Careful documentation and publication of Nauvoo photographs will enhance Latter-day Saint historical scholarship by permitting researchers and authors to use these materials accurately as primary sources for studies of old Mormon Nauvoo.
Just over one hundred and fifty years ago, in September 1839, the first American photographers made the earliest images on metal plates called daguerreotypes. Within a short time of its introduction in the United States, the daguerreotype was brought to Nauvoo by Lucian Foster, a New York convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He set up his daguerrean gallery at the corner of Parley and Hyde streets and produced the first photographic images of Nauvoo and its citizens (1844–46).His work began a process that eventually created thousands of photographic views of Nauvoo. Only a few of Foster’s views exist today, among them the famous “Temple on the Hill,” sometimes known as the “Temple over the Outhouse.”
Besides Foster, other photographers to capture the city include Thomas Easterly, a St. Louis photographer (1846–47); B. H. Roberts, Church leader and historian (1885); F. Goulty, a local photographer and businessman (1890–1900); James Ricalton, a professional photographer from the firm of Underwood & Underwood (1904); George Edward Anderson, a Utah portrait and landscape photographer (1907); and Harold Allen, an architectural photographer at the Chicago Art Institute (1940–60). The early views of Nauvoo produced by these photographers, along with many other photographs housed in private and public repositories throughout the United States, make up part of the documentary sources upon which modern historical research and publication are based.
Photographs as Primary Sources
As historical sources, photographs have a twofold nature. First, a photograph depicts past events or important personages and gives valuable and even unique information that one must learn to “read” properly. Second, a historic photograph is also an artifact, a part of the fabric of the past. Be it a stereograph or family portrait, the image had a social function. Public and private photographs are artifacts of material culture, representing far more than the pictorial image seen on their scratched or discolored surfaces.
Several recent publications have shown how such nonprint material can be utilized. John Demos’s now famous study of the Puritans’ material culture, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony,is a model for using sources that historians have by and large neglected. Similar possibilities exist for the photographic record. Instead of remaining solely in the hands of architectural historians, architectual photographs can be used by all historians as primary sources.
Clifton C. Edom’s Photojournalism: Principles and Practiceand Jefferson Hunter’s Image and Word: The Interaction of Twentieth-Century Photographs and Text suggest that photographs are a rich source of meaning and information for the scholar who learns how to read them. For example, much can be learned about economics by examining dress and exterior and interior views of buildings. A great deal about social relationships can be ascertained by considering who stands where and in what position, and religious values are sometimes revealed by architectural photographs. Historians interested in the Latter-day Saint past should not ignore the value of photographs as primary source material.
Problems with Using Historic Photographs
Too often photographs, in spite of their value as “artifacts,” are used carelessly to illustrate an otherwise well-researched and documented history. Many historians leave the tasks of selecting and identifying photographs to the designer or publisher of their articles and books. This “abdication” mars their work if the wrong photograph is used or if an illustration is misidentified. Some scholars who do select and identify the illustrations themselves leave these tasks to the last minute and then devote far less care to them than to the other primary source materials of their study.
The scholar who chooses to use historic photographs not only to illustrate the text but also to inform the reader in ways not possible by the text alone faces significant problems. Finding out exactly what a photograph is can be difficult. Frequently, old photographs have been mislabeled by the photographer, the housing archival institution, or the researcher. After obtaining the correct data, the scholar needs to write a caption that will give the reader sufficient information as well as appropriate source documentation.
Problems with Captions for Nauvoo Photographs
Numerous historic Nauvoo photographs have been printed in popular and academic publications since the early twentieth century.In many instances, however, the use of photographic material has been problematic.
One problem involves mislabeling. When B. H. Roberts visited Nauvoo in 1885, for example, he relied on local residents to identify historical sites for him since he had never lived there. His tour of the city was conducted by M. M. Morrill, the mayor. Apparently, Morrill and others simply provided building identification based on longstanding traditions. The story of Mr. W. C. Reimbold, former owner of the Oriental Hotel (Hotel Nauvoo), illustrates how Nauvoo tradition is not always steeped in fact. Reimbold collected antiques and sold them to visitors to Nauvoo. His specialties were old keys and beds he claimed had originally belonged to Joseph Smith, and he sold them in great number.Photographs and site identifications for many homes in Nauvoo are no more reliable than the keys and beds Mr. Reimbold sold to unsuspecting tourists. Over the years, it has been claimed that so-and-so lived at a particular site or that this old Nauvoo photograph depicts the home of so-and-so. In some cases, it has been difficult to discover which, if any, of the traditions are true.
