On page 51 and 52, Tracy then summarizes the physical features of Joseph Smith by topic and then chronologically (as given in the preceding pages) within each topic. Descriptions of stature, height, face and head, weight, eyes, hands, legs, feet, nose, complexion, and hair are so arranged. Tracy attempts to show how this arrangement is beneficial by showing that the description of what is described as the “July 1838” Joseph puts Joseph’s weight at 200 lbs. The descriptions of the “October 1838” Joseph and the “Jan. 1840” Joseph put him at 180 lbs, and the “1842” description has him back at 212 lbs. Why this fluctuation? Tracy says it is because in late 1838 and early 1839 Joseph was suffering privations in Liberty Jail. This seems reasonable, however, the very next description of Joseph’s weight in the chronology has him at 150 lbs somewhere between 1842 and 1844. There are some serious doubts in my mind about the soundness of this exercise. The most glaring is related to how these descriptions were chosen and arranged (as previously discussed) and how late most of them are. Perhaps folk in the early part of the 19th century were more adept at estimating weight than we are today, but I question the ability of a person to recollect with accuracy how much someone weighed over 8 years before (in the case of the “October 1838” description) and 17 years before (in the case of the “Jan. 1840” description).
Tracy does not address the 150 lb Joseph, but he does say that, “there are some obvious ‘flyers’ [he must mean “outliers”] in the data, information that can be thrown out because it is on the fringes” (p. 53). Stepping back a moment, we must remember why these 41 accounts were chosen for inclusion in the first place. If through thoughtful, even spiritual study, these 41 descriptions were found to contain the “truth”, why would there be any outliers at all? Why the need to throw out any set of data if these descriptions represent the “true” descriptions of the Prophet? Furthermore, a difficulty arises in the criteria for exclusion here. Basically, it almost seems that if the information does not conform to the author’s expectation, it is subject for rejection.
Those reading this will forgive some of the disjointed nature of this review as it very much a work in progress. To digress just briefly, this book also has no functional historiography. The reader has no sense going into this read how it fits with what has already been done on the subject. There is some discussion of works such as Ephraim Hatch’s and William B. McCarl’s thesis on visual images of Joseph Smith among other works, but these references are scattered throughout the book. As a result, the reader can get the impression early on that this is the first attempt to undertake such a study when in reality, Tracy is working from and complementing other earlier works and adding to his own earlier work. This book is not a separate book, but referred to as the second of his earlier In Search of Joseph. Again, the reader is left largely in the dark as to how this work differs from the first. In truth there are substantial differences, additions and subtractions.
Moving on, Chapter 4 proposes to examine the forensic and anatomic information regarding Joseph Smith so as to confidently use the material in judging a proposed photograph. Tracy first opens up with a defense of the use of photographs of skeletal remains, specifically those of Joseph and Hyrum and attempts to show, with stories of skeletal excavations on Zion’s Camp and the display of the mummies in Nauvoo, that Joseph would have had no qualms with using the skulls as evidence. This seems to demonstrate that the audience of this book is indeed the general membership of the Church as the propriety of using skeletal remains in academic studies is accepted. An example is Shannon Novak’s recent book on the biocultural history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which devotes no space to justifying the photographing and analyzing of skeletal remains.
This fourth chapter is perhaps Tracy’s strongest. Much of this material was previously published in the first edition of this book, In Search of Joseph. Here Tracy attempts to assess the reliability of the death masks and the skulls as forensic tools with which to evaluate a proposed Joseph Smith photograph. First, Tracy discusses the reliability of the death masks. This is one of the few areas where Tracy engages (albeit briefly) specific arguments against his position on the masks by discussing briefly the work of Reed Simonsen, Chad Fugate and Jim Fugate. These individuals hold that the image discussed at length on page 160 is a true daguerreotype of Joseph Smith (Tracy holds that this is a daguerreotype of a painting) and propose that the death mask is not reliable due to facial fractures they postulate were sustained in the fall from the second story of the Carthage jail. These fractures are supposed to have altered the facial structure of Joseph’s face and therefore the mask. Tracy dismisses these claims by laying out accounts describing the condition of the bodies as they lay in state before burial. The four accounts that Tracy provides all mention that Joseph’s appearance was quite natural while Hyrum’s was swollen and not very natural. Hence, Joseph could not have sustained significant facial trauma or eyewitnesses would have made note of it. With the death masks vindicated, Tracy performs overlays to show that the Joseph mask better fits the skull originally designated as Hyrum’s and vice versa. Tracy also uses the phrenological data collected from Joseph and Hyrum’s heads during life in an attempt to show that the skulls have been misidentified. Tracy concludes at last, that indeed the Joseph skull is really Hyrum and vice versa. Though yet open for debate, Tracy provides convincing evidence that indeed the skulls have been misidentified.
