The Kirtland Temple was dedicated in an eight-hour service on March 27, 1836. A reported "one thousand persons" attended the gathering, which introduced such traditional dedication rites as the Hosanna Shout and singing of W. W. Phelps's hymn "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning." Following a two-and-a-half hour sermon given by Church leader Sidney Rigdon, Smith offered a dedicatory prayer that had been prepared by a committee of church leaders, which he indicated was given to him by revelation. Two other church leaders, Brigham Young and David W. Patten, were reported to have been inspired to speak in tongues following the prayer.
It is often told that angels and religious manifestations occurred there and were witnessed by the congregations. It is also told that much wine was consumed there by the congregation.
So what happened? If the faithful accounts are correct, then many glorious, angelic visitations occurred at the temple that day and witnessed by hundred of saints. If the critics are correct then the stories are either untrue or exaggerations - perhaps fueled by the intense fasting and the wine that was given to the saints to commemorate the occasion.
There are many accounts that suggest something of a Pentecostal nature happened at the Kirtland Temple dedication. Here's several prominent accounts:
Joseph Smith, Jr.
"Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place."
Reference: Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951), 2:428.
"Sunday, the 27th attended on the dedication of the Lord's house. For the particulars of this great event see my account written by myself, and printed in the March No. of The Messenger and Advocate, signed C. In the evening I met with the officers of the church in the Lord's house. The Spirit was poured out--I saw the glory of God, like a great cloud, come down and rest upon the house, and fill the same like a mighty rushing wind. I also saw cloven tongues, like as of fire rest upon many, (for there were 316 present,) while they spake with other tongues and prophesied."
Reference: Leonard J. Arrington, "Oliver Cowdery's Kirtland Ohio 'Sketch Book,'" BYU Studies, Volume 12, (Summer 1972), 426.
Heber C. Kimball
"During the ceremonies of the dedication, an angel appeared and sat near President Joseph Smith, Sen., and Frederick G. Williams, so that they had a fair view of his person. He was a very tall personage, black eyes, white hair, and stoop shouldered; his garment was whole, extending to near his ankles; on his feet he had sandals. He was sent as a messenger to accept of the dedication...While these things were being attended to the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and others."
Reference: Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886), 9: 376.
George A. Smith
"There were great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels. Many individuals bore testimony that they saw angels, and David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle, and there came a shock on the house like the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and almost every man in the house arose, and hundreds of them were speaking in tongues, prophecying or declaring visions, almost with one voice."
Reference: Ibid, 11:10.
Eliza R. Snow
"One striking feature of the ceremonies, was the grand shout of hosanna, which was given by the whole assembly, in standing position, with uplifted hands. The form of the shout is as follows: 'Hosanna-hosanna-hosanna-to God and the Lamb-amen-amen, and amen.' The foregoing was deliberately and emphatically pronounced, and three times repeated, and with such power as seemed almost sufficient to raise the roof from the building.
Reference: Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York: Tullidge & Crandall, 1877), 95.
"There the Spirit of the Lord, as on the day of Pentecost, was profusely poured out. Hundreds of Elders spoke in tongues. We had a most glorious and never-to-be-forgotten time. Angels were seen by numbers present. It was also at this time that Elijah the Prophet appeared, and conferred upon Joseph the keys of turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, previous to the re-institution of the ordinance of baptism for the dead."
Reference: Benjamin Brown, "Testimony for the Truth," Gems for the Young Folks (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881), 65.
"When about midway during the prayer, there was a glorious sensation passed through the house [Kirtland Temple]; and we, having our heads bowed in prayer, felt a sensation very elevating to the soul. At the close of the prayer, F. [Frederick] G. Williams being in the upper east stand- -Joseph being in the speaking stand next below--rose and testified that midway during the prayer an holy angel came and seated himself in the stand. When the afternoon meeting assembled, Joseph, feeling very much elated, arose the first thing and said the personage who had appeared in the morning was the Angel Peter come to accept the dedication."
Reference: Truman Angell, Autobiography, Our Pioneer Heritage, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, 198.
Joseph Smith may have encouraged a Pentecostal-type of experience at the Kirtland temple dedication by instructing the Saints to fast all day long and then serving light bread and generous amounts of wine. This may account for the supernatural reports coming from inside the temple.
"It was reported, however, that they consumed a barrel of wine and other liquors at the dedication of the Temple, enabling some of them to see angels, have visions, prophesy and dream dreams." (Pioneer and Personal Reminisces, pg 26)
David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses; "The great heavenly 'visitation,' which was alleged to have taken place in the temple at Kirtland, was a grand fizzle. The elders were assembled on the appointed day, which was promised would be a veritable day of Pentecost, but there was no visitation. No Peter, James and John; no Moses and Elias, put in an appearance. 'I was in my seat on that occasion,' says Mr. Whitmer, 'and I know that the story sensationally circulated, and which is now on the records of the Utah Mormons as an actual happening, was nothing but a trumped up yarn..."