Site identification is complicated by the fact that most Church leaders lived in several locations during their stay in Nauvoo. For example, Heber and Vilate Kimball first had a home on the bluff before building a log structure and later a brick home which still stands on the northeast corner of Munson and Partridge streets.
Mr. F. Goulty, a local photographer and businessman living in Nauvoo at the turn of the century, published “cabinet cards” with the site identification written on the photograph itself. Many of his photographs were later reproduced as postcards. These photographs, which include images of nonextant buildings, must be handled with caution. For example, the photograph labeled “Residency of George Q. Cannon, Nauvoo, Ill.” appears in several institutional collections. The original shows the site identification written across the fence on the photograph itself. Investigation has revealed that this home belonged to Lorin Farr, not George Q. Cannon. Several decades after the Saints’ departure, Lorin Farr returned to Nauvoo to visit his former residence; a photograph was taken of Farr standing in front of this home.Supporting evidence comes from several photographs of the Woodruff home that also show the supposed Cannon home, a single-story brick structure in the background to the south. The unique brickwork and chimney of this home match that of the structure in the Farr photograph (see fig. 1).
The discovery that the “George Q. Cannon Residency” was really Lorin Farr’s home led to the reexamination of the photograph identified and widely published as the “Lorin Farr Residence, Nauvoo, Ill.” The improper identification may have resulted from the fact that both of Winslow Farr’s sons, Lorin and Aaron, may have lived at this site. Through research, using tax records as well as maps provided by Rowena Miller, a former employee of Nauvoo Restoration Inc., we verified that the residence was that of Winslow instead of Lorin Farr.
These examples show that researchers must look beyond the identification printed on the front or back of the photograph and ask, Who took the photograph? Who identified it? Does the information match other written records?
A second problem concerns the mislabeling of photographs in archival collections. Seven of the eight Nauvoo photographs by George Edward Anderson listed in the register of the photographic Archives, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, illustrate this problem and are representative of the challenges one faces when working in almost all photographic archives.[*** graphic omitted ***] Anderson numbered the glass plates himself, and library personnel later mislabeled them. The first photograph (#70) is labeled “cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple.” It in fact depicts the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. As shown in the following table, other labels give inaccurate information about the site photographed (see fig. 2).
[*** graphic omitted ***]
George Edward Anderson Nauvoo Photographs
in the Harold B. Lee Library Archives
Cornerstone of the Nauvoo Temple
Cornerstone of the Nauvoo House
Brick building, street, sidewalk
The nonextant Nauvoo Expositor building on Mulholland Street
Children in yard of large brick home
Extant Wilford and Phebe Woodruff home
Brick house along tree lined road
Nonextant Bishop Edward Hunter residence
Two brick houses
The prominent home is the nonextant John D. Lee residence on Hyde Street
Wine cellar and casks
Temple lot after the Temple was razed
Five people by two brick homes
Nonextant Joseph Young home and extant Chauncey Webb home, both on Granger Street
1. ID numbers assigned by Anderson
2. ID numbers assigned by the archive
Uncatalogued photographic sources in photo archives present another obstacle. In their research, historians depend upon registers of photographic collections, but, because of severe budget constraints, most institutions have poor indexing of some photographic collections and no registers for others. As a result, the researcher is forced to search through many files and folders in order to discover any items of interest. The part of the Anderson Collection now located in the Harold B. Lee Library, for example, is not fully catalogued. (This cataloguing occurred many years ago; Brigham Young University and most photographic archives of LDS historical materials have recently made significant strides in collecting, cataloguing, and indexing their photographs.) Another uncatalogued and unindexed collection at BYU is the Ida Blum Collection, a rich, nonprint source for the study of Nauvoo. This collection contains some two hundred photographs of Nauvoo; most are relatively recent and have not yet been labeled(see fig. 3).
