Lachlan MacKay is one of the historians who helped authenticate the Joseph Smith daguerreotype that appears to be the prophet Joseph Smith. Lach is not only a descendant of Joseph Smith, but he is also an apostle for the Community of Christ. We’ll talk about how he authenticated the photo, whether it could be Hyrum, and what it would take to forge a photo. We’ll also discuss the Jeff Lundgren case. Back in 1987, Lundren justified the murder of a family of 5 in Kirtland, Ohio based on the story of Nephi killing Laban. What does Bill think of that story? Bill also tried to save Lundgren from capital punishment. Check out our conversation…
Forensic Analysis of Joseph Smith Photo
GT 05:43 Well, very good. Can you tell us how you would go about even trying to identify, is this Joseph Smith? Or is it someone else? What were the procedures you went through?
Lachlan 06:34 So, we were hoping for an easy solution, which was to take the watch apart and discover Joseph Smith’s signature inside or even a maker’s mark on the [locket.] That was difficult to do, though, because it was in the height of the pandemic shutdown, and nobody wanted to meet with us. Nobody was in their office to answer their phone. But finally, we were able to connect with somebody with the expertise, who also happens to be somebody with the ability to take apart, a miniaturist who could take apart the object without damage. Under Dan’s watchful care, they got it apart. There’s no names, no dates, no maker’s marks. That was our first strategy.
Lachlan 07:25 We, also, then started thinking about facial recognition software. Of course, that works best where there are photographs of a person and you’re comparing a potential image to them. That’s not the case here. So, we have to use two pieces of art, a death mask and an 1840 oil portrait. So, that’s an objective approach. Though, we did some subjective things like a forensics artist, who did overlays and feature cutouts and feature tracing, etc. So, could we find written references to it? Joseph III says on a number of occasions that his father had a daguerreotype by, he thinks, Lucien Foster. He gets mixed up with a daguerreotype of the oil portrait at times. So that was difficult to untangle, and then we started finding photographs of women wearing what certainly looked to be the locket. So, provenance, objective approach, subjective analysis of documentary sources.
GT 08:37 Very good. So, you did say that there were two daguerreotypes. One was of the painting and one was of Joseph and those were kind of hard to disentangle in the written records, which was which?
Lachlan 08:50 Yeah, so it’s not as simple. When Joseph is referencing a daguerreotype of his father. It is clear that he, at times, is talking about a daguerreotype of the oil portrait, but he doesn’t know that. It’s hard to believe, but even today, people are finding photographs of the oil portrait in several forms. An 1879 Carson image and an 1885 Carter image, they believe that their photographs from life. They’re not. Joseph III had the same difficulty, and we talked about in the paper, why that might be. Daguerreotypes are surprisingly life-like because of the way they appear and disappear for an image. They’re also reversed, so that, just like the painting image reversed. Joseph, III has vision issues. Eventually he’s completely blind. I don’t think that’s the case. He is initially talking about it for years before his life is definitely completely blind.
GT 09:05 Okay. Well, very good. I know another piece of the puzzle was, because, I guess, you basically have three evidences. You had this locket. You had the Maudsley painting that everybody’s familiar with, and you had the death mask. Talk about what are the differences between the death mask and the Maudsley painting, first.
Lachlan 10:20 Yeah, so it’s not a Maudsley painting. There are Maudsley paintings, but the one we’re focusing on is David Rogers painting. Maudsley and Rogers is from New York City, the front views. Now people get really confused. Like that there is David Ross, a portrait painter, church member from New York City, who comes to Nauvoo in September 1842. Joseph records sitting for him for five days. Rogers goes home, eventually becomes a Strangite and lives out his days… He gets confused with Dwight Rogers, who is a member. He writes, he marries, he puts together the hymnal, he goes west. So, people confuse those two. The [artist] we’re talking about is David Rogers, New York City. When you compare it to the mask, there are many similarities, but some differences, although on the portrait, the nose is longer. We knew that that could be the case, because other people had already compared the portrait to the mask. So, we knew that if the daguerreotype was Joseph, would not match with the portrait, and sure enough, it’s a little off. So, the portrait painted noses longer, mouths a little smaller, made hair straighter, made skin whiter and smoother so you look younger. It was an attempt, apparently to make like you had never worked a day in your life.