Reference: The Des Moines Daily News, Oct. 16, 1886. Link
Apostle William E. McLellin said that no spiritual manifestations occurred at the Kirtland Temple dedication. McLellin contends that some of the Mormon men were not visionary but drunk, having imbibed too much wine on empty stomachs following a fast. In an 1872 letter to Joseph Smith III, McLellin wrote, "I took care of S. H. Smith [the prophet's brother Samuel] in one of the stands, so deeply intoxicated that he could not nor did sense anything … he vomited the spit-box five times full, and his dear brother Carlos would empty it out of the window" (494). In addition, the older McLellin raises objections to teachings and practices—such as editing and publishing the prophet's revelations and taking up arms in Zion's Camp—that he apparently endorsed without objection when they occurred.
Reference: McLellin Papers,
There's several other instances in which McLellin mentioned drinking in association with the temple:
"Orson, you cannot have forgotten the scenes of drunkenness during the pretended enduement [sic] in Kirtland in 1836. I shall never forget them, nor the hundreds of false prophecies delivered in the Temple on that occasion.
McLellin to Orson Pratt, 29 April 1854, p. 2; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 436.
"As to the endowment in Kirtland, I state positively, it was no endowment from God. Not only myself was not endowed but no other man of the five hundred who was present—except it was with wine!
McLellin to Mark H. Forscutt, 1 October 1871; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 476.
"In 1836 when they undertook to get an endowment in the Kirtland Temple. All washed and with oil anointed themselves, and appeared in the Temple at sunrise...and about five hundred ministers took their places, and solem[n]ly prayed. We remained there fasting until sunrise next morning. We however partook of some bread and wine in the evening. And some partook so freely, on their empty stomachs, that they became drunk! I took care of S[amuel] H. Smith in one of the stands so deeply intoxicated that he could not nor did sense anything. I kept him hid from the crowd in the stand, but he vomited the spit-box five times full, and his dear brother [Don] Carlos would empty it out of the window.
McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 493-494.
"In 1836 when they undertook to get an endowment in the Temple. All washed, and with oil anointed themselves, and appeared in the Temple at sun rise, then all their feet were washed, and about five hundred ministers dedicated themselves by solemn prayr [sic]. We remained there fasting until sun rise next morning. We however partook of some bread and wine in the evening. And some partook so freely, on their empty stomachs, that they became drunk! I took care of S[amuel] H. Smith, in one of the stands, so deeply intoxicated that he could not nor did not sense any thing. I kept him hid from the company but he vomited the spit-box full five times, and his dear brother [Don] Carlos would empty it out at the window. But I would prefer to draw a curtain over the awful drunken scene! Others imbibed to[o] much also. But let the curtain fall!!...But no power in Jos. Smith's dedication...If it was not transgression, what was the cause of so much disappointment?
McLellin to Joseph Smith III, July 1872; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 498.
"On the 6th of April, 1836, the ministerial authorities, about five hundred in number, entered that house at sunrise, and remained fasting until next morning, sun-rise, in order to receive an endowment, but utterly failed in their endeavor! It was more an endowment with wine than power from God.
McLellin to Dear Mary, 3- August 1872; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 512.
"The endowment was sought for in Kirtland, O. on April 6th 1836, but was not received, and was an entire failure....[the members] assembled at sunrise, and remained fasting until the next morning sunrise. Then about five hundred ministers began to wend their way home from than noble building, many of them disappointed and dispirited. The scene through which they had passed was one long to be remembered. No display of power from God was given. Al the power given was the power of man....They had a little bread, sent in by the sisters in the evening, The Twelve as servants carried round to them on servers a little bread and wine, and some of them partook of the wine so freely so as to become badly intoxicated!
McLellin to John L. Traughber, 14 December 1878, cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 396.
"The morning arrived and some five hundred ministers assembled in the Temple at sunrise....We remained until sunrise next morning fasting, excepting a little bread and wine furnished us in the evening. Some partook of the wine so freely on an empty stomach, that they actually became drunken! And a scene ensued that would be hard to describe. One thing I state candidly, I saw no one man in that assembly that was endowed with super-human power–no not one. This wonderful enduement [sic] then was only a farce—a very great failure
McLellin, "Reasons Why I am Not A Mormon, ca. 1880; cited in Stan Larson and Samuel J. Passey (editors), The William E. McLellin Papers 1854-1880 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2007), p. 421-422.
"In the evening, they met for the endowment. The fast was then broken by eating light wheat bread, and drinking as much wine as they saw proper. Smith knew well how to infuse the spirit which they expected to receive; so he encouraged the brethren to drink freely, telling them that the wine was consecrated, and would not make them drunk.....they began to prophecy, pronounce blessings upon their friends, and curses on their enemies. If I should be so unhappy as to go to the regions of the damned, I would never expect to hear language more awful, or more becoming the infernal pit, than was uttered that night."
