The Salt Lake Tabernacle as Graphic Signifier in the 1880s

By January 21, 2015

In many anti-Mormon cartoons from the 1880s (and a few before and after), the Salt Lake Tabernacle functioned as a graphic shorthand to communicate Mormon-ness. That is, from its completion in 1867 until sometime after the completion of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, the presence of the Salt Lake Tabernacle was one of the ways you knew you were in a (usually anti-) Mormon cartoon. In retrospect, the point seems rather obvious, but it surprised me a bit when I noticed so I wrote it up. 

Almost all the examples below are from two magazines, the Daily Graphic and Frank Leslie?s Illustrated Newspaper. I am reasonably confident that I have seen other such images from other sources but when I trolled through my files looking, this is what I found.

Let?s start with Philip G Cusachs?s 1883 ?Shall Not That Sword Be Drawn? from the cover of The Daily Graphic. [1] I?ve written about this image before highlighting the horns on the Mormon Bluebeard?s head. There is probably something that could be said about figures standing on the Constitution for symbolic effect, but today I draw attention to the domed building at middle-left. The first thing I notice is that although it clearly seems intended as the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the curves and proportions seem a bit off. But, there it is, flying its rebellious, enormous flag flagrantly above the flag of the United States.

ShallNotThatSwordBeDrawn DailyGraphic v32n3288p843 1883Oct25Thu img1148 crop

Now—and I hope obviously—we?re looking at an image of a corporeal Uncle Sam tête-à-tête with a horned, pointy-eared, seven-meter-tall Bluebeard with adult women dangling from his belt. To notice the size of the flag is to miss the emphatically unsubtle symbolic point about Mormon villainy, which brings me to my point: in 1883 the unfinished Salt Lake Temple was comparable in size to the Salt Lake Tabernacle and yet the Temple is not visible in the cartoon above. The image below shows the Temple and Tabernacle, allegedly about 1881. [2]

Salt Lake Temple Construction 1881 from travel d utah d gov 20141220a

The temple did not acquire its distinctive profile until the 1890s, but it spent all of the 1880s at least as dominant as the Tabernacle in the cityscape. The fact that artists drew the Tabernacle and not the temple in cartoons in the 1880s emphasizes the importance of the tabernacle as a symbol of Mormonism, at least among the political-cartoon-drawing public. Presumably, the tendency to emphasize the Salt Lake Tabernacle was also a function of distance from Salt Lake City (ie, the further one got from SLC, the less likely it was that a cartoonist was drawing a city he had actually seen).

And now let?s play ?pin the dome on the cartoon.? I?ll start with two more from The Daily Graphic. [3] On the left I assume we?re looking at the Salt Lake Tabernacle and California gulls (of ?Miracle of the Gulls? fame) but am not sure. On the right the famously-engineered dome stands behind the bird while Uncle Sam looks up the cliff with his too-short ?Edmunds Law? ladder.

 CompleteTheWork DailyGraphic 1881Feb23  TheGreatSinOfTheCentury DailyGraphic v33n3311cover 1883Nov21Wed img0165 crop

Next up: early (1871) and late (1903) examples. [4]

 TheMormonProblemSolved FrankLesliesIllustratedNewspaper 1871Nov11 v33n841p137  Mormon Octopus Enslaving Women of Utah large 935px

The Daily Graphic image below—which we?ll revisit when we get to Mormons and snakes—has the Tabernacle labeled as ?Mormon Vermin Nest.? [5]

TheOnlySureWay DailyGraphic v33n3323cover 1883Dec06Thu img0278 crop

What stands out to me here is that no other Mormon features are visible—no city, no temple, no army (except the snakes): nothing except the Tabernacle to represent Mormonism by itself against Uncle Sam representing the United States. As discussed a few weeks ago, Leslie?s used the Tabernacle as the menacing Mormon signifier in ?Woman?s Bondage in Utah? (1882) but went even further in visually equating the Tabernacle with a trap. [6]

In both the ?vermin nest? and the ?trap? cartoons, the Salt Lake Tabernacle was portrayed as the seat of Mormon villainy. The Daily Graphic used the Tabernacle to symbolize Mormon-ness in another instance, suggesting that splitting Utah among surrounding states—thus quartering Mormonism as symbolized by the Tabernacle—would ?solve the question.? [7]

WouldThisSolveTheQuestion DailyGraphic v28n2786p57cover 1882Mar09Thu img0896 crop

