By May 10, 2008

[Note: This is a redacted version of the original five posts where comments are retained: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  See also this post for information about a lawsuit regarding the use of the Scannel Daguerreotype.]

S. Michael Tracy. Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again: The Joseph Smith Photograph. Salt Lake City, Utah: Eborn Publishing, LLC, 2008. x + 264 pp. $39.99. Hardback, ISBN: 1-890718-61-0.

I have to say that from the time I first saw the Scannel image almost 5 years ago, I liked it. With a resurgence of interest in the Scannel daguerreotype in the last year, I grew excited at the possibility of a true photographic image of the prophet Joseph Smith. When I found out there would be a book about it, I looked forward with anxious anticipation to its publication, which would lay out all the evidence and show convincingly that this was an authentic photo of Joseph Smith. I wanted to believe. As discussion increased around the bloggernacle, a number of questions were raised about the merits of the Scannel image as a true image of Joseph Smith. With regards to the Scannel image, I resolved that I would reserve judgment until I could evaluate the evidence for itself in the book.

I obtained a copy of the book on Monday. Both Bret Eborn and S. Michael Tracy were very gracious in providing it. I was very excited to read it. In reading this book and in writing this review, I have set out to read and write from the perspective of an academic audience. How would my colleagues feel about the way the material is presented and the strength of the evidence? My purpose has been to evaluate it the best I know how and to let the chips fall as they may, so to speak. Today I finished the book with many mixed feelings.

I first will lay out what the book outlines as its purpose. I will then discuss general issues with the book, and I will finish by evaluating how well the book fulfills its purpose.

The first paragraph of the Acknowledgments section gives a three-fold purpose to the book. First, “to determine the accurate physical appearance of the Prophet Joseph Smith using all of the primary historical and anatomical resources discovered through forensic research”. Second, “to determine if there are any artistic portraits that represents [sic] his true appearance”, and third, “to determine if there are any authentic photographic images that have been purported to have been taken of him and test them against the forensic evidence.” The end result would be to pull all of that information together and present a new “portrait” of Joseph Smith (p. ix). This portrait is presented on the front cover as a painting executed by Ken Corbett. My first difficulties arise in that the subtitle of the work is The Joseph Smith Photograph which led me to believe at the beginning that this book was written not to present a new painting of Joseph Smith, but to present the Scannel daguerreotype as an authentic photographic image of the Prophet. This is also how the book has been represented to me. So, I was at first a little surprised that perhaps the Scannel daguerreotype was to be only one piece in the puzzle toward a more faithful artistic representation of Joseph Smith.

There are a number of general concerns I have about the methodology employed in this study and the appropriateness of some of the material presented. Most superficially, the text has many typographical and stylistic errors. Grammatically and typographically, these include but are not limited to the following:

“…if there are any artistic portraits that represents…” (p. ix, quoted above)

“…the first photographic reproductions of the Oil Portrait was not done exactly square on…” (p. 165)

“Keeping the exact aspect ratios would be impossible with the use of modern instruments.” [should be “without”] (p. 166)

“Interestingly enough, there was a number of men…” (p. 194)

“A team of doctors were assembled…” (p. 221)

“Emily L. Smith…married William Orr Scannel on October 27, 1825…William’s estate was sold after his death in 1959″ [I guess it should be 1859] (p. 207)

Additionally, there are a number of errors in the footnotes, just a few of which are found on page 157, note 8. The correct subtitle of Richard Bushman’s book is simply Rough Stone Rolling. Additionally, there should not be a space between “Knopf” and the comma. I don’t think I’m nitpicking when I mention these errors. These may or may not seem like large issues, but what it represents to me is that the editing on this book was less than adequate. At the very least, they distract from the message the book is attempting to convey.

The book also contained a number of errors and extrapolations in content. During a discussion of the events leading up to the martyrdom at Carthage, Tracy notes that on the morning of the 27th, Hyrum read three accounts out of the Book of Mormon about divine deliverance to cheer the prophet. Tracy then goes on to note that “the stories of Nephi and Lehi, Alma and Amulek, and the Three Nephites did not enliven Joseph” (p. 62). The only footnote near this paragraph is found before the sentence just quoted and directs the reader to History of the Church 6:600. According to this reference, it is first evident that the events in question occurred the day before the martyrdom, not the day of. Additionally, though it is mentioned that Hyrum read from the Book of Mormon sections about divine deliverance, there is no mention of how many accounts were read or of the specific individuals referred to. Without any additional source citations, I am left to wonder where this information came from.

