have religious significance?
As Joyce would have said: You be the judge! Of course, it is impossible for anyone to read much of Joyce and not find layer upon layer of specific religious reflection—as well as broadly spiritual meditations. Check out the Wikiquotes page listing passages often quoted from Ulysses. Perhaps reviewing those gems will inspire you to get a copy and read along this week!

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Ulysses .



Anniversary: Hopelessly devoted to 40 years of ‘Grease’ the DVD cover to visit Grease’s Amazon page.Did you know? A then-unknown Richard Gere starred as “Danny” in London’s opening production of Grease in 1973!

THURSDAY, JUNE 7: Rydell High, the T-birds, the Pink Ladies and summer nights can only mean one thing: “Greaseis the word!” On this date in 1972, the original high school musical opened on Broadway. Just one year earlier, a vulgar musical about a group of teenagers didn’t show much potential; once the show was reworked into a tamer, more melodic performance, audiences started filling the theater. The original Broadway run of Grease—which started 40 years ago today—ran 3,388 shows, breaking records as the longest-running performance on Broadway. (Wikipedia has details.) Today, Grease claims the 14th spot on Broadway’s list of longest-running shows.

Grease follows high school seniors Sandy and Danny through a summer romance, and on through the trials of teen love. Ten students take viewers on a ride through the dramas of youth, touching on everything from popularity to peer pressure to miscommunication—and everything in between. A landscape of classic cars, rock ‘n roll, drive-ins and too much hair gel draws on deep wells of nostalgia in American culture. Despite such a successful Broadway run (with two more Broadway revivals to follow), the most renowned moments of Grease likely involve John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: The 1978 movie version of Grease was a huge hit with millions of Americans eager for some Grease Lightning. Millions continue to “like” the movie Grease. (Just check out the Facebook page!)

Hungry for more Grease? Try your hand at a quiz to figure out which character you’re most like! (Here’s a version of the quiz for women only.) Or you can travel to the UK, where Grease is currently touring. The last U.S. tour of Grease ended in May of last year, and since 1972, the musical has hit 22 other countries.