A Story on Canvas, Paper, and Glass:
The Early Visual Images of the Hill Cumorah

In 1903 President Joseph F. Smith authorized the first purchase of a historical site linked to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Carthage Jail, the place of Joseph Smith’s and Hyrum Smith’s martyrdoms in 1844.1 during the ensuing decades of the 20th century, the church identified, purchased, marked, and restored numerous historical sites, including the hill Cumorah (as it is known today) in Manchester, New York.2 These purchases helped preserve these places for future visitors who would find their way to the sites associated with the restoration of the gospel.

Sacred Spaces

Since time immemorial, humans have found meaning and purpose in hallowing sites because of events that transpired there. Jews, for example, continue to gather and pray at the Kotel, “the [Western] Wall,” in the Old City of Jerusalem.3 Likewise, Muslims hold sacred an area near this spot because of its association with the Prophet Muhammad (the rock under the Dome of the Rock).4 Such sites offer an opportunity for pilgrims to visit places that have become hallowed. As Mircea Eliade wrote, “Every sacred space implies . . . an irruption of the sacred that results in detaching a territory from the surrounding cosmic milieu and making it qualitatively different.”5

A Latter-day Saint Approach

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ have tried not to create shrines or pilgrimage sites per se. President Gordon B. Hinckley articulated what the Latter-day Saint perspective should be regarding our own sacred historical sites when he dedicated sites in Palmyra in 1998: “They’re not shrines. We don’t worship them, but we respect them and honor them and like the common feel of the spirit that’s to be found in them. . . . Our roots are here.”6

In fact, the burgeoning interest in church historical sites manifested by North American Saints should be understood in the context of American culture. U.S. and Canadian citizens enjoy visiting museums and historical sites. American Latter-day Saints, sharing similar interests, often combine a visit to church historical sites with a visit to significant American historical sites. Like other religious people in the United States who make such visits, Latter-day Saints often experience deep religious attachment to sacred places where significant events occurred.

Word Pictures of Cumorah (1830s)

In the early 19th century, however, relatively few people traveled for tourism or pleasure. The few who were able to visit sites associated with the early years of Mormonism naturally provided word pictures or visual presentations for those, both the curious and the devout, who did not have the opportunity to visit the sites.

Of all these sites, the Hill Cumorah stands out because of its natural prominence in the religious and physical landscape of western New York. W. W. Phelps wrote: “Cumorah . . . must become as famous among the latter day saints, as Sinai was among the former day saints . . . [a] glorious spot!—sacred depository! out of thee came the glad tidings which will rejoice thousands! . . . Cumorah . . . is well calculated to stand in this generation, as a monument of marvelous works and wonders.”7

The hill is a primary connection to the Latter-day Saints’ sacred past for several reasons. Most obviously, Joseph Smith obtained the sacred record, published as the Book of Mormon, from this site. In addition, 19th- and many 20th-century Saints associated the hill with the final battles between the Nephites and Lamanites (Cumorah) and the site of the final battles of the Jaredites (Ramah), both mentioned in the Book of Mormon (see Mormon 6:2; Ether 15:11). Furthermore, the hill’s concrete nature—it cannot be burned or torn down, it cannot be moved—gives a certain defined boundary to the events of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

Oliver Cowdery, who visited the hill in 1830, provided members of the church with one of the earliest descriptions of the hill. This was printed in several letters published in the church’s newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate, in Kirtland, beginning in February 1835.8 In a subsequent letter, Cowdery included a reference to the size of the hill, mentioned in most accounts: “I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.”9

Similar word pictures emerged during the next decades—each providing varying details regarding the changing face of Cumorah but all noting its shape and size. Certainly one of the reasons that Latter-day Saints took the time to record descriptions and capture visual images of Cumorah is best summarized by one visitor in the early 1880s: “I presume no Latter-day Saint has ever visited the Hill Cumorah but that he felt impressed to thank God for the principles which came forth from it.”10

The First Visual Image of Cumorah (1841)

Non-Mormons John Warner Barber (1798–1885) and Henry Howe (1816–93) gave to the public the first visual representation of Cumorah when they published their Historical Collections of the State of New York in 1841.11 Barber and Howe traveled throughout New York State gathering material for their book, traversing thousands of miles (hundreds of it on foot).