This pattern of under citing material continues throughout the book. Other instances of difficulty with source material include footnote 6 on page 121, which leaves the reader with no clue as to where the letter cited may be found. Footnote 10 on page 134 seems incomplete. Some claims go uncited, such as the statement that Lucien Foster is “given credit for taking the well-published daguerreotype of the Nauvoo Temple, taken close to his studio down on the flats” (p. 147). On the margin of page 163, there appears a description of a mission by Joseph Smith III to Utah and his granting of permission to reproduce an image of Joseph Smith, however, there is no reference to direct the reader, and there are others.

I’m indebted to Joel for well presenting what historical methodology consists of and how devotional treatments of history differ from academic treatments. Methodologically, in this book, a number of issues stand out. First, I struggled to understand what kind of book this is. Is it supposed to be a scholarly book or a devotional book, or both?

As I have read through I have come to the determination that this is a devotional work which has attempted to achieve status as a scholarly treatment of the issue of Joseph Smith’s image. Some serious problems in methodology keep this from approaching the type of quality work that I might expect in an academic publication.

After the aforementioned editing issues, the next difficulty comes in the introduction. Here the author [Though I understand Tracy was substantially aided by others in writing portions of the book, Tracy’s is the name on the cover and is responsible for its contents] attempts to reconcile two rhetorical statements. One is by Joseph Smith that says “You don’t know me…” and one is by W. W. Phelps that says “Millions shall know Brother Joseph again.” “If we see that both the Prophet’s statement and Phelps’s poetic tribute were equally inspired,” says Tracy, “we see that they set up a contradiction. How can millions know “Brother Joseph” again if Joseph himself told twenty thousand people…’You don’t know me; you never knew my heart’?” Even in a devotional setting, not even to speak of an academic one, I question the sense of pitting two rhetorical statements by two different people in two different contexts against each other and attempting, through quaint adaptations of scripture and doctrinal interpretation, to solve the mystery of who Joseph Smith was. Ultimately, Tracy concludes that “the Saints of his day did not know or accept him yet as an Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Elijah, or Peter”, which accounts for Joseph’s not being known. However, Tracy writes, Joseph Smith’s image has become more heroic and glorified in recent times because these “last Saints” have been able to see Joseph for who he is. Thus the “first Saints” have become the “last Saints” and so forth (p. 4). Thus the paradox is resolved. In my opinion, many of the “first Saints” would probably disagree with this assessment. I know I do. The tempo that is set in the introduction continues throughout the book.

Skipping over to the third chapter, Tracy sets out to collect and analyze the “word portraits” (written descriptions) of the Prophet. After reminding the reader that only at the last day will we be truly seen for who we are, Tracy recognizes that not all word descriptions can be taken at face value without some evaluation. What is troubling is how Tracy proposes that these word portraits be evaluated. Tracy notes that since whether one is a friend or foe of the prophet (or a neutral observer) will affect how they choose to describe him, there must be a way to evaluate how “true” the source is. He writes, “…we have applied a careful technique to judiciously separate factual truths from biased adjectives. This technique is similar to one that all of us should use as we read the scriptures…” (p. 38). He then summarizes Elder Richard G. Scott’s description of the process for seeking spiritual knowledge. “After using this technique,” Tracy declares, “a factual list of true physical characteristics has been compiled to compare a wide variety of images of Joseph Smith” (p. 38). Even in a devotional setting, it’s troubling to be told that after a careful, spiritual study, these are the accurate physical descriptions of Joseph Smith. In my view, the implication seems to be: If your results differ, pray harder. There is no mention anywhere in the book (that I can remember) about source criticism, which would entail attempting to determine which sources are more reliable based on historical data. Even in a devotional setting, it would appear that a spiritual search for knowledge has never been meant to completely disregard available evidence and logical means of evaluating the same.

