Guest Post: A Plea to Identify People in an Old Photo

By August 30, 2016

[We are pleased to cross-publish this post from Bruce Crow, a friend of JI. While you are free to comment here, we suggestion most conversation to take place over at Bruce’s blog.]

A while back we did a post where we tried to match the names of missionaries on the back of a photo to the faces of the missionaries on the front. Well, today we are going to try that again. Only this time it will be a little harder. We can thank Quincy D. Newell, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College for her interest in this photo.

LDS History Tweet with labels

For a higher resolution and uncropped version of this photo please follow this link to the Church History Library:

The photo above has a vague label “Elders at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee,” a date range from 1894 to 1905, and no readily visible identifying marks. When viewed in person there is some undecipherable writing in the margins written in black ink on a black background which might be names or perhaps only notes from when it was submitted to the Church Historian’s office. None of those marks are visible in the scanned image.

It is a great looking photo. Aside from the scenery, the figures are relatively clear, positioned aesthetically, with a mixture of power poses and casual indifference. It has been used in scholarly and church publications before. LDS Church History tweeted the photo last Sunday. Sometimes it came with a description that disagrees with our tentative identification, though as far as I know, none of the descriptions have named any of the individuals in the photo.

The red letters you see on this version I have added for the sake of this exercise. Amy Tanner Thiriot’s (you can see some of her work here: quick eyes identified one of the people in the photo as possibly being Ephraim Nye (marked as 3 above). For those who may not have heard of Elder Nye, don’t worry. He was perhaps the shortest tenured mission president at the time.

In the 1902, when Ben E. Rich was President of the Southern States Mission, a decision was made to split the mission in two; north and south. The Northern portion was called the Middle States Mission and Elder Rich was called to be the president. A small portion of the Eastern States Mission (West Virginia) was moved into the Middle States as well. The southern portion would keep the name Southern States Mission. A new president was selected: Ephraim Nye. Within a year, however, while attending to mission business in South Carolina, Elder Nye passed away. The two missions were quickly reunited under President Rich and the Middle States Mission ceased to exist.

But this is not a story of the Middle States Mission, or even President Nye. Our story is about the photo. It is President Nye’s possible presence in the photo that is a boon for us. It was common for arriving missionaries to do the tourist thing and visit the top of Lookout Mountain. The mission office was in Chattanooga, and Lookout Mountain was an afternoon excursion for them. The Church History Library has scores of such photos, some labeled, many not. This one falls squarely in the “not labeled” group.

And here is the important part. Chattanooga, Tennessee and the northern portion of Lookout Mountain, was not in President Nye’s mission. Tennessee was now part of the Middle States Mission. With the split of the mission, Elder Nye moved the office to Atlanta, Georgia. Thereafter, new missionaries met the mission president in Atlanta, not Chattanooga. A trip to Lookout Mountain would have taken perhaps two days for the round trip, with train and hotel expenses on top of that. A side trip out of the mission with the mission president and new missionaries would be unwarranted. Such a trip likely never happened.

So what about the photo? That looks like President Nye. And those are missionaries, right?  Well, it turns out that there was one time of which we know when President Nye was in Chattanooga with a group of missionaries. On the 28th & 29th of June 1902, President Nye was at the old mission office. President Rich invited President Nye and President McQuarrie of the Eastern States Mission and brought in the Conference presidents from the three missions involved for a chance to meet their new leaders. At the meeting were…

  1. Ben E. Rich (Middle States Mission President)
  2. Ephraim H. Nye (Southern States Mission President)
  3. John G. McQuarrie (Eastern States Mission President)
  4. Walter Wright (North West Virginia Conference)
  5. John A. Morrison (South West Virginia Conference)
  6. Edward John Smith (Chattanooga Mission Office Staff)
  7. Joseph H. Peterson (Chattanooga Mission Office Staff)
  8. Charles H. Hyde (Chattanooga Mission Office Staff)
  9. Nathan Harris (Chattanooga Mission Office Staff)
  10. Milton Moody (Mississippi Conference)
  11. Lorenzo Crosby (Virginia Conference)
  12. Anders Mortensen (Virginia Conference)
  13. William H. Wilcox (North Ohio Conference)
  14. Jacob Crosby (Florida Conference)
  15. Ozro Crockett (Middle Tennessee Conference)
  16. Limhi F. Zundel (Georgia Conference)
  17. Joseph Johnson (Kentucky Conference)
  18. Henry B. Elder (South Ohio Conference)
  19. Eugene C. Miller (North Carolina Conference)
  20. Clarence E. Ranck (Alabama Conference)
  21. Theodore P. Henderson (South Carolina Conference)
  22. Frank L. Brown (Alabama Conference)
  23. Howard H. Hale (East Tennessee Conference)

Of course there aren’t that many people in the photo. If the photo is related to the conference, our assumption is that not everyone from the meeting opted to go on the trip to Lookout Mountain. President Rich and his office staff had probably been there dozens of times. Most of the other missionaries who were part of the Southern States mission had probably been there once or twice themselves. It is easy to imagine a few of them deciding to not join the others. And sometimes missionaries had to forego doing the tourist thing because their train was scheduled to depart before the group would return. Many new missionary group photos on Lookout Mountain do not include everyone who started that day for exactly that reason. With so many people returning to so many places, it was unlikely the train schedules would cooperate.

With that in mind, our task has two parts. First: Demonstrate that this photo could indeed have been taken during the June 1902 meeting. If we could identify two or three of the people in the photo as being people on this list, particularly if those identified were not already in the Chattanooga area, that would do it. Second: If this is the list, connect the names with the faces.

Those of you with a keen eye will have already noticed that there is a black man in the photo. His inclusion was certainly deliberate. But I have no clue about his name, or his relationship with the others, thus the mystery. It isn’t likely he was one of the missionaries above. I think we all know why (and wish it were otherwise). Identifying the others in the photo might lead to a journal entry or letter describing the event, which in turn may help in identifying him.

So without further ado, on your mark, set, go!




3. Ephraim Nye? – Amy











For extra credit (bragging rights?) Someone with the ability to inspect this photo in person, perhaps someone who lives in the Salt Lake City area, might be willing to look at the writing in the margins to see if they are decipherable. If even one of the names could be teased from the writing that would help in the identification of the photo.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. You’ve used letters in the photo but numbers on your list. Why?

    Comment by Brian — September 1, 2016 @ 11:39 pm

  2. Thank you for sharing this! My husband’s family joined the church in Tennessee.

    Comment by Nicole — September 4, 2016 @ 10:33 am


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