Your Monday poll #17



  1. I voted dunno. There seems to be a strong argument against, but I haven’t had the interest to really check it out.

    But people bearing their testimonies when they saw the picture that it is true … well, that’s just silly.

  2. Bro. Jones says:

    I don’t really understand all the hubbub. If you want a pretty good idea of what Joseph Smith looked like, check out a copy of “Emma Smith: Mormon Enigma” and look at the photos of Joseph’s children. (There’re photos of Joseph Smith III and David Hyrum Smith on wikipedia.) Aside from the beards on those two, I’m guessing that they’re a pretty good indication of what Joseph Jr. looked like: a lanky, dark-haired guy with penetrating eyes. No halo, no rippling muscles, no shimmering blonde hair–just a regular fella.

  3. Bro. Jones says:

    Not that folks with blonde hair aren’t regular folks. But I’ve noticed a gradual “blonding” trend in the Joseph Smith paintings of the past couple years, and since they’re at total variance from the oldest depictions of the Prophet, I’m just kinda baffled by them.

  4. um, context please. Some of us were away for the weekend or don’t live in Utah and all…

  5. Peter LLC says:

    Dan, check out this post from a week ago.

    Cliff Notes: Old news is forgotten and then discovered anew.

    PS-the author of the Monday poll probably wishes he lived in Utah, but actually lives about seven times zones away.

  6. Why such a fuss over an old photo. Smacks of Catholic veneration of relics.

    Every chapel can house a sacred memento of Saint Joseph.

    I just discovered Joseph’s favorite Meerschaum! Who wants to start the bidding?

  7. “pretty good indication of what Joseph Jr. looked like: a lanky, dark-haired guy with penetrating eyes.”

    I understand how you might come to that conclusion, but the truth is he wasn’t “lanky,” and his hair wasn’t described as either “dark-haired” or blond. Both the paintings of him and actual personal descriptions indicate he was “ripling muscles,” although no halo. Every time I look at pictures of his son and other male relatives, I think they get most of their traits from Emma’s side of the family.

  8. I’ve noticed a gradual “blonding” trend in the Joseph Smith paintings


    Perhaps it’s to make up for the Church’s departure from depicting an Aryan Jesus.

  9. Isn’t there already a verified daguerotype of him? This new one is a second “possibility”, isn’t it?

    I voted “dunno”- and really, other than curiosity, it doesn’t make a whit of difference. I am perplexed by the strage Fabio-ness the recent paintings seem to exhibit, but other than than, meh, I don’t really care.

  10. Peter,

    Thanks for the info. That picture looks somewhat like Joseph, but I agree with some of the commentators. This picture, if it is 1843, shows a young man, probably in his twenties. Joseph was 37 years old in 1843, going on 38. There was probably some gray in his hair. And he was most likely a little chubbier than the picture shows.

  11. the reason we think joseph was blond is because there are extant hair samples, which you can see in the church history museum, which are in fact blond.

  12. I agree, he looks too young, and his eyes look deeper-set (dare I say “beady”) than the other painted images of him.

  13. I voted yes. I HOPE it is a photo of Joseph Smith! It would be kinda nice to have a real photo of him. He looks young in the photo, but hey
    I’ve read that he WAS very young looking.

    I have the same poll on my blog, and the votes are running 80% – not him, 20% – ’tis him

    It doesn’t really matter, but when I look at the photo, I just FEEL something, a familiarity.

    Like the Larry Miller (car dealer commericials in Utah) say, “hey, you KNOW this guy!” :)

  14. The real question is why the author pushing for acceptance of this image had to change how he publicly identified himself. Until very recently, he was known as “Shannon M. Tracy,” the author of an earlier book on Joseph’s image, which ran afoul of accusations that he lifted most of it from the work of other scholars who didn’t publish fast enough. This is the same “Shannon M. Tracy” who managed to get investors to cough up more than a million dollars for a hotel and conference center in Nauvoo, but only poured foundations before hundreds of thousands of those dollars disappeared somewhere, and the project “ran out of money.”

    Maybe that’s why he’s now “S. Michael Tracy.”

    I guess if I ever have reason to be ashamed to have people recognize my name, I can start going by “N. Shawn Literski.”

  15. #14 – but “Nearly Headless Shawn” just doesn’t work when you go off on a classic threadjack. :-) (Btw, thanks for the background info. I’ll check it out.)

  16. This is very subjective, but there is just something totally arresting about the picture. You just want to keep staring into the eyes. It’s kind of spooky really. Maybe, it’s just the beadiness of them.

