OK, how can an entire Bible collection go missing? To make matters worse, the 1736 family Bible of Johannes (John) Whitmer of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky is part of it.
To begin at the beginning, Christus Gardens opened in 1960 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It was a huge religious tourist attraction that presented Biblical scenes from the lifetime of Christ and was best know for its carrara marble face of Christ.
It also housed a large collection of Bibles that had been donated to them, mainly from Ohio and Kentucky.
Sometime after October 1971, the children of Philip and Anna Roth of Evansville, Indiana donated the Whitmer family Bible to Christus Gardens in memory of their parents, who had died in 1948 and 1957, respectively.
John Whitmer’s family Bible was very large, over 1000 pages, weighed 13 lbs and was quite ornate. The Bible was something of a showpiece at Christus Gardens because it was always housed in a glass display case for viewing. It was in very good condition when I viewed it in the 1990’s. I have looked high and low for a photograph of it, but have found nothing. My husband thinks that no photos were allowed and that may be true. Our visit there was part of a three week vacation back east and I was already well addicted to genealogy. We have many other photos from that trip and there is no way I would have left without multiple photos of the Bible, if photography was allowed.
LAST MINUTE UPDATE: One Bible photo found:
Here is the problem that led to this mystery. Christus Gardens closed in 2008. Its inventory was purchased by Trinity Broadcast Network, based in Santa Ana, California, packed up, hauled off and no one seems to know where the Bible collection is today.
Here is every bit of information I have about the Bible. First, there was a letter of inquiry back in 1991:
Next, the translation done in 1949:
Lastly, the closest thing I have to a photograph of the Bible, which is a photocopy of the inscription inside the Bible:
A phone call to the Trinity Broadcast Network in California led to a directive to send them an email, which I did. To date, I have only received an automated response that the email had been received.
I am just sick over the idea that a Bible almost 300 years old may be gone.
There is a lesson to be learned here. If you have an item that you are thinking of donating somewhere, particularly if it is something valuable, think long and hard about to whom the donation will be made. Christus Gardens took good care of the Bible, but when they went out of business, they lost control of their holdings. I am hoping against hope that a religious broadcasting network like TBN has safely housed these Bibles.
Will this case be solved? Only time will tell.