(AP Photo/Craig Dimond, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, HO)
By the time the last visitors left the Conference Center Thursday night, tens of thousands had paid their respects to President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. More than 100,000 people are expected to pay their respects.
For many, the chance to bid farewell to a beloved church leader was something they simply could not pass up.
So many people said how pleased they were that President Hinckley's viewing was in the Conference Center, the building he envisioned and built for the people. Families, business people, students, they came to pay tribute to President Hinckley.
The first to come through Thursday morning were church employees. They started at 7 a.m., and then the public started at 9 a.m. As they entered the Hall of the Prophets, they saw President Hinckley's casket surrounded by the busts of all the Church prophets, from Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley.
People were emotional and very reverent. Many commented on the feeling in the building. There were a lot of children who came to pay their respects to President Hinckley. They passed by his casket in the Hall of the Prophets.
"I haven't seen him before in real life, so it was a great opportunity," said 9-year-old Andrew Olsen.
"It was very powerful, and you felt the Holy Ghost the whole time," 11-year-old Noelle Olsen said.
Stephanie Johnson, of south Ogden, said, "He was really the people's prophet, and we'll desperately miss him. He's a wonderful man."
"He's the only prophet that I really remember for being so young when he became the prophet. I just have the sweetest memories, and his spirit is so strong in that room that you can really feel all that he did and the people that really loved him are there," said Rebecca Maxfield, of Salt Lake City.
Norma Montoya said, "We really had to be here. We just couldn't miss it, see him for the last time.
Vienna Latu said, "I am very grateful to see him today, and it's a very important day for me in my life and for my kids."
People love President Hinckley for what they call his personal touch. The Smart family experienced what they call his remarkable insight when their daughter, Elizabeth, was kidnapped. After days of frantic searching, Ed Smart collapsed and was hospitalized. President Hinckley, he says, gave him hope.
"Being in the hospital all night long, not knowing how we were going to get through this nightmare, and speaking to him that morning from the hospital and his words of reassurance and love and support, that everything would be OK. I can't tell you how much that impacted my life and made it possible for us to move forward," Smart said.
Their home became the focus of national media attention. The family was distraught, and President Hinckley reached out again. Smart says, "He came to our house and blessed our house. He blessed us that we would be able to move forward, that this life, we have challenges, and, you know, we never know what those challenges are going to be, but that we need to get up and move forward. He was really remarkable."
So many people have deeply personal memories of President Hinckley.
There are signs in the building to remind people to be reverent, but that didn't seem to be necessary. People really wanted to be there, and they felt as though it is the right place to have a public viewing because this was President Hinckley's building.
Some people were dressed for work, some people were dressed as if they were going to church, and other people were casually dressed. It doesn't seem to matter what they wore, just that they were there.
President Hinckley's family members were up near the casket greeting people, and some of the Church's general authorities were also there from time to time.
President Hinckley's family has requested for those wishing to send flowers, that instead they contribute to one of several charitable funds, including the Perpetual Education Fund which President Hinckley instituted, the church missionary or humanitarian funds or the Gordon B. Hinckley chair of British Studies at the University of Utah.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City police are helping with traffic, parking and crowd control. Parking is difficult to find and requires a walk of a couple of blocks, so keep that in mind. Also, dress warmly as it is around 30 degrees outside.
The Conference Center doors open again Friday at 9 a.m.