  17. I’m disappointed that you didn’t have a fourth option in your poll: Don’t care!

  18. JA Benson says:

    I think that the supposed tintype photo of Joseph Smith is lovely. The gentleman in that photo has beautiful eyes. I think it is possible it is Joseph or maybe one of his kinfolk. I would love for it to be true. I admit that is why I voted yes.

  19. One argument I have read is that this photo may have been from 1839 when Joseph was in Philadelphia. This would put him recently released from prison so the thinner version would make sense to a degree.

    As Nick points out the verasity of Tracy makes it easy to believe he may be simply selling some shinola here but unlike others I think there is an argument for the picture. It is to with the pronounced nose and eyes. If you look at younger pictures (pre-beard) of Joseph F. Smith or Joseph Smith Jr.’s last son David Hyrum and the picture does have a lot in common with those two.

    I have also noticed that the type of photograph does often make brown hair-blond people have much darker hair in actual photo.

    So yes, there are some serious questions and yes I would willingly measure it against the old Jesus Family Tomb business from last year. You want it to be true, not for the sake of veneration but as a historian because it takes a layer of mystery away. Because so much of the image of the prophet is reliant on others.

    One of the nice things about seeing so much of Brigham you get an idea of what he looked like and how he could be such a commanding figure.

  20. Martin Willey says:

    I find the blase attitude of “who cares,” expressed by many, kind of odd. You mean you really have no curiosity what this guy looked like? I don’t think his looks are IMPORTANT, but I can’t relate to having no interest in what Joseph Smith looked like – – he is so central to my culture. My vote is “Wouldn’t it be kinda cool if it was him.”

  21. Bill Anderson says:

    My memory could be making this up, but in Bushman’s RSR wasn’t Joseph’s appearance in Nauvoo described as aged or worn, possibly as a result of his being tarred & feathered and being sick? The face in that photo looks awfully ‘fresh’.

    I voted “dunno,” but I would like to know if it’s authentic. Putting a face with the name makes it more real to me– I’m one of those that always skips ahead in a biography to the middle where the author often puts all the pictures.

  22. cj douglass says:

    Look at the death masks…the photo is a fake.

  23. How is the photo a fake? A death mask put the entirety of a face against the equivalant of a glass window. It is the death mask itself that distorts the face to begin with.
    The only thing you can get, with assurity, from a death mask is bone structure, and a general idea of certian facial characteristics. Remember, the person under the death mask is, well, dead. This means that the blood is not flowing and is pulled downward by gravity.
    Take a look at the post-mordem pictures of JFK during his autopsy. He looks very different than in life…and there was no death mask to further distort his facial appearance.

    Finally, not a one of us has seen a picture of Joseph Smith until now. Yes, there is the “geisha dag” of some years ago, but that looks strange and unhuman, at best. But other than that, we have seen nothing but paintings; and most of them painted long after his death.

    The picture is probably the real thing. It is us that have to wrap our arms around the possibility of him not looking like what we were all raised to believe. Whether the picture is real or not, our own perception of a man we have never seen is the biggest distortion of Joseph Smith.

  24. A few points:

    1) This “Justin” is not me
    2) This “Justin” needs to adopt a new handle (I’ve been commenting on BCC as Justin for years).
    3) I do not endorse comment #23

  25. The problem with the photo is its provenance. I talked to the director of Community of Christ historic sites who acquired the collection that includes this photo in the 1990s. It came with other early Mormon material and the original owner believed that she was a descendant of Joseph Smith. The problem was she wasn’t. If a photo had been taken of Joseph, why would it be in the possession of some random Mormon family?

    So, what we have is a photo from the time period. The young man in the image is wearing clothes like Joseph’s and looks like Joseph, except that he seems too young. In my book, a strike like the “too young” thing when coupled with the provenance makes this seem unlikely. It’s a shame, because it’d be a wonderful image to have, but I don’t buy it as Joseph.

  26. I must admit to a great deal of curiosity and hope that this is a picture of Joseph. He looks a lot more prophetic than the guy in the Work and the Glory movie who plays Joseph.

    And as far as “veneration of relics” I know that relics have no saving virtue, but there is a thrill that comes from handling objects that Joseph handled. Most people really enjoy seeing and touching these things. For example, I have a Deseret Reader that was published by the Church when they were trying to start their own language. That was a bit after Joseph’s time, but people are fascinated by it.

    If that picture could be documented authentic, its commercial value would be outrageous. Currently people that buy antique paper money will pay more for a Kirtland Bill, with Joseph’s (and Sidney’s) signature than any other paper money. Why? Because it is neat to look at! Just like looking at this picture would be so cool, if it could be documented authentic.

  27. Too bad your vote didn’t read: “It’s no way Jose”

    That would have been AWESOME.