Chapters 9 and 10 of Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again deal with purported photographs of Joseph Smith, including the Scannel daguerreotype. I have carefully avoided reading Jared Tâ€™s review, Part 4, dealing with these chapters, wanting to be fair to author S. Michael Tracy by offering an independent review. But as my drafts grew to page after tedious page, knowing that I would be straining the patience of readers by repeating many of Jaredâ€™s thoughts, I have finally read his Part 4. I endorse it, and add only a few paragraphs to what he wrote.
Artificial scholarship. Millions imitates the trappings of scholarship in a way which undermines the confidence of the reader. Two among many possible examples:
Pages 239-241 reproduce a report on University of Wyoming stationery signed by someone with the ambiguous title? credential? institutional position? of â€œAcademic Professional Research Scientistâ€; this report describes this personâ€™s examination of photos of a skull and death mask superimposed on a daguerreotype. None of the items is identified, but given the context I suppose we are to assume that these are the Scannel daguerreotype, the Joseph death mask, and the skull that Tracy has identified as Josephâ€™s although everyone else identifies it as Hyrumâ€™s. The report is general in the extreme: he refers to â€œcorrespondence markersâ€ but does not identify them; he refers repeatedly to the â€œplacementâ€ of features (presumably meaning that the nose is placed between the eyes and above the mouth?) as being â€œvery similarâ€ to the point where he discerns â€œa biologicalâ€ â€“ he means â€œgeneticâ€ â€“ connection between the man in the daguerreotype and the skull. I have more experience with courtrooms than with science labs; I know that no judge would allow this letter to be entered into evidence because its conclusions are so utterly unsupported by the vague and superficial description of the underlying study.
Chapter 9 begins with a brief and very layman-friendly overview of the development of photography â€“ an essential prelude to discussing the possibility that Joseph Smith was photographed, since readers might otherwise not appreciate the very narrow time frame during which such an image was technologically feasible. This overview, however, as useful and necessary as it is, demonstrates the shallowness of this bookâ€™s supporting evidence. That is, the overview ends with a reference to Appendix D â€œfor more detailed information regarding the development of daguerreian photography.â€ That appendix, where the reader was promised in-depth information, consists of a timeline listing 33 events, only 14 of which are remotely related to photography (stretching that relationship to include the birth of Kodakâ€™s George Eastman); the greater share of entries are for presidential elections, the discovery of gold in California, commencement of publication of the New York Tribune, the national tour of singer Jenny Lind, and similar events that tell us nothing about photography.
Wishful thinking. Chapter 9 identifies some time periods where Joseph Smith was physically present in cities where daguerreotypists were or may have been in business, making it at least technologically possible for Joseph to have sat for an image. The author asserts that Joseph was the kind of curious, forward-thinking young man who should have been intrigued by new technology. He reproduces broadcast conversations of LDS archivists who agree that â€œthe possibilities are thereâ€ for Joseph to have been the subject of a photograph. Yet all these â€œpossiblesâ€ and â€œwe hopesâ€ of Chapter 9 become Chapter 10’s opening line: â€œAs documented in the previous chapter, it is highly likely that Joseph had his photograph taken.â€ There are multiple similar instances in these chapters where “possible” becomes “likely” or even “proven.”
Inconsistency. The author acknowledges that when comparing skulls to photographs to death masks, the images must all be adjusted to a matching perspective. That is, if a photograph shows the subject turned to the right, the death mask must be turned right to the same degree. Yet he repeatedly draws conclusions while failing to make those adjustments in perspective:
The familiar Carson (the â€œtop knotâ€) photo-of-a-painting shows Joseph turned somewhat to his right (you can judge that by how much more of his left shoulder and collar are visible than his right shoulder and collar). Yet the image of the skull superimposed over that photo/painting on page 171 faces the viewer straight on. The forward-facing skull doesnâ€™t align to the turned photo/painting? What a surprise!
A similar failure to account for a difference in perspective appears on page 210, where the Scannel daguerreotype is described. Demonstrating that the pictured man has the distinctive â€œSmith nose,â€ Tracy says â€œThe nose is strong, even though looking straight on.â€ Yet the very next sentence acknowledges that the view is not straight on: â€œYou can see the right ear well but the left is hid more, some by hair and some partly by the slight turn of the head toward that side.â€
Provenance. This, you might suppose, is the big question for me, the one I am in the best position to evaluate. How does Tracy deal with the problem of provenance? He doesnâ€™t. He acknowledges that â€œno photograph has an exact provenance linking it back to Joseph Smith,â€ but then proceeds as though that were no problem. It is a problem. The problem is more than the lack of a type of evidence that would have been useful had it existed; the problem is that the lack of provenance introduces problems that Tracy completely ignores. I wonâ€™t rehash the problems of a lack of provenance which we have been over in previous posts. It is enough here to say that scholarship demands that reasonable objections be addressed. It is not acceptable merely to present evidence in support of your thesis while ignoring contrary evidence.
The extraordinary thing is that Tracy does introduce new details into the provenance of the Scannel daguerreotype: I did not know until reading Millions that the daguerreotype was donated together with an Emma Smith-compiled hymnal bearing the name of William Orr Scannel, presumably its one-time owner. This establishes at least a whiff of a connection between the Scannel donors and Mormonism. Oddly, however, Tracy reports no attempt to develop this connection. There is no suggestion that he traced the genealogy of the donor back to the Smith ancestor (something I accomplished in a little more than an hour), or that he attempted to establish a family link between Emily L. Smith (the Scannel ancestor) and Joseph Smith, or that he investigated early LDS or later RLDS records to know whether or discover when and where the Scannels were connected to Mormonism.
Illogic. When Tracy administers his tests (and Jared has outlined the lack of background information on these tests for a reader to judge their evidentiary quality), he proceeds with an astounding logical error. He announces that â€œthis study will assume each image is Joseph until proven otherwise.â€ The fallacy of such a methodology should be obvious: It presupposes that in fact we do have a photograph of Joseph Smith among the candidates, and says, in effect, that â€œI will prove this image is Joseph Smith by beginning with the assumption that it is Joseph Smith.â€
I do expect that this book will do well in the LDS market. It appeals to a desire common to many of us to connect with the Prophet Joseph Smith by looking into his eyes. It is a handsome book. It has the whiz-bang glamour of science. Unfortunately, however, readers are given no way to understand, no reason to place confidence in, those whiz-bang tests and claims. Too many book buyers (as opposed to book readers) will be deceived by pretty but unexplained illustrations. That is wrong.
My hat is off to S. Michael Tracy, however, for his civility. I visited his open house early in the afternoon when Tracy was surrounded by curious visitors, then went back later to buy a copy of the book to review. My second visit was a quick in and out. I was halfway across the lobby of the Joseph Smith building when I heard someone call my name. It was Tracy, who had to know that I was highly skeptical of claims advanced for the Scannel daguerreotype. Yet he make a positive effort to face me, shake my hand, and say a few kind words. I did not expect that.