Problems with Some Printed Nauvoo Photographs
Mislabeling, lack of cataloguing of individual collections, and the tendency of many scholars and publishers to not consider photographs as primary sources have contributed to recurrent problems in publications. The following publications include minor problems relating to old Nauvoo photographs. While these problems should not detract from the overall value of these works, they do serve as examples of difficulties historians can encounter when using photographs of Nauvoo.
One of the earliest books to use historic Nauvoo photographs was The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt.This book began a practice that persists to the present, namely printing the famous “Temple on the Hill” photograph of Nauvoo backwards—showing the Temple facing east instead of west. The unique characteristics of the daguerreotype create a dilemma here and with all other such images. The daguerreotype is a silver-plated sheet of copper that is placed in the camera. The exposure is made by removing the lens cap for several minutes or up to a half hour in some cases. The image is fixed with a “hypo” solution and usually mounted in a protective glass and metal frame. While the clarity of a daguerreotype image is limited only by the quality of the camera lens and while the brilliance of the likeness is unmatched by subsequent processes, a daguerreotype has several serious limitations. The most important limitation is that the image of the subject is reversed from left-to-right, a characteristic particularly bothersome in well-known sites or in scenes showing signs and printing. Since the Foster image of the “Temple on the Hill” was a daguerreotype, it was originally reversed. The question can thus be debated, whether a reproduction of this image should show it backwards as it originally was or should “correct” it by reversing it. One of the most productive Latter-day Saint photographic historians today, Nelson Wadsworth, has consistently published Foster’s view of the “Temple on the Hill” by printing the scene as it would appear to a visitor (see fig. 4). But some other publications have not followed Wadsworth’s lead.
The Latter-day Saint Church Educational System’s text Church History in the Fulness of Times: The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses a variety of photographs to illustrate Church history. The captions to these photographs offer substantial information but exclude dates or names of photographers; therefore the photographs are not situated in a historical context. This omission is a drawback to the richly illustrated text.[*** graphic omitted ***]
[*** graphic omitted ***]
In Susan Arrington Madsen’s The Lord Needed a Prophet, the George Edward Anderson photographs are misdated by five years, and the caption for the Lucian Foster’s “Temple on the Hill” indicates that the photographer is unknown.
Janath R. Cannon’s Nauvoo Panorama misidentifies the photographer of the “Temple on the Hill” as Lucian Woodworth.A turn-of-the-century photograph by J. R. Tewksbury is printed with a caption correctly identifying the extant David D. Yearsley home in the background, but the two homes in the foreground are not identified as those of Elijah Malin and Jacob Weiler. As both of these homes are nonextant, the photograph is of great historic significance to those interested in the visual history of Nauvoo.
Another publication, the 1990 issue of the Journal of Mormon History, includes images of Nauvoo on both the front and back covers. The images are identified, and the source of each is given, but other important data such as the date of the daguerreotype and the name of the photographer are omitted.
Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr’s Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1890 incorrectly states the date of a George Edward Anderson Photograph as 1908.Roger Launius and F. Mark McKiernan’s Joseph Smith, Jr.’s Red Brick Store includes a photograph identified as “Photograph of the Red Brick Store, ca. 1890, showing the store front and west side. Courtesy of Kenneth E. Stobaugh.” The label on the original photograph, however, indicates that the photograph was taken by B. H. Roberts in 1885.
