More evidence that the bookshelves and basements of Latter-day Saints' homes provide historical value: I'm holding in my hands a book titled, "Flashes From the Eternal Semaphore," written by Leo J. Muir, published by The Deseret News Press, third edition, 1928. What's most interesting is the right hand page next to the inside cover, a June 1, 1929 signed note from then-LDS Church President Heber J. Grant to missionary, Raymond D. Kingsford, soon to be sent to the LDS Western States Mission, according to his daughter, Lou Ann Hirsch, who has preserved her late-dad's gift from a prophet.
The note, on President Grant's letterhead, reads, Elder Raymond D. Kingsford, (stamped)
This excellent book
is presented to you with the
compliments of the author,
Leo J. Muir, and myself. I feel sure you will thoroughly
enjoy its contents and that
it will be an inspiration to
you while on your mission.
Sincerely your brother,
(Heber J. Grant's signature)
A semaphore is, according to most definitions, "a system of sending messages by holding the arms or two flags or poles in certain positions according to an alphabetic code." (Online Free Dictionary). Muir's "book" is more or less a collection of inspirational quotes, legends, and stories designed to promote honesty, integrity, and spirituality. Sort of a 1920s' version of "Chicken Soup for the Soul." It was apparently sent to hundreds of young elders who served missions for the LDS Church long ago.
I think its main historical value is its place as a preferred non-Scripture reference for LDS missionaries of that era. Whether officially endorsed by a prophet or not, every generation of missionaries likely have favorite church-related books that are packed in their bags next to suits, ties, garments, Scriptures, etc. When I was a missionary 29 years ago, I recall buying a small book that included a debate on Mormonism that involved two missionaries and representatives from other faiths. The "judge" was a rabbi, I recall. The book was popular among missionaries, although I can't recall the title. The LDS debaters won, of course, and even the rabbi judge was converted.
Out of curiosity, I look for this book from time to time at LDS bookstores and can't find it, although I'm sure I could track it down if I made a serious Deseret Industries/online sales effort. It seems to have run its course -- long ago -- as a missionary-preferred tool. Some books that never grow out of favor for missionaries are, of course, the LDS Standard Works scriptures, plus books such as "The Articles of Faith" and "Jesus The Christ," by the early 20th Century apostle James A. Talmadge, who probably knew Leo J. Muir, personally. ("Articles of Faith," by the way, was a thick, sturdy volume that also served as a sure weapon against flying cockroaches in Peru.)
As for Muir's "Flashes From the Eternal Semaphore," here are a few of the nuggets found within the 112 pages:
* "Let us scan at random the lives of great men
and observe how firmly they have mastered
their lives towards the ends they hold dear.
The canny Scotchman, Carnegie, expressed the
philosophy of the captains of industry in this
'Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.'
That is the strait and narrow path in business."
* "... Moderation and simplicity in
foods, in fashion and in faith lead always to
health, happiness and religious peace of mind."
* "The lewdster who amuses himself and others
in this base pastime is seldom aware of the dire
mischief hidden in his speech. Obscenity is
the hostile enemy of all noble virtues."
"And well might every youth give solemn
heed to this prophetic counsel:
'Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth
instruction; but he that regardeth reproof shall be
The book is arranged in seven sections, with an Introduction, Five Semaphore Flashes (The first is "The Pursuit of Easy Things Makes Men Weak," the last, "He That Soweth to the Flesh Shall of the Flesh Reap Corruption," and has a Conclusion, titled, "The Majesty of Law."
The author, Leo J. Muir, (1880-1967) was an educator in Davis County for much of his life. The Davis School District, on its website, has an excellent mini-biography of Muir (http://www.davis.k12.ut.us/schools/muir/leojmuir.html). He was the first principal of Davis High School and eventually Utah superintendent of schools. When this book was published in the 1920s, Muir lived in California and was an LDS stake president and later the Northern States LDS mission president.
A prominent Democrat, Muir was mayor of Bountiful. In 1960, he provided the benediction -- following John F. Kennedy's presidential nomination acceptance speech -- at the Democratic National Convention.
In Bountiful, there is an elementary school named for him.
Gibson is the Standard-Examiner's opinion editor. This column also ran in Currents, the Standard-Examiner's digital-only section on politics and culture.