The 230 illustrations that make this historical record so distinctive were prepared from original “drawings taken on the spot by the compilers of the work,” whose principal object “was to give faithful representations, rather than picturesque views, or beautiful specimens of art.”12

The Hill Cumorah Fences (1841–1935)

When comparing visual images of the Hill Cumorah from 1841 (the first visual image) through 1935 (when the Hill Cumorah Monument was dedicated), it becomes obvious that a close examination of fence construction can provide a clue to dating the images. The first fences to appear on and around the hill are split-rail fences (see image 1 opposite). The next type appears to be a post and rail fence (see image 11a). At some time, wire fences were introduced (see image 8). The final development is the addition of a picket fence (see image 9). One problem, however, was that sections of the fence line may have been replaced piecemeal. As a result, a photograph can depict three of the four fence types in one image (see image 8).

Departure from Cumorah (1831–47)

By 1841, when a woodcut of “The Mormon Hill” appeared in print (image 1), the church had moved from its birthplace in New York, setting up its headquarters on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois and gathering converts from Canada, the United States, and the British Isles.15

The physical distance between the body of the church and the hill continued to increase as time passed. By 1847 church headquarters were located in Salt Lake City, some 2,000 miles from Cumorah. Even though the Saints were busy building a new society in the West, church leaders, some of whom were well acquainted with the topographical landscape of the restoration of the gospel, continued to recall the places and stories of the early days of the restoration. The words of these leaders helped to further define the hill as a sacred place, etching it forever in the Saints’ minds as a holy place—as Phelps suggested, a veritable Mount Sinai.16

The First Photograph of Cumorah (1853)/p>

Shortly after Cowdery began to publish his descriptions of Cumorah in 1834, Louis Jacques Mand Daguerre announced the first fully successful and feasible photographic process—named daguerreotype after him—to the French Academy of Science, in January 1839. This was a powerful new medium, allowing photographic images of people, places, and events. With this new technology available, it was inevitable that eventually someone would take camera in hand and capture the famous Mormon landmark where Joseph Smith found the golden plates.17

The earliest documented photograph of Cumorah was an early daguerreotype, taken in the fall of 1853. While the original has been lost, the view was preserved through a printed illustration (image 2), based on the original image, which appeared in the popular Frank Leslie’s New Family Magazine in February 1858, a period when the American public’s attention was focused on Utah Territory during the so-called Utah War (1857–58).

Frank Leslie (1821–80) had been the superintendent of the Engraving Department of the famous Illustrated London News (founded in 1842), the first successful attempt to provide readers images of people, places, and events along with written news accounts. Following his arrival in the United States, Leslie worked for several illustrated newspapers in America, including the well-known Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, where he had provided an early view of Brigham Young to the nation. Eventually, Leslie started his own publishing empire, including the Frank Leslie’s New Family Magazine. Over the next 20 years, Leslie’s illustrated newspapers highlighted the Latter-day Saint movement and its key figures, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.18 His efforts to provide images and text together, like other publishers of the period, were based on taking original photographs (at first daguerreotypes and later albumen prints) and making, by hand, woodcuts and steel engravings that could be reproduced in his newspapers.

Leslie not only provided his readers an early view of Cumorah, and the earliest view based on a photograph, he provided subscribers contextual information about the view of the famous hill: “By the kindness of H. K. Heydon, Esq., living at Newark, Wayne co., New York, we are able to present to our readers a daguerreotype view of the spot where the plates were buried, and subsequently exhumed. Mr. Heydon says that the view was taken by him in the fall of 1853. The hill is on the plank road leading from Palmyra to Canandaigua, and just four miles from the first named place. The view is of the north side, which is the highest and steepest part, as the hill running south gradually descends until it is lost in the plains. Joe Smith dug in the earth, but says he found the plates while ploughing. The hole, at the time the daguerreotype was taken, was still visible (it can be just seen in our engraving, on the right of the house, as you ascend the hill); though most filled up, there was a little knoll and a slight depression still apparent in the sod. The authenticity of the picture makes it deservedly interesting. Strange to say, although Joe Smith, according to his own statement, had seen the plates, he was not permitted to obtain possession of them until the 22d of September 1827, and then, not until after a great deal of negotiation between him and the angel, were they placed in his possession.”19

Following the time of Daguerre’s announcement in 1839, many woodcuts and steel engravings appearing in newspapers and books were actually based on photographs. However, once an image was in the possession of an engraver, there was no guarantee that the finished product would be a perfect replica of the original. Without the original, it is impossible to know if this illustration is an exact copy or not.