Reactions to Photo Recognition
Lachlan 25:14 So, the reception, as we expected, was initially, “It’s Joseph,” or “It’s not Joseph,” based on nothing but gut feeling. Depending on how strongly you are imprinted on the oil portrait, which is what most people are imprinted on now. But as people had a chance to start reading the journal article, then I think the discussion got significantly more interesting with people either convinced or asking good questions and suggesting what they thought were problems. That’s been, I think, a lot of fun to try and track down some of those things.
GT 25:52 What are some of the biggest problems that you find that are legitimate questions?
Lachlan 25:58 So, I think Ardis Parshall asked a really good question, early, about, “Well, if the Smith family had this, surely they would have been trumpeting it, using it as a weapon against their cousins in Utah. In the journal article, we talk a little bit about how Emma was very protective of Joseph’s image. She would not allow his oil portrait to be copied. She kept it in her bedroom, so that she could control who saw it. We talked about some other reasons why it might not have been public. After the article was published, and Ardis asked that good question, it struck me that she’s right. The Smith family, in fact, did trumpet it to the world. Or at least they thought they did. So, in 1885 Joseph III is given a daguerreotype of his father, which he had forgotten existed, by Louis Bidamon. He goes on a mission to Utah a few months later. While there, he cuts a deal with Charles W. Carter, to photograph the daguerreotype. Carter then kind of touches it up with ink and starts selling it. Both Joseph III and Carter thought that this was an image of Joseph from life. So, Joseph III thought that he had already given to the world the image of his dad from life. As late as 1947, the graphics people in the Reorganized Church thought that they had, in their collection, images of Joseph and Emma from life that had been, again, released, but [in fact] they were images of the oil portraits.
Lachlan 27:35 So, Ardis is right, that had they had these things, they would have talked about it. It turns out, they did. They just were mistaken on what the image was. So, I guess it doesn’t make sense to me that they would say, “Ah-ha, here’s the second image.” In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t think it was one in the same. Because unless you have them right next to each other, I’m not sure you would pick out the differences, especially if they’re scattered in the family.
Provenance, Forgery of JS Photo?
GT 16:25 Yeah, well, definitely. I think Ardis Parshall, do you know Ardis?
Lachlan 16:31 I do. Yeah.
GT 16:32 Yeah, she’s a wonderful historian and genealogist in her own right, a very talented amateur. But that’s been her biggest [issue] is provenance. There are pictures of lockets. You mentioned that several times in the journal article. But the idea is she’s like, “Well, it could be any round object.” So, that’s her biggest thing–not that it is or isn’t Joseph. It’s just we can’t be sure. Maybe you could talk about this, with the whole Hofmann saga, the LDS Church got burned pretty hard on that. So, they’re a little bit more cautious on saying this absolutely is Joseph. I mean, is it the same way too? Because you guys got burned, too, by Mark Hofmann, just as bad as the LDS Church.
Lachlan 17:27 Yeah. Let me start by saying, I’m a big fan of Ardis. I love her work. I appreciate the questions she’s asked. I think they’re helpful in moving the process forward. The Church of Jesus Christ had an opportunity to examine the object for several months, relatively early in the process. They also concluded it’s consistent with the mid-1840s. So, it’s tempting to talk about Hofmann, but I don’t think there’s any evidence that this is any kind of forgery. What it could be is, not Joseph. But I’ve not seen any suggestion from somebody who has examined that it is not an 1840s object. Having said that, I appreciate that the Church of Jesus Christ is very careful, because of their experience with Hofmann. My sense is that, because Church leaders came out so strongly in support of some of those documents that turned out to be forgeries, that that was pretty difficult for some members and caused consternation among some. So I understand the very cautious approach.