Continuing the theme of destroying the Tabernacle as the seat of Mormon power, the Daily Graphic has lightning strike the Tabernacle as the Supreme Court rules against the Church in the Reynolds case. [8]


HenryCoultaus DrivingTheLastNailIntoTheMormonCoffin DailyGraphic 1885Dec16 v39n3973p305cover img1198 Crop

(I don’t know why the image above is fuzzy; clicking on it links to a higher-resolution.) As also mentioned a few weeks back, Leslie?s took it to eleven with a depiction of a giant skull labeled ?Utah? in place of the domed tabernacle. [9]

To wrap up, I include one image showing the displacement of the Tabernacle by the Temple as a cartoon motif. Note, however, that this cartoon comes from Salt Lake City, and where the artist is presumably better informed about Mormonism and the relative importance of the temple versus the Tabernacle. (Double note, however, that in present-day Mormonism the temple is emphatically more important than the tabernacle, but the priority was not nearly so pronounced 120 years ago.) [10]

HidingBehindTheTempleReedSmoot SaltLakeTribune 1904Dec22ThuMorn p1


[1] No illustrator listed, signed ?Cusachs? [Philip G Cusachs], ?Shall Not That Sword Be Drawn?,? drawing, no caption, The Daily Graphic 32.3288 (1883 Oct 25 Thu): 843 (cover). For similar illustrations see: No illustrator listed, signed ?C.S.R.? [Charles Stanley Reinhart], ?The Remaining Twin,? drawing, caption: ?Uncle Sam: ?I don?t know exactly what to do with that fellow. I must decide before he decides what to do with me.?? The Daily Graphic 32.3279 (1883 Oct 15 Mon): 763 (cover). No illustrator listed, ?The Modern Bluebeard,? drawing, no caption, The Daily Graphic 32.3232 (1883 Aug 21 Tue): 339 (cover).

[2] The image shown comes from Other images in a casual internet search (no archive trips or consulting formal scholarship) show the temple further along in construction in 1881. This one shows the temple almost twice as tall in ?circa 1880.? This one (page 104) says it is 1885. This one, even shorter, says 1888. This one doesn?t have a date, but I think it shows that the temple was more imposing than the Tabernacle, even before it got crenellations and spires. This one (p 237), with half-finished towers, says 1886-7.

[3] No illustrator listed, unsigned, ?Complete the Work Begun by the Republican Party Twenty Years Ago,? illustration, The Daily Graphic 24.2465 (1881 Feb 23 Wed): 853 (cover). No illustrator listed, signed [illegible, maybe ?C g K?], ?The Great Sin of the Century,? drawing, caption: ?Uncle Sam—?I?ll have to get a longer ladder before I can do anything with that chap.??, The Daily Graphic 33.3311 (1883 Nov 21 Wed): 159 (cover). For another example from The Daily Graphic, see No illustrator listed, ?The Mormon Question,? The Daily Graphic 32.3285 (1883 Oct 22): 815 (cover).

[4] Matt Morgan, monochrome illustration, wood engraving, ?The Mormon Problem Solved,? Frank Leslie?s Illustrated Newspaper 33.841 (1871 Nov 11): 137. Ovando James Hollister, ?The Mormon Octopus Enslaving the Women of Utah,? in John Hanson Beadle, Polygamy: Or, The Mysteries and Crimes of Mormonism, 2nd edition (Philadelphia, 1904 [1st edition, 1882]), xxxi. Note that the image was not in the first edition.

[5] No illustrator listed, signed [illegible, maybe ?C g?], ?The Only Sure Way,? drawing, no caption, The Daily Graphic 33.3323 (1883 Dec 06 Thu): 267 (cover). Uncle Sam, wearing battle gear (sword, ammunition pouch) uses two rifles with fixed bayonets as stilts to approach the Salt Lake Tabernacle, labeled ?Mormon Vermin Nest.? Numerous snakes surround the tabernacle on all sides. Many of the snakes are coiled in striking position. The strap on the rifle on Sam?s right says ?Heroic Measures?; the bayonet is labeled ?Extermination.? The bayonet on Sam?s left is labeled ?Armed Force.? The bayonet-stilts enable Sam to walk over the snakes safely, impaling them as he goes. Sam is in the act of impaling several at the moment depicted.