To be fair, we will mention that in a review of our book Old Mormon Nauvoo, 1839–1846: Historic Photographs and Guide Donald Q. Cannon correctly points out we did not clearly identify the repositories of the photographs we used.Also, in this work we did not include important contextual information such as the date and the name of the photographer. Our recent efforts to publish historic photographs with proper and consistent captions have corrected these problems. For example, the following caption belongs to the close-up of the Temple:
Nauvoo Temple, Nauvoo, Illinois
(The Nauvoo Temple was the focal point of the Church from 1841–46)
LDS Historical Department—Lucian Foster, 1846
Perhaps more disturbing than the lack of proper captions is the misidentification of Nauvoo photographs in publications. In Pearson H. Corbett’s Hyrum Smith, Patriarch, a Nauvoo photograph is identified as “Hyrum Smith’s home at Nauvoo, Illinois.”The photograph in fact shows the residence of Joseph Smith, Jr., known as the Homestead. No photograph of Hyrum’s Nauvoo residence is known to exist. Andrew Karl Larson’s Erastus Snow: The Life of a Missionary and Pioneer for the Early Mormon Church reproduces a photograph of the Times and Seasons building that is incorrectly identified as the “The brick store, owned by Parley P. Pratt.” The May 20, 1989, issue of the Church News includes an Underwood & Underwood stereo view identified in the caption as “View of Lorenzo Snow home prior to 1900 gives flavor of 19th Century Nauvoo.” The Underwood & Underwood views were part of the series of Latter-day Saint church historical sites published in 1904, not before 1900 as the Church News caption suggests. Furthermore, the home depicted in this photograph is that of Erastus Snow, not Lorenzo Snow (see fig. 5). Publication of this data by Nauvoo Restoration Inc. should end this misidentification.
A few of the problems are repeated in Douglas Tobler and Nelson Wadsworth’s The History of the Mormons in Photographs and Text: 1830 to the Present. This work, the most important and significant collection of Latter-day Saint historic photographs, is truly a visual feast of the history of the Saints. The book’s importance cannot be overestimated, although a few misidentifications are repeated in the captions. The home of Sylvester Stoddard is incorrectly identified as John Taylor’s home. The Aaron Johnson and Jonathan Wright homes are identified as belonging to William Law and Orson Pratt.
An additional problem concerns using images of Nauvoo to illustrate an idea or concept that the photograph in fact does not reflect. E. Cecil McGavin in Nauvoo the Beautiful relates the arrival of German settlers to the city after the Mormon exodus and uses a George Edward Anderson photograph to illustrate “People with other customs and languages.”[*** graphic omitted ***] A notation on the original photograph indicates that the home dates from the Latter-day Saint period and that it belonged to Thomas Pitt, an English convert. The old man sitting in the yard reading a newspaper is Thomas’s son Charles, an active member of the Church at the time of Anderson’s visit. This photograph therefore does not illustrate the people of other customs and languages who came to Nauvoo following the Saints’ exodus (see fig. 6).
[*** graphic omitted ***]
Exemplary Use of Nauvoo Photographs
Some recent historical studies steer clear of captioning problems through an approach we do not advocate, namely the exclusion of important primary documents altogether. George W. Givens’s In Old Nauvooprovides only recent photographs of “restored” Nauvoo instead of using historical photographs to open an additional window to Nauvoo’s history. Another scholar, Marvin Hill, takes this option one step further by not including any photographs of Nauvoo in his book Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism.
Other authors have used photographs to give increased insight into the study of Nauvoo. An early example is Robert Bruce Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi, which includes a mixture of historic photographs, steel engravings, and modern photographs, as well as photographs taken by the author. For each illustration, Flanders provides descriptive captions and sources.James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard’s The Story of the Latter-day Saints is another exemplary work. Glen Leonard spent a significant amount of time identifying more than a dozen illustrations, including important historic photographs, for the chapters dedicated to Nauvoo history. Roger Launius’s biography of Joseph Smith III incorporates several historic photographs to illustrate the text and avoids the problems that have plagued other studies. The photographs with their detailed captions, which include dates and source information, help tell his story.
In Ronald E. Romig and John L. Seibert’s “J. A. Koehler and the Stewardship Movement at Atherton,” captions are expanded to indicate call numbers as well as repository source information, as in this example: “Courtesy RLDS Archive Photographic Collection D907.12.”The use of call numbers can be problematic, however, since many institutions are forced to make changes in their call numbers as they move from manual to automated cataloguing systems.