Chapter 5 discusses the family characteristics that the prophet may have shared. The author’s hope is that by taking note of these similarities, that corresponding similarities on a proposed Joseph Smith photograph will help rule in a likely image. Tracy states, and I agree, that, “This chapter is perhaps the least helpful in understanding specifics about the Prophet’s appearance…” (p. 111). In this chapter Tracy shows images of Smith family members, whether paintings or photographs and invites the reader to take note of distinctive Smith family characteristics. Tracy then proposes a way to determine what characteristics of Joseph’s children might be linked to Joseph. Tracy puts a photo of each of Joseph’s four sons and places it next to a photo of Emma. He states, “By looking at these images it is assumed that those features that do not resemble Emma must be from the Prophet or an earlier ancestor. We invite our readers to form their own judgments and opinions” (p. 110). This type of comparison is so subjective, in my opinion, that it is basically unusable. Yet, Tracy goes on to use this as a criterion for ruling in and out potential photographs.
Returning once again to the subject of appropriate source material, I found that the first three and a half pages of chapter 8, on the history of photography during Joseph Smith’s life, were based on entries on the about.com website. I spent two minutes searching for “daguerreotype” on the BYU library site and drew a handful of books that seemed like reasonable candidates for mention in this book instead of a wiki-like website. One especially baffling use of a website as a source occurs in chapter 6, where Tracy discusses clothing and artifacts. First, in a chapter of 8 pages, only one paragraph is devoted to a summary of what fashion for men in the 1840s consisted of. The source for the paragraph is www.gentlemensemporium.com, which is nothing more or less than a website that sells “authentic historical clothing” with no sign of any historical summary of 1840s menswear. This is shaky ground at best and not at all satisfactory for use as a measuring stick to judge the clothing on proposed daguerreotype images. However, this is exactly what the author does. Without any further authority than this unreferenced paragraph about general trends in men’s clothing in the 1840s (not the early 1840s, just the 1840s) Tracy sets off to rule in or out not only the Scannel daguerreotype, but other proposed photographs of the Prophet.
In Chapter 7, Tracy sets out to discover which paintings of Joseph Smith are the best. “[Which] of all these [portraits] are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it” (p. 123)? At first, Tracy seems to propose a study of what sources were relied upon to produce each painting, and therefore determine which one is best. Soon after, however, Tracy brings forward the “top 5” most popular images of Joseph Smith and proposes a study of why they were so popular. Instead of being either a study of what portrait might have best used the available source material to produce an accurate rendition of Joseph Smith as originally proposed, or a study of why the proposed “top 5” paintings were popular, the chapter becomes some sort of mix between the two and in the process largely leaves both studies without solid answers. In the end, Tracy’s conclusions only address the popularity issue. He says that these 5 images are the best for two reasons: “First and foremost, each of these images has been endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints…Second, and most important to this study…[quoting Doctrine and Covenants 9:8]…Those artists who have paid the price in “studying it out” in their mind…have painted some of the best portraits of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Tracy goes on to say that since these artists sought to bring the “true parts” of Joseph into their artwork, that the Spirit can more easily testify of his divine mission. “This is why members of the Church have enjoyed these images so much” (134). This chapter left me perplexed as to what its purpose was. Basically the author, rather subjectively, selected 5 portraits he thought were the most popular and set them up as the most spiritual, and therefore most true. What this has to do with the larger question of a possible daguerreotype of Joseph Smith or even determining how to create a new, better image of the prophet remains clouded as similarity to these portraits is not a criterion used in chapter 9 to rule in or out possible photographic images. This chapter begins and ends and feels somewhat out of place.
Just to recap, the first 8 chapters have been written in an attempt to create benchmarks for comparison with proposed photographic images, which will, in theory, rule in or out potential photographs. Chapter 2 discusses the primary portraits, those painted during Joseph Smith’s life. Chapter 3 deals with the word descriptions of Joseph Smith, which have been commented on at length. Chapter 4 examines the forensic evidence Joseph’s facial characteristics. Chapter 5 examines family characteristics. Chapter 6 discusses clothing, chapter 7 the best paintings of Joseph over the years, and chapter 8 discusses the history of photography. Of these issues, Tracy decides to use the criteria of clothing styles, written descriptions, primary portraits, family characteristics, and anatomical evidence to evaluate possible photos of Joseph Smith.
In the next and final part of this review I will discuss how Tracy applies these benchmarks to proposed Joseph Smith photos and we will finally get to discuss specifically the Scannel daguerreotype.
[To Be Continued]