What follows are 41 selected accounts of Joseph Smith’s physical appearance. The way in which these accounts are presented also creates difficulty. Tracy says that he has chosen to place the descriptions in chronological order according to how old Joseph would have been in the description. So, the first description is from a neighbor of Joseph’s who describes a 15-18 year old Joseph. The second is a description of a 24 year old Joseph, the next of a 24, then a 28 year old Joseph and so forth. Some major difficulties in this approach arise because Tracy does not attempt to differentiate between descriptions contemporary to the Prophet from reminiscent descriptions. The first description is a direct quote from John Henry Evans’ biography of Joseph Smith which first appeared in 1933. Unless this was an extremely aged neighbor, there must be something more to this account. So, in perusing Evans, it is apparent that Evans summarizes the written descriptions of Turner [likely Orsamus Turner], Tucker, [likely Pomeroy Tucker] and Hendrix [likely Daniel Hendrix]. Not only is this first description not a direct quote from a contemporary of Joseph Smith, but the underlying descriptions were not even articulated during the life of the prophet, the earliest of the likely three publications being 1851. Perhaps few casual readers would take the time to hunt down these references, and would instead rely on the author to represent the facts in a reliable way. However, by putting this description first and offering no other explanation other than that a neighbor of Joseph Smith described him when he was in his late teens, Tracy has created a situation where the reader can be easily misled as to the accuracy and reliability of the source material presented. And that’s just description number 1. At this time I have neither the time nor the inclination to try this for any of the other 40 sources listed.

Herein lies another qualm I have with the way this book was researched and written. Instead of providing careful evaluation and presentation of the source material, the reader is forced to spend perhaps hours of additional time attempting to uncover what the author should have laid out plainly for the benefit of his audience. It appears that only 7 of the 41 accounts can be classified as contemporary with Joseph Smith (having been recorded during his life–not to be confused with an account by a contemporary of Joseph, which would be an account, no matter how late, by someone who was alive when Joseph was). This count may be wrong, however, as there are a number of instances where the reference is taken from a secondary source, thus making it difficult to know at about what year the description was made. Again, at least for now, I have neither the time nor the inclination to check these secondary sources or to check whether there are more than just 7 accounts of Joseph’s physical characteristics which were made during Joseph’s life.

On a related note, there are a number of instances where precarious wording can yield misleading conclusions about a source’s reliability. Page 118 states that “In the spring of 1844, Goudy Hogan remembered sitting by the Prophet and the clothing he wore.” The wording here seems to indicate that Goudy’s account was created in the spring of 1844, however the wording of the quote makes it clear that this is a reminiscent account. Though neither the footnote nor Bitton’s Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies gives a year for its creation, Bitton indicates that the contents of the autobiography contain events up to 1881. In short, perhaps a better wording would be: Goudy Hogan remembered sitting by the prophet in the spring of 1844. Also, on page 114 we read, “On April 6, 1830, David Lewis gave this statement, ‘I cannot tell what Joseph was doing at the time of the organization of the church…He always wore a white shirt with a ruffle on the breast about 2 inches wide…'” The reality is that Lewis did not give his statement on April 6, 1830, but on September 10, 1908 as indicated in the footnote.

This compilation of written descriptions of Joseph Smith’s physical appearance, in my opinion, represent a missed opportunity. Much more useful and commendable would have been to collect all known physical descriptions of Joseph Smith (as the three-fold purpose of the book seems to say is the goal) and to have presented these descriptions chronologically according to when they were written, evaluating whether the descriptions represented first or second hand and contemporary or non contemporary accounts.

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 good 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 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, 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.

Entering chapter 9, I was expecting some level of technical analysis that would be beyond my comprehension but still accessible enough that I could form an opinion of my own, perhaps that was a mistake on my part. Opposite chapter 9’s first page are pictured nine proposed daguerreotypes. I remembered Ardis’ description of a foot-longish file of proposed Joseph Smith photos and immediately wondered why these specific daguerreotypes were chosen for consideration. One of these images even has a beard! Again, being that there is no stated criteria for consideration, it seems that the author alone knows why these images were included for consideration. This opens up the possibility that the author is constructing a series of straw man arguments.