An LDS Visual Image of Cumorah (1878)

The first Latter-day Saint artist to paint the Hill Cumorah, whose works survive, was C. C. A. Christensen. His interpretation, completed in 1878, was an effort to help the Saints visualize the sacred story they knew so well. As Richard L. Jensen and Richard G. Oman note, “C. C. A. Christensen helped Latter-day Saints see their religious history in biblical terms. The parallel with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai [and Joseph Smith receiving the ancient record from Moroni on Cumorah] is obvious.”20

Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831–1912) was a Danish immigrant and one of several first-generation artists in Utah to utilize the panorama phenomenon, an art form that was popular in both the United States and Europe during the middle- and late-19th century. C. C. A., as he was known, attended the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen before joining the church in 1850. He made his way to Utah in 1857, eventually settling in Sanpete County. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, C. C. A. began creating four panoramas dealing with religious subject matter. His best known, “Mormon Panorama,” depicts the early history of the church.

Apparently, C. C. A. did not actually visit any of the church history sites from the Joseph Smith period (such as Liberty Jail, Carthage Jail, and the Nauvoo Temple). The fact that in some cases his paintings closely depict the actual sites suggests that he carefully read eyewitness accounts, spoke with individuals who had seen the sites, and looked at earlier illustrations of some of the places before painting his panorama.21

Once completed, “Mormon Panorama” contained 23 panels. This series of paintings was stitched together vertically to form one continuous canvas roll, allowing C. C. A. to present his panorama to an audience by scrolling through the scenes as he narrated the events. He also involved his audience in singing specific hymns corresponding with scenes from the panorama. By allowing the audience to participate in this way, C. C. A. was able to bring his paintings to life, helping the audience feel as if they were present at the locations and events unfolding before them.

The second panel of the panorama focuses on Joseph Smith obtaining the plates in September 1827 (image 3). It is human nature, perhaps, that people wanted to know the exact location where Joseph found the plates. Although the Prophet provided a general description of the location during his lifetime (see Joseph Smith—History 1:51), contemporary sources indicate that he may have been even more specific, allowing associates to visit the exact location.22

One tradition identifying the exact site continued to be passed along among church members. As a result, many photographs that seem to be simply group photos are actually an effort to document the group’s presence at the exact spot where the ancient record was found. Most of these photographs focus on an area about two-thirds of the way up the hill on the west side, near the north end. Similarly, C. C. A. drew the attention of his audience to this specific depiction of Cumorah, focusing on the traditional spot where Joseph met Moroni in 1827.23

Another Photograph of Cumorah (1880)

Another early photograph of Cumorah was taken in May 1880 by an unknown photographer at the behest of Franklin D. Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was visiting church history sites at the time. Junius Free Wells (1854–1930) and Edward Stevenson (1820–97) produced engravings of the hill based on Richards’s photographs (images 4 and 5), and the Latter-day Saints thus had an opportunity to see versions of the photographs in print.

Franklin D. Richards visited Cumorah in May 1880 and recorded in his journal: “Good night’s rest—breakfasted early & all 5 of us took train for ‘Palmyra’ where we put up at ‘Palmyra Hotel.’ Hired a livery team & went to ‘Cumorah’—’Ramah’ then to Manchester. . . . Returned to Cumorah. Artist took 8 [3] views, 2 were pretty good.”24

When he returned to Utah, Richards reported to President John Taylor on 9 June. “Went by 9:40 train to city [Salt Lake City]—and was cordially welcomed back again by President Taylor & others in the office. Took some time to report to him the various phases of my journey, my visits & business transactions. . . . At 2 p.m. met in council with J. T. [John Taylor], O. P. [Orson Pratt], W. W. [Wilford Woodruff], D. H. W. [Daniel H. Wells], J. F. S. [Joseph F. Smith], A. C. [Albert Carrington] & reported generally my labors & travels. Showing my views of Ramah-Cumorah.”25 On the following day, Richards met with family members who had not accompanied him on the trip. “Went to Farmington by 3:40 [train] visited with the family & showed them the views of ‘Cumorah’—’Ramah’ & etc.”26

These precious photographs of Cumorah were shown to others and were made available to the general church membership for the first time in 1883 through the reproduction of one of them in the form of a steel engraving in the church’s Contributor magazine.