The majority of the twenty-two illustrations in Dean Jessee’s Papers of Joseph Smith are photographs. This book represents one of the best uses of photographs and captions in Mormon studies to date. For example, the Liberty Jail photograph caption states, “Liberty Jail, Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, c. 1878. Photograph by J. T. Hicks. Photograph was given to Joseph F. Smith by Josie Schweich, granddaughter of David Whitmer. LDS Church Archives.’’This caption illustrates the rich information available through careful research. Many other publications have simply reproduced the Liberty Jail photograph without stating date, photographer, or background information. Jessee’s commitment to proper documentation is also seen in his handling of the “Temple on the Hill” photograph. The image is printed as it would have appeared to the visitor to Nauvoo, and the caption reads, “Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, c. 1846. Daguerreotype. Charles W. Carter Collection. LDS Church Archives.”
While a few citation inconsistencies and site identification problems are found in the Tobler-Wadsworth book, The History of the Mormons, the authors have provided some exceptional captions. The “Temple on the Hill” photograph caption is one such example:
A seemingly deserted Nauvoo glimmers in the afternoon light in this 1846 daguerreotype believed to be taken by Lucian Foster. The completed temple sits atop the hill, overlooking the city. The photo was copied from the original daguerreotype by Charles William Carter in Salt Lake but it has since been lost. Only the copy negative remains. (Mormon Church Historical Department).
Among the most recently published studies, the meticulously researched and well-written articles found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism show that the editors conscientiously selected photographs to enrich the entries about Nauvoo history. The “Temple on the Hill” is printed in natural order, and its caption both explains the significance of the photograph as a historic artifact and offers valuable source information:
Looking northeast toward the Nauvoo Temple, 1846, at the time of the Latter-day Saint exodus (daguerreotype). Nauvoo grew rapidly between 1839 and 1846. Dugouts and simple log structures were soon replaced by traditional frame or brick homes. Charles W. Carter collection.
The Glen M. Leonard entry on “Nauvoo” includes several important Nauvoo photographs. The text properly identifies the modern photograph of the Seventies Hall as a reconstructed building: “It was reconstructed on its original foundation in 1971–1972.”The illustration editors, assisted by researchers in the Church Historical Department, avoided another problem by indicating that the Brigham Young residence photograph shows the home “as it appeared around 1900.” This note is an important contextual reference since the home was remodeled after Brigham Young’s departure.
Guidelines for Captioning
Based on the preceding examples, a minimum standard for identifying photographs can be set. The authors have placed each photograph in context by supplying carefully researched data and proper identification of source information. Recently, staff members of the LDS Church Archives have proposed guidelines calling for a credit line that includes the “title” of the photograph (if properly identified in the photo archive itself), the date of the photograph, the photographer’s name, the collection name, and the identification of the repository. Thus a suitable credit citation for the “Temple on the Hill” would be “Nauvoo and Nauvoo Temple (Daguerreotype), ca. 1846, attributed to Lucian Foster, Charles W. Carter Collection, LDS Church Archives.” In the past, where source information was unavailable for photographs, we used the notation unknown.Current recommendations by photo-archivists suggest that this approach may be too cumbersome. A researcher can simply provide whatever information is known. Order and consistency are essential, however. While these guidelines do not necessarily match those of other institutions, they are a positive step toward clarity and accuracy within the Latter-day Saint history community.
Many historians interested in photographs have suggested ways to improve the use of photographs and captions in Nauvoo and other Latter-day Saint historical studies.Photographs should be viewed as primary documents and should be used as carefully as one would use a diary or letter. Thus scholars should devote more interest and care to the documentation and use of photographs in their articles and books, instead of leaving this task largely to editors and publishers. Research efforts should be devoted to nonprint material, including photographs, from the inception of the research project so that these materials constitute more than a last-minute attempt to add visual interest to the text. Documentation of photographs should be as complete as that of any other historical source and should include information about the context, such as the date, the photographer, and the repository location.
Photo-archivists must become thoroughly familiar with the collections in their repositories and share their knowledgein an appropriate, effective, and supportive manner. A recent noteworthy attempt to resolve the cataloguing problem has been made by the LDS Church Archives, which has introduced a computer index for its large repository of catalogued photographs.
The implementation of these suggestions requires considerable time on the part of historians and archivists. However, such effort will permit historians to use photographs as significant primary sources for studies of old Mormon Nauvoo.