[6] The cut-out in the upper right corner labeled ?The Mormon Agent?s Delusive Bait? shows a paunchy, bearded, middle-aged male addressing three young-adult females in European provincial costumes. The male points at a sign that reads ?Promise of a happy home out west? laid across the trigger of a large ?steel jaw? leg-hold trap labeled ?Polygamy? and ?Degradation.? For today?s purposes, the important detail is that the trap?s shape is conspicuously similar to that of the Tabernacle. I think the visual logic is to equate the Tabernacle and the trap. No illustrator listed, ?Woman?s Bondage in Utah,? Frank Leslie?s Illustrated Newspaper 54.1381, New York City, NY, 1882 Mar 11, p 1.

[7] No illustrator listed, signed ?C. J. Taylor?, ?Would This Solve The Question,? Daily Graphic 28.2786 (1882 Mar 09 Thu): 57 (cover).

[8] Henry Coultaus, ?Driving the Last Nail into the Mormon Coffin,? Daily Graphic 39.3973 (1885 Dec 16): 305 (cover).

[9] No illustrator listed, ?Mormonism In Utah ? The Cave of Despair,? Frank Leslie?s Illustrated Newspaper 53.1376 (1882 Feb 04): 1 (cover).

[10] No illustrator listed, signed [illegible: 3 letters, starting with ?R?], ?Hiding Behind the Temple, Reed Smoot Draws the Fire of the Protestants,? Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, UT, 1904 Dec 22 Thu Morning, p 1.

Article filed under Cultural History From the Archives Material Culture Miscellaneous Popular Culture


  1. Excellent, Edje, all the way from the title to the footnotes. Thanks.

    Comment by Saskia — January 21, 2015 @ 3:50 am

  2. I need to think on the last one some more, but it seems like the Tabernacle may signify the theocratic nature of 19th century Mormonism. It always struck me that plenty of JD sermons rant about all matter of political manners from what could be valled the authoritative pulpit of LDS Mormonism. Less concerned about the Mormon religion than the intertwining of faith with civil disobedience?

    Comment by J Stuart — January 21, 2015 @ 9:06 am

  3. As usual, good stuff. Thanks, Edje.

    Comment by WVS — January 21, 2015 @ 11:00 am

  4. The Roman soldier wielding “National Authority” against polygamy suggests that while slavery lies dead, polygamy is framed as its protector, perhaps implying that female slavery yet lives in Mormonism. The latter was a common theme (your Mormon Octopus cartoon).

    Comment by WVS — January 21, 2015 @ 11:07 am

  5. I thought that the US Flag may be related to Mormons in Utah flying their flags at half-mast on the Fourth of July to protest the anti-polygamy “raid.” That was in 1885, though–two years after the cartoon was published.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 21, 2015 @ 11:59 am

  6. This is my favorite tabernacle graphic:

    (I’d embed it, but I can’t due to the html tag situation.)

    Comment by Ben P — January 21, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

  7. Saskia: Thanks.

    J Stuart: I think you’re right about the objections to theocracy being more compelling than objections to innovative theology.

    WVS: I think you’re right that the image implies that slavery continues in Utah. The thing about the “twin relics” was that they were twins—similar in characteristics and loyal to each other.

    J Stapley—I think the issues of rebellion and Mormon non-loyalty (actual and symbolic) as illustrated in the flag cartoon set the stage for the reaction to the half-mast incident.

    Ben P: It’s one of my favorites also. My next two posts will also be about the Salt Lake Tabernacle; the Nast turtle-nacle will feature prominently in the second.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — January 21, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

  8. Ben: perhaps the finest cartoon involving theocratic reptiles I’ve ever seen.

    Comment by J Stuart — January 21, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

  9. Phenomenal, Edje. This is great stuff.

    Comment by Christopher — January 22, 2015 @ 9:11 am

  10. Marvelous, Edje. Thanks for this. And Ben, that cartoon is a masterpiece. Where does it come from and when does it date to?

    Comment by John Hatch — January 23, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

  11. Thanks, Christopher and John Hatch.

    John: the cartoon is by Thomas Nast. There is no evidence it was ever published. The Library of Congress puts the time window at 1860-1902.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — January 23, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

  12. Thanks, Edje. That was epic.

    Comment by Ryan T. — January 23, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

  13. Thanks, Edje! And a Thomas Nast to boot–excellent.

    Comment by John Hatch — January 23, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

  14. […] Juvenile Instructor blog has a terrific post by Edje Jeter looking at 19th century cartoons that incorporate the Salt Lake Tabernacle as a symbol of Mormonism. Although today the Salt Lake […]

    Pingback by Signature Books » Mormon News, January 19?23 — January 23, 2015 @ 2:38 pm


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