Lachlan 17:39 Community of Christ, for other reasons, doesn’t take positions on historical matters. We leave that to the historians, not because of Hofmann, because we think that’s the way you do good history, and that historical positions, our interpretations change with new information. So, the church will not take a position on is it or is it not? But, members of our historical community, including our church historians are welcome to take positions and I believe that all [of our historians] believe it is [Joseph Smith.] But again, we’re open to where the sources may lead us. That’s the way the process works.
GT 19:22 Well, and to go in the Hofmann direction a little bit, is this something that could be replicated in the current day? Could a person, such as Mark Hofmann, create a daguerreotype? Mark was notorious for tearing out pages out of old Bibles at the BYU, Utah, Utah State libraries so that when you did carbon dating, it matched to the time period. He was amazing at how well he could do that sort of stuff. He got caught when the aging process caused ink to crack, and that’s kind of what did him in. But I guess my question is, is there somebody very talented that could create a daguerreotype today, put it on 19th century paper and make such a forgery? Are you aware of anything like that?
Lachlan 20:21 Daguerreotypes aren’t on paper. They’re on metal plates. There are people making daguerreotypes today. So, I would guess that somebody could do that, and then would have to figure out how to artificially age it and get it sealed up in an 1840s locket. So, I don’t know anybody with that expertise. But there might well be somebody out there. But I guess in this case, I don’t know why my grandmother would have been involved in that. And Dan, I love him dearly, but he didn’t know how to say daguerreotype when he found this object. But then again, a lot of people I’m hearing talk about it online don’t know how to say it, either. I’m not sure I always say right.
RLDS Version of Lafferty’s
GT 40:59 Okay. So the other thing that I wanted to talk to you about when you came out here–of course, Under the Banner of Heaven has been well talked about here in Utah, for sure. You guys have your own kind of Under the Banner of Heaven murder mystery.
Lachlan 41:17 There’s no mystery.
GT 41:18 So can you tell us a little bit about that? It’s not much of a mystery, I guess.
Lachlan 41:21 Yeah, it is tragic. [There was] a man by the name of Jeff Lundgren, who, in the 1980s, objected to things like women in the priesthood. He was from a traditional RLDS family, and he decided that he, somehow, could set the church in order single handedly. He ended up moving to Kirtland, Ohio. He was from the Independence, Missouri area. He moved to Kirtland, Ohio with his family to volunteer at the Kirtland Temple. He ended up developing a small cult following and ended up in conflict with then stake president, Dale Luffman. Some of your listeners might know Dale from his book on the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon’s Witness to its First Readers. But Jeff ended up being removed from his volunteer position at the Kirtland Temple, and removed from his role in teaching Book of Mormon Sunday school classes in the local congregation.
Lachlan 41:36 He moved off site. I’m going to get the timeline wrong, but, maybe a year or so later, and that he ended up killing a family of five, with the assistance of some of his followers, believing that these people, because of their lack of faith, we’re hindering the return of Christ. So Jeff was expecting…
GT 42:52 These were members of his own group, right?
Lachlan 42:54 These were members of his own group, but they were not living on the farm. The hardcore believers were living on a farm about four miles from the temple with Jeff and his family. These people were not living on the farm. But Jeff and his followers–so he had the help of four or five of the adult men who shot and buried this family, just horrific, horrific. The morning after they did it, police officers descended on the farm, searching for illegal guns. They didn’t find any and ended up leaving. That spooked, of course, Jeff and his followers who were planning on moving into the wilderness anyway, but they hurriedly left town. Then the community soon started coming apart. Jeff started sleeping with the wives of some of the men, taking them at least his own wife, even though he was already married. And not surprisingly, they took exception to that. One of them went to the police. The whole thing came apart. They tracked Jeff and his family down in San Diego and he was later executed in Ohio.
What are your thoughts about the Joseph Smith photo? Have you heard of the Jeff Lundgren story before?
I truly appreciate how open and inquisitive the CoC is, and Lach in particular. (He even answered an email from me once!) Makes me wonder how different LDS culture would be if that church had similar transparency.