Reporter at Large, The Mountain of Names
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     CONSIDERING that the Mormon Church doesn't accept the theory of evolution, I thought it magnanimous of the Genealogical Society to have released its family-group sheets to a geneticist. Some Mormons, however, a church member told me, are "kind of torn" about the church's strict adherence to creationism. With all the Precambrian rock that is exposed in Utah, and all the dinosaur bones that have been found there, it requires a special fervor to believe that the earth is only six thousand years old and not the consequence of a succession of ancient and protracted geological and biological processes. The creationist argument is based partly on a rejection of carbon dating as a valid method of determining the age of organic material. "Carbon dating is theoretically correct only if the atmospheric bombardment has been constant over the ages; also, if radioactivity of the elements is constant," Thomas Milton Tinney, a Mormon who has traced his ancestry over a hundred and fifty-two generations, right back to Adam, explains in his privately printed genealogy, a copy of which I came across at the New York Public Library. "Prior to Eve and Adam partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, there was no death, or radioactive decay. The atmosphere at the time of the pre-flood patriarchs was different from what it is today. There was no rainbow prior to the world-wide flood; also, the process of decay and degeneration was slower as can be noted by the age or longevity of the early patriarchs," Tinney writes. Tom Daniels suggested to me that the Biblical creation of the world in six days may mean six stages of considerably longer duration than six twenty-four-hour time periods. He repeated the same scriptural verse that Gunderson had cited as an indication of the delightfulness of the Telestial Kingdom: "A day with the Lord is as a thousand years with man."
     "Darwin and all that stuff, we don't buy it," he said to me one afternoon as we drove south from Salt Lake City toward the Granite Mountain Records Vault. "It's a godless theory." He also had misgivings about genetic engi
neering-about the day when a defective sequence of DNA could be replaced by a remodelled sequence that would instruct a cell to function correctly. Perhaps, I suggested, the time might come when people could identify and delete specific ancestral contributions-breaking away from their families at least in a purely physical sense-and those who wanted to be free-floating individualists could ad-lib themselves into the sort of people they had always wanted to be. "I don't think the Lord will let them get that far," Daniels said.
     As we drove below the western flank of Traverse Mountain, Daniels pointed out a shelf that marked the shoreline of Lake Bonneville. The present Great Salt Lake is a remnant of Bonneville, which flooded Salt Lake Valley under a thousand feet of water at its high point, eighteen thousand years ago, during the last Ice Age. I wasn't eager to get into a discussion about the theological implications of its age with Daniels. He was, after all, taking me to the vault, which very few Mormons and hardly anybody outside the faith have been allowed to visit in recent years. Until 1967, there were tours of the vault, but then the society became worried about vandalism and about breath damage to the microfilm, and, like the Lascaux cave, it was closed to the public. A special meeting of the society's management had reviewed my request to make a visit, and Daniels had evidently spoken in my favor.
     After we had been driving for about half an hour, we turned east, up Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is one of seven sheer-walled cavities cut through the Wasatch front by torrents that rush down into Salt Lake Valley. As we climbed the steeply rising floor of the canyon, the walls of rock narrowed. Vegetation reached up from wherever it had found a footing: fir, spruce, and lodgepole pine had colonized the angled strata of the shadier right-hand wall, and scrub oak, box elder, and sagebrush filled the cracks in the left-hand one, which was bathed in strong light. After about a mile, we turned north on an unobtrusive dirt road that led to the foot of a seven-hundred-foot cliff. This was Granite Mountain, part of a blister of hot fluid that had seeped up through the eig ht- hundred-million-year-old slate, quartzite, and sandstone of the lower canyon during the uplift of the Wasatch, and had cooled, crystallized, and been stripped by erosion and exposed. Much later, the cliff had been scraped by a succession of glaciers, so that it overhung in places. The rock was quartz monzonite, a variety of granite-white and very hard, sprinkled with black slivers of hornblende and sheets of biotite mica. At the base of the cliff were four large portals that looked somewhat like tunnel entrances and were protected by plate glass and steel grilles. Daniels told me that a few years earlier a young mountain climber had fallen to his death from the face of the cliff; that mountain goats were sometimes spotted on the ledges across the canyon; and that one morning somebody who was driving up to the vault had come upon a cougar in the parking lot. The only creature in evidence now was an orange butterfly arrayed with silvergreen spots and black chevrons which was taking nectar from a nearby flowering sagebrush. It was some sort of fritillary-very possibly Speyeria mormonia, the so-called Mormon fritillary.
     We parked, got out, walked over to a bunkerlike building to the right of the cliff-the personnel entrance to the vault-and went through a door. The air inside was a cool sixty degrees. Daniels faced a closed-circuit television camera and said, "Tom Daniels and party." A voice from a suspended loudspeaker answered, "O.K., sir, you're expected," and we were buzzed through a second door. We turned left, down a corridor lined
with corrugated sheets of heavy-gauge steel which led into the mountain. At the end of the corridor, a man in a booth gave us identification tags, asked us to sign a register, and buzzed us through a third door, into a room where two women in orange smocks were opening cartons full of steel cans.