Interestingly, Tracy decides that since none of the photos has provenance linking it to the prophet, he will use the 5 benchmarks mentioned at the end of part 3 of this review and “assume each image is Joseph until proven otherwise” (p. 159). I was left to wonder how it is possible to look at these nine very different people and begin with the assumption that they are the same person. It seems that the opposite should be the starting place.

Tracy first considers three daguerreotypes together as they appear to be based from the same image. This is the set of daguerreotypes easily recognized as the daguerreotypes of that famous RLDS painting of Joseph Smith. Tracy does provide a helpful summary of how these images are connected and begins to apply the 5 benchmarks. One puzzling approach on page 168 shows the death mask and the Carson daguerreotype side by side with about two dozen colored dots at different points on each image. The caption explained that this is a “Facial Dot comparison method used by Forensic Scientists in Facial Recognition Programs.” It briefly explains that points are assigned to different points on the face and compared to see if there is a correlation. This is the only explanation in the entire book about these colored dots and what they mean. There is nothing to indicate what facial landmarks are or why these specific landmarks are the proper ones to use. There is also not any criteria given for what constitutes a match or no match. The author shows us the dots, and states simply that this Carson daguerreotype “does not match the death mask close enough to give a possible match” (p. 168). Later (p. 214) Tracy does bring up “Facial Recognition Software” again, describing that “only with great effort, miles of lines of code, and thousands of dollars of equipment” can this software be made to work. There is still, however, no further mention of the dots and how they are used in such a study.

These side by side comparisons of dots are performed for each image, but subsequent images (p. 188, 197, and 202) don’t have any caption whatsoever to help the reader understand what the differences are. The set on 174 (the bearded “Joseph”) has a caption that explains that the size of the mouth, nose and eyes are “off” but doesn’t explain what “off” means. Tracy also performs the line test where a straight line is drawn from one image to the other to determine similarities and credits Ephraim Hatch for its use before in Hatch’s book. Ultimately the scope of analysis of each image varies. The Carson image gets a lot of attention, the bearded Joseph gets very little (not surprisingly). Each evaluation ends with a 5 point summary evaluation, usually consisting of one or two lines.

For example, there is one would-be Abraham Lincoln image that Tracy examines. Under clothing style, Tracy writes that though the clothing can be considered 1840s era, they are probably from the late 40s after Joseph died. The basis for this evaluation is that the collar is turned down just a tad, which, according to Tracy, “was more popular in the later years of that decade” (182). Given that the original exploration of 40s era clothing in chapter 6 consisted of solely one paragraph of unattributed information that dealt generally with the 40s, not specifically with the early 40s, I have trouble understanding what basis the author is using to draw his conclusions, and how the reader is expected to do any sort of personal evaluation aside from choosing either to believe or disbelieve the author’s interpretation. I don’t believe the author is just making things up here or in other places, I just don’t believe that, but the book does a poor job in communicating to the reader what seems to be certain in the author’s mind. This is not necessarily uncommon, which is why things like peer review by less involved individuals is important. I think that had (I’m guessing it was not) this book been passed around other than internally before going to press, then many of these difficulties might have been smoothed out and the reader provided with a more coherent study.

Another image that is examined is this image, which you yourself can own today.

Aside from the clothing analysis of the Lincoln-like image, under Written Descriptions, Tracy notes generally that the image could pass “most of the verbal descriptions of Joseph Smith, except for the rounding or sloping shoulders” (p. 182). Again, there is no standardized or detailed rationale for how the written descriptions are applied and what constitutes “passing” the descriptions.

Under Primary Portraits, the author notes simply that, “The image does not compare well to the primary portraits” (p. 182). Under Family Characteristics, he notes that “This study is subject to the viewer’s eye.” But that “we” conclude that “the image does not seem to have very similar traits that were passed on to his sons” (p. 182).

Finally, in Anatomical Evidences, Tracy says without elaboration that “The image does not match the anatomical evidence in the jaw area” (182). The only mentioning before this conclusion of the jaw is written by a line comparison of this image and the death mask and states simply that Joseph had a more prominent jaw. Could it be that the rest of Joseph’s features match well to this unknown figure, but only the jaw is off? Again, there’s no way for the reader to evaluate these claims given that the basis for the evaluation is known only to the author.