Mrs. Alfred Morley
"I have heard many Mormons who attended the dedication, or endowment of the Temple say that very many became drunk....The Mormon leaders would stand up to prophesy and were so drunk they said they could not get it out and would call for another drink. Over a barrel of liquor was used at the service."
"My brother, Hazen Aldrich, who as president of the Seventies, told me when the Temple was dedicated a barrel of wine was used and they had a drunken pow-wow."
Stephen H. Hart
"Mr McWhithey, who was a Mormon...said he attended a service which lasted from 10 AM until 4 PM, and there was another service in the evening. The Lord's Supper was celebrated and they passed the wine in pails several times to the audience, and each person drank as much as he chose from a cup. He said it was mixed liquor and he believed the Mormon leaders intended to get the audience under the influence of the mixed liquor, so they would believe it was the Lord's doings....When the liquor was repassed, Mr McWhithey told them he had endowment enough, and said he wanted to get out of the Temple, which was densely crowded."
The pro-LDS apologetic organization FAIR acknowledged that wine was used at the dedication and some people got drunk, although they contend that it was unintentional as the wine would have a much more dramatic effect on people that have been fasting for some time. (The page has since been removed, here is an archive of it.
The statement by Mormon Apostle George A. Smith would also lead a person to believe that wine was used to excess: "... after the people had fasted all day, they sent out and got wine and bread.... they ate and drank.... some of the High Counsel of Missouri stepped into the stand, and, as righteous Noah did when he awoke from his wine, commenced to curse their enemies (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p.216).
Note: It wasn't until July 5, 1906 that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles officially abandoned the practice of drinking wine in their weekly temple sacrament meetings.
So obviously some people got drunk and said and did some crazy things but does that explain everything?
Some people claimed to have seen angels and others who were in attendance said nothing happened. This seems similar to the Transfiguration of Brigham Young where those in attendance said nothing happened but stories seem to pop up later and kept growing and growing until the story became so grand and magnificent and believed by all the faithful, despite the lack of contemporary accounts.
The question has to be asked; 'if angels appear in a room with hundreds of people, should not everyone be able to see them if they are really there?' If so, then we have to wonder why there aren't hundreds of accounts from every single person there that an angel sat down in the congregation and that angels floated above the room and that Elijah, John, etc. actually made an appearance.
Surely hundreds would have been able to see the angel that sat down near to Joseph during the ceremony as Heber Kimball said. So why aren't there hundreds of testimonies of this, instead of just a few?
Apostle George A. Smith said "David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle". Yet David Whitmer is quoted as saying "The great heavenly 'visitation,' which was alleged to have taken place in the temple at Kirtland, was a grand fizzle. The elders were assembled on the appointed day, which was promised would be a veritable day of Pentecost, but there was no visitation. No Peter, James and John; no Moses and Elias, put in an appearance. 'I was in my seat on that occasion,' says Mr. Whitmer, 'and I know that the story sensationally circulated, and which is now on the records of the Utah Mormons as an actual happening, was nothing but a trumped up yarn..."
So who is lying or mistaken? Since David Whitmer was one of the Three Witnesses and never refuted his testimony of seeing Moroni and the gold plates, he obviously wouldn't lie now about not seeing three angels walking up the isle of the Kirtland Temple. So it seems apparent that Apostle George A. Smith was either lying or mistaken about David Whitmer seeing three angels at the Kirtland dedication. If we can't trust this apostle's account of the Kirtland angel appearance, then how can we trust the other accounts?
Both Elias and Elijah also are reported to have appeared as two separate beings in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110:12, 13):
12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi--...[emphasis added]
However, Elias and Elijah are the same person. Elijah is the Hebrew name of Elias (Greek). But Joseph thought they were two different people and thus referred to them as such. Richard Packham explains in detail the problem of Elias and Elijah as used by Joseph Smith.
It's likely that Joseph said he was seeing something angelic and told the congregation what he claimed to be seeing. Those in attendance relayed what Joseph said he saw. Everyone was so excited for this grand event, that they likely got caught up in the moment and imagined some extraordinary things. Imagine if someone you thought was a prophet said an angel was in the room, the people are singing intently, people are speaking in tongues, there's shouting of Hosanna, waving, cheering, etc. That would likely cause some to believe the prophet so much as to get caught up in the spirit and cause them to imagine they were witnessing something extraordinary - made much easier if they were fasting and had a sudden dose of wine. Some who were genuinely drunk probably added fuel to the environment by claiming to see things just to support their beloved prophet.
Given the contradictions by Apostle George A. Smith, the explicit denial of anything angelic by David Whitmer, William McLellin and others, the Elias & Elijah problem and the liberal use of wine by a fasting congregation, this casts this story in the more likely realm of folklore and urban legend rather than historical fact.
This essay from Rethinking Mormonism suggests that perhaps many of these supposed visions were causing by ingesting certain plants with psychedelic properties or drinking wine so prepared:
The Mysteries of Godliness by David John Buerger. Buerger devotes an entire chapter to the Kirtland temple ceremonies (pages 11-34).