Baptisms for the Forgotten

Cyril Wilcox, Stanley Gilkey, Eugene Cummings, Ernest Weeks Roberts, Nathaniel Wolf, Edward Say, Keith Smerage, Kenneth Day, Joseph Lumbard, Harold Saxton, and Donald Clark. These are the names of students who are tied together by a simple thread. Each of these boys was tried and found guilty of either being or too closely associating with homosexuals in a secret court at Harvard in 1920. I first heard their story when I saw the off-broadway production entitled “Unnatural Acts.”

Of these 11 men, 2 went on to lead lives worthy of their merits, 3 married and had children, 1 died when his car crashed into a tree, 2 faded into history, 1 traveled the world, and 3 killed themselves. I assume it is because I was essentially expelled from BYU that I was so moved by their story that lay buried in the Harvard Archives until 2002, but I cannot shake their stories from my mind.

It was the same weekend I saw “Unnatural Acts” that my stake in San Francisco challenged each of us to prepare a name to take with us to the temple for the Stake temple trip on the 17th of September. When I returned from NYC this suggestion was repeated quite frequently and while normally I would have shrugged off the request knowing that my Grandmother has done a majority of our genealogy up through Charlemagne but a thought hit me. Who wil do the work for those forgotten by time?

I spent a couple weeks researching these boys and their stories and only 2 had any living descendants and for many of them they were only children for whom there was no family member to do their temple work for them. And it was that thought in mind that I realized that there was a thread that connected me to them, a thread that allows me to call them a part of my family. For if I hadn’t have been blest with the internet and the connections I have made through it I easily could have followed the path of any of them and most likely have ended up very much akin to Keith Smerage.

Their stories have become a part of me and their burden realized and shared. The least I could do to pay tribute to them and to honor the difficulties they faced 90 years ago. I had planned to participate in the Stake Temple trip and be baptized for 5 of them that day but I had forgotten that on that day I will be presenting at the Affirmation conference in Kirtland Ohio.

And so today I went to the Oakland temple and was baptized and confirmed for 5 of these 11 and now 8 are ready to have their initiatory and endowments done by someone else. That said, these 11 boys were not the forgotten because they were found, a paper trail uncovered their lives and their stories. But can that be said for all? How many lives from the past have faced the same fears and challenges that we face today? How many of their stories have been wiped clean by time and prejudice? I do not know but I hope that we all can look back into our family trees and discover our kindred ancestors and honor their memory and their lives.

  • Rachel Rawlinson

    So PROUD right now!

  • Rachel Rawlinson

    So PROUD right now!

  • Realneal2

    That is such an awesome gesture. I’m really touched..

  • Martin

    I am really glad that you did something with the men that were portrayed in the incredible play that I saw as well.  Was it for them?  Or was it really for you to recognize the greatness (because of the sacrifice that these men gave in essence for us, 90+ years later) that lays in their lives?  It makes me think about what “doing the work for the dead” might really be about.  And how we might better live our own lives.