Tracy, interestingly, produces another Lincoln-ish image that can be found at and connects its identification with Joseph Smith to a blog post by Nate Oman, where some drive by blogger touts it as a “REAL” photo of Joseph Smith. Unfortunately the link provided in the source note is wrong and takes you to a different Nate Oman post which can be viewed here. [The post referred to can be found here, courtesy of Christopher.]

Just a few more points on this and then I’m going to leave it alone. Back to the subject of straw men, again and again the author mentions criticisms by unnamed, uncited sources regarding the clothing, the physical characteristics, and other aspects of the Scannel daguerreotype and other aspects of his work in earlier chapters. He then takes his hand at disarming those criticisms. I suspect that in chapter 9 the author spends a substantial amount of time analyzing the Carson et al daguerreotypes and goes through special lengths to dismiss these because of the forensic claims of those that are supporters of these images as authentic. These are the same individuals mentioned before that advocate the fractured face thesis mentioned earlier. If Tracy can disprove the fruit of their labor, then he can disarm their forensic argument as well. The rest of the images get only scant and quick dismissal.

Then we get to the Scannel daguerreotype. The analysis proceeds in a similar fashion, only this time the 5 benchmarks are met. Again, the explanations are swift. For Clothing Styles, Scannel passes with a curt, “The clothing style does match the 1840s styles” (204). Whereas the earlier Lincoln image was also found to be 40s style, it was dismissed because it was apparently late 40s style. Here, Scannel gets a free pass without any indication as to why this 40s style is workable. Having finally arrived at an image that matches the 5 author proscribed benchmarks (benchmarks is my word, by the way), a full chapter is launched to examine Scannel more in depth.

Here the author brings out new analytical tools that had not been applied before. For example, he proposes to “do an examination of a 3-D object through the viewpoint of a 2-D picture representing that viewpoint. To do a good test with the death masks we would need to try to get the viewpoint as close as possible to what is being seen from the photograph…” So, instead of apply this seemingly advanced technique to get perspectives correct and do a “good” test with the death masks and compare that to all the other images, this is saved for the book’s face-sake. I can come to one of two conclusions. Either all along the author never intended to give a fair shake to the rest of the images, or the author actually did perform the same analyses, but perhaps because of space and time constraints, he omitted these studies. If the latter is the case, then that needs to be communicated to the reader clearly so that it doesn’t look like the former. Again, I think I’m giving something of the benefit of the doubt to the author.

In writing this review I recognize my own limitations in forensic knowledge. Even so, I have to wonder at a few things. On page 218 the skull and death mask are superimposed on the Scannel image. At the bottom left, the skull’s jaw looks entirely too square and seems to exceed the boundaries of the face. However, if you look to the image next to it, it appears that this squareness has been retouched and smoothed out so as to conform with the face’s boundaries. Perhaps there is a good explanation for that. If there is, then the reader needs to know about it.

Let me summarize here. The book is pretty and has a lot of interesting pieces of information that are otherwise hard to get. Examples are the pictures of the skulls of Joseph and Hyrum and Tracy’s analysis about their misidentification. You no longer have to pay in excess of $150 for a copy of his first book to get this information. That’s a plus. Also handy is his description of the manner of their burial and exhumation. He provides helpful summaries of the history of a number of Joseph Smith images and provides little gems of research from diaries and other obscure sources about Joseph Smith’s image and portrayals of him. These gems, however, instead of being a part of a beautiful tiara, are half buried in so much rough. Though I believe the goals the book lays out have not been fully realized, I believe that an unwritten goal of the publication is in the process of being realized. This was communicated to me by the author this past Wednesday (April 30, 2008). S. Michael Tracy told me that he wanted to put the information out and get serious dialogue going. Though that dialogue was probably already occurring in some limited scholarly circles, this debate has now expanded to other scholarly circles and is now also in the public’s hands. Tracy should be commended for his efforts and for his years of hard, no doubt devoted work.

So where has this journey taken me at last? As someone who began to read the book in hopes that it would confirm my hope that this is an authentic photograph of Joseph Smith, I leave the book disappointed. The convincing evidence promised remains undelivered. And since the author also has not provided a strong sense of the arguments against the Scannel daguerreotype, I am also left without having the image disproved to me either. So, I have basically been brought to rest not far from where I began. My hope now is that further study by trained professionals who are sufficiently detached from the emotionalism of the subject can be performed which will clearly and convincingly determine one way or another whether the Scannel daguerreotype is an authentic photograph of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

A postscript. I read this article at the Deseret News this morning where S. Michael Tracy responds to “cynicism” by academics and members and attributes it to the unfounded claims of that mass email.