     A large man who looked to be in his early thirties entered the room and greeted us warmly; this was Herbert White II, the manager of the vault. He told us that the vault was built between 1958 and 1963, at a cost of two million dollars; that it was high enough above the canyon floor-the altitude at the portals was six thousand feet-to be out of danger from spring floods; that it was probably nuclear-bomb-proof, although he hoped that that would never have to be demonstrated; and that it might even survive the tribulations at the start of the millennium, which the Mormons believe is not only imminent but overdue. "The Book of Revelation says that the earth will be leveled, valleys will be raised, and there will be a follow up of the Flood, except that fire will be the main agent of destruction," White said. "We don't know what the Lord has in mind. Maybe He won't even need these records-He must know who has lived and when-but the purpose of this facility is to give the records the best protection we can for as long as we have control of them. That is the commitment we make to our donors. Think of what has already been lost-the Dutch records when the dikes burst in the fifties, for instance; the Nicaraguan records when Managua was hit by that earthquake a few years ago; the Buddhist necrologies that are destroyed whenever Japan is struck by a typhoon; all the European records that went up in smoke or were blown to smithereens in the Second World War."
     We were in the shipping-andreceiving section, White said. The microfilm that was being unpacked had just been received from Frankfurt, Germany. The first thing the women in the orange smocks did after opening the cartons was to "marry" the number on each can to its computer punchcard, which had already been sent over from headquarters; the status of each roll is monitored by computer throughout the processing. Then the cans are taken to a laboratory, where technicians open them, in darkness, remove the film, and wind it on an Allen M-70 processor, which looks something like a miniature car wash and can develop ninety feet of film per minute. The developed film goes to the "negative-evaluation area," where visual checks are made on randomly selected frames to determine whether their density and their resolution are within certain standards. If the image is light or blurry, if there is poor contrast, or if a certain number of lines per millimetre are not registered by the evaluators' microscope, second- or thirdgeneration prints of the film won't "read." Some cosmetic problems can be corrected by settings on the duplicators, but if the frames are not within the standards there is no alternative but to send the cameraman back to film the records again. If the film passes muster, working prints of it are made. A copy, as has been noted, goes to the donor; another, if the records are considered to be in the "heavily used" category, is put in circulation at the Genealogical Library; another eventually goes to one of the stakes for extraction. On an average day at the vault, sixty-five thousand rolls of microfilm are moving through the system-being developed, copied, put in storage, or sent to the society's headquarters for cataloguing.
     White led us through a lobby, past a piano with a Mormon hymnal open on its music stand, past a row of framed likenesses of the church's presidentstwelve, from Joseph Smith to Spencer Kimball-to show us the air-intake portal, where large particles in the incoming air are trapped in filter bags and smaller dust particles are extracted by carbon filters. On most days, automatic atmospheric adjustments are made by a Kathabar humidifier; the humidity in the canyon that day, for instance, was only nine per cent, and at least thirty-per-centhumidity has to be maintained for optimal microfilm storage. Elsewhere in the facility, iondetection and smoke-detection alarms were ready to sound at the outbreak of fire. From a hallway parallel to the lobby, three corridors, each three hundred and fifty feet long, run straight into the mountain. They give access to six storage chambers, each two hundred feet by twenty-five. The entrance to each corridor is protected by a steel door made by the Mosler Safe Company. The left-hand and right-hand
doors weigh nine tons each, and the center door weighs fourteen. The two side corridors generally remain closed. The door to the central corridor is opened at eight in the morning and shut at twenty minutes to five in the afternoon. Two combination locks must be dialled to open it. White wouldn't tell me how many people knew the combinations. Above each of the doors is an air vent, whose cover, mounted on spring-loaded blast locks, will automatically seal shut if there is an explosion outside. White reckoned that once the doors and the vents were shut-in the event of, say, a nuclear holocaust-the master films, which are kept in two of the chambers and are sealed off by other doors, would last "almost for eternity." The storage chambers themselves, which are lined with corrugated steel, are under five hundred feet of solid rock, with scarcely a fracture in it. The natural temperature in them hovers between fifty-nine and sixty-two degrees, and their relative humidity stays at around thirty per cent-perfect for indefinite storage. He opened the door to one of the two chambers that held the film (three others were stacked with processing equipment and computer tapes, and one was still empty ). We peered down a narrow aisle,£lanked by gray walls of metal cabinets, toward the vanishing point. Each wall was eighteen drawers high and eighty- i eight cabinets long, and there was an other aisle of cabinets on either side.  Each drawer held seventy-five rolls of microfilm. Each roll was a hundred feet long and contained from thirteen hundred to two thousand pages of records-the equivalent of between three and six large volumes. A hundred years of the London Times would have taken up less than two drawers. Each chamber has room for eight hundred and eighty-five thousand four hundred rolls of film, and at that moment there were (according to a bulletin board in the chamber) a million two hundred and sixty-seven thousand five hundred and eighteen rolls in storage, some of them dating back to 1939, when the filming had begun, and containing in all about a billion and a half names of the dead a figure that White warned was a sheer estimate, because most of the rolls had not yet been extracted.
     Although the view down the storage chamber's aisle was unremarkable in itself, I began to realize that I was in the presence of a modern Wonder of the W orId. When I imagined myself as an extraterrestrial, or as one of the next species to inherit the earth, coming upon this room after the human race had destroyed itself, the view was breathtaking. I sensed that Daniels, too, was moved, although he must have seen the walls of drawers many times before. He said quietly, with a straightforwardness that I had come to admire, "In this mountain are the names of a billion and a half people who have walked the earth since the beginning of the sixteenth century." A few minutes later, we were outside again, in the bright land of the living.

-        ALEX SHOUMATOFF
 
 
 
 

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