“For a variety of reasons, members and academics alike were skeptical of the e-mail’s claims, and that skepticism has turned into cynicism regarding his book that was released this week, Tracy said.”

Perhaps this is the case for some, but I want to say that for my part, I never read that email and my feelings as exhibited here have come exclusively from having read the book.

Ardis has also put the first of a two-part discussion of her reactions at the Times and Seasons. Part 2.

Joe asked some good questions in the comments section of part 4. As I began to write a response, I found that I had quickly written almost 3 pages of response, so I figured that would make a pretty annoying comment. I here reproduce his questions and my response. Now I really am finished with posting on this topic. I thank everyone for their longsuffering and comments up to now, I didn’t mean to hijack the blog for the last day or so, I appologize.

Jared T-
It sounds to me like you disagree with Tracy’s methods but not his outcomes? Or in other words do you feel that his evidence is relevant but just a poor organization of the material?

The reason I ask, it seems to me that with such obvious flaws in writing and editing the reader should be able to distance themselves from those negatives and see the real point of what the author was trying to say, albeit very scattered? I could be wrong, but I was curious about your opinion on that point after reading your review.

Also, when you talked to Tracy at the open house, did you find him as scattered in person, or was this just an example of not being able to convey his information in mwriting?

Because I met him as well and I got the impression that he was very thorough with the research. However, after reading your review it seems that the book was not able to capture that same impression.

Any comment for further clarification? Thanks.

My response:

Joe, good questions. Do I feel the evidence is relevant but with poor organization? The short answer is yes, but it goes beyond just poor organization. Wherever there is evidence, it’s relevant, and organizing that evidence in a useful and reasonable way is very important. As I went along in the review, as I set out to write part 4, I realized that though it was clear to me that I didn’t think that Tracy just didn’t know what he was talking about, it might not be clear to the reader of the review. So, in part 4 I took special care to spell that out. The second paragraph here on part 4 is an example. There is no explanation that I could find that told me what these dots of facial recognition were supposed to mean. I know that they’re used in face recognition software, that is mentioned, but how? One could get the impression that I’m saying, “It’s just a bunch of dots up there, the author just made something up.” No. I believe there’s something behind it, but it’s just not spelled out in the book.

Take this quote just a few paragraphs down from that:

I have trouble understanding what basis the author is using to draw his conclusions, and how the reader is expected to do any sort of personal evaluation aside from choosing either to believe or disbelieve the author’s interpretation. I don’t believe the author is just making things up here or in other places, I just don’t believe that, but the book does a poor job in communicating to the reader what seems to be certain in the author’s mind. This is not necessarily uncommon, which is why things like peer review by less involved individuals is important. I think that had (I’m guessing it was not) this book been passed around other than internally before going to press, then many of these difficulties might have been smoothed out and the reader provided with a more coherent study.

Maybe Patrick, or someone else connected with the project can comment on what kind of review this book got before going to press. Before reading the book one of the things I’d heard about again and again as one of the key determinations was that there were twenty something points of similarity, that the forensics were air tight, it’s good enough for the FBI.

Back to the issues at hand. Yes, the organization is problematic, yes communication to the reader is very problematic. And evidence? Well, that’s also incomplete.Can the reader distance themselves with such obvious flaws? That’s the thing, as I also point out, they’re only obvious if you think this way and the majority of people do not. They’re just not trained to. I didn’t think this way back when I was sitting in my Introduction to Teaching Seminary class straight off the mission. It wasn’t until I got into the History major that I received training about this type of thought.  I mention in the review that the reader, if not careful, can be easily led along right to the conclusion the author sets forth, regardless of the path.

I did talk with Tracy at the open house and what’s more, I hung out around him for the better part of an hour on Monday when I just happened to visit Eborn’s store (for the first time in a few months I might add, quite providential) and I hung around him for about an hour and listened as he talked with patrons about the book. I found him very open, very likeable, very gracious, and very inviting. He offered to pay for the review copies I asked for, for heaven’s sake. What I hope will not happen is that the publisher will think, “Oh, I’ll never give another book of mine to someone like that again.” Maybe instead, the books should be given to people like me before they are published as well as after, but again, I digress. I got to the open house a little before it was to begin and stood by and listened to the better part of his interview with Channel 4. I was astounded at how composed and articulate he was. It really made an impression on me. I was convinced on Monday that he was convinced and that there must be a reason for that. As far as I could tell, and I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, those reasons are just not in the book, though Shannon is someone I think I would find value in having a continued contact with.

I think that one of the biggest problems has been this failure to communicate what is clear in the author’s mind to the audience as I mentioned more than once in the review. I have had this same problem with a paper I’m writing on tracing the history and provenance of two historical relics. It’s all clear in my mind what’s what, and when I gave it to one of my professors he was able to follow it through, but asked that I make further clarifications about which artifact I was talking about in certain instances, as they descend from different branches of the same family, and it can certainly get confusing. What’s the answer? Peer review, peer review, peer review. I have my own guesses at why this wouldn’t have gotten wide prepublication circulation, but I forbear.

Also, determining who you are writing to is a big factor. As far as audience, I think it doesn’t do anybody any favors to write down to people. If this is to be a billed as a forensic study (since there’s apparently nothing else it can be), then write to the forensics experts. Place all of that data forward, so that when someone like Shannon Novak reads the book, she can come away and say, Ok, I can see that. That is a contribution. Granted, it’s hard to write technically and also make it accessible to the lay reader. I’m not pretending that’s not a difficulty, but I believe it’s doable.

So, do I agree with his conclusions if not his methods? Well, I guess I have to say no, because Shannon seems convinced this is authentic, and I am not. As I mention, I’m about right back where I was before reading the book, which was at the reserving judgment stage.

What will get me past that? It’s not having Joseph appear to me in vision and testify of the daguerreotype. Though that would do it all right! I want to see professionals take this study up.

I’m in favor of one more attempt at exhumation. It is tragic that it was done the way it was, possibly with crucial remains lost, damaged, or overlooked and now lost. However, who is to say that it wasn’t also providential? I would like to see these remains taken up and studied correctly by the right people. Not amateurs consulting with professionals, but professionals controlling and leading the study and consulting with other professionals. If Joseph’s leg bone is still there, it should be easy to identify his previous injury and then it should be possible to connect that leg bone to the right skull. Perhaps even DNA testing might be possible. This is the future of this study, not Photoshop. The amateurs must be commended for what has been done up to this time and for injecting life into this pursuit. Heck, I know I’m grateful. What must also be recognized is that it’s time to turn it over to the pros. I reviewed Shannon Novak’s history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and was astounded at what she was able to tell just from bones, about the life and death of these people. However, there was no way of putting a name to the bones. Here, however, wow. What an opportunity.

Yes, the future is bright, in the right hands and with the right kind of energy. With recent attempts to exhume the body of Parley P. Pratt, maybe now is the right time to start talking about how to put all this speculation about Joseph Smith’s skull to rest once and for all. And in the process, come up with academically acceptable criteria for authenticating a potential daguerreotype of Joseph Smith.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Recent Comments

J Stuart on Reassessing the Classics: Armand: “Thanks for this. I think about this book all the time and I'm always glad to have a refresher on its contents and arguments.”

Tyler on Guest Post - Mormonism: “Thank you, all, for your help and support!”

J. Stapley on A Quick Note: Historicizing: “Here is the YM org chart from 1967, which doesn't include a YM's presidency, so perhaps that dating of the presidencies to the mid 1970s…”

Mees Tielens on The Mechanics of Applying: “Just a gentle tip that if you are one of the interdisciplinary folks presenting at MHA your panel will probably not be well attended, but…”

Ardis on The Mechanics of Applying: “Thanks, J. My memory isn't perfect, but so far as it extends I don't recall ever seeing such a comprehensive and easy-to-follow explainer of the…”

J Stuart on 2019 Book of Mormon: “Eccles Conference Center, Rooms 201 and 205. I don't have any further information and their website doesn't seem to be updated.”