In his 1893 book Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, Stevenson used a painting for his illustration of the Hill Cumorah that was based on Richards’s 1880 photograph. His account provides a vivid description of the Hill Cumorah, supplemented imaginatively: “Just for a moment cast your eye on the engraving, which is the one of my choice, exhibiting, as it does, a north front, and to my mind the most lovely view of all.”27 He continues: “The one presented is from a painting made from a photograph which Apostle F. D. Richards had taken while on a visit to this historic hill and country. Some cows and other additions have been made to the picture, such as the carriage conveying the visitors along the road way by the fence, to the house, where the owner of the hill and surroundings lives. But the main features of the hill are true presentations of it.”28

Exactly how close the painting Stevenson used is to the original photograph may never be known, as Richards’s entire collection of photographs taken of Cumorah in 1880 has disappeared.

An Early Photograph of Cumorah (1889)

Until H. K. Heydon’s and Franklin D. Richards’s photographs are found, the earliest photographic view of Cumorah available is most likely one taken by the Syracuse, New York, photographic partnership of Smith and Coatsworth.

Frank G. Smith (ca. 1856–1932) and Edward E. Coatsworth (ca. 1841–?) were partners from 1889 until 1894 or 1895. Like other portrait photographers of the period, they indulged in landscape photography as well. One or both of them traveled the 60 miles from their home in Syracuse to Manchester, New York, where they captured the famous Mormon historical site in the fall of 1889.33

Sixty-seven years later, Elizabeth Power Smith donated this historic image (image 6), along with two other early images of Cumorah (images 12a and 12b), to the Ontario County Historical Society in Canandaigua, New York. These images were passed down through her family until she donated them to the historical society in April 1957.34

Another LDS Painting of Cumorah (1892)

In the early 1890s, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ commissioned several Utah artists to create paintings, including mural work, for the nearly completed Salt Lake Temple.35 Among those who were offered commissions was Alfred Lambourne (1850–1926). Lambourne, like C. C. A. Christensen, was an immigrant convert to the church. He left his native England for Utah when he was 16 years old. Lambourne eventually contributed two paintings for the Salt Lake Temple, “The Hill Cumorah” in New York and “Adam-ondi-Ahman” in Missouri.36

Unlike C. C. A., Lambourne went to the sites he painted, returning from his epic trip to church history sites on 29 September 1892.37 The Deseret Evening News noted: “Mr. Alfred Lambourne, the well-known Utah artist, has just returned from an extensive trip. He visited New York, Boston, Salem, Albany, Rochester, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Chicago. . . . But the most interesting of all the places he had an opportunity of viewing was the Hill Cumorah and Adam-ondi-ah-man. . . . Mr. Lambourne made elaborate sketches of each, and the result of his eastern trip will be productive of artistic results.”38

Lambourne visited President Wilford Woodruff in mid-November 1892 to show him the completed work.39 The aging church president noted: “I spent the day in the office. Met with Several Brethren. I had a view of the painting By Alfred Lambourne of the Hill Comorah which was a Beautiful painting.”40

The painting shows the hill at the break of dawn, allowing Lambourne to use the sunlight to symbolize how the message of the Book of Mormon, like the sunrise, breaks forth and scatters “the dark clouds of night.”41 Additionally, he used the wind, as seen by the moving clouds, swaying trees, and falling leaves, to demonstrate the strife42 associated with Cumorah—not only the strife of past ages, as detailed in the Book of Mormon, but also that which began in earnest the night Joseph Smith obtained the plates. Additionally, Lambourne used the fall scenery to remind the viewer that Joseph Smith’s yearly visits occurred in late September.43

Grazing on the Hill (1895)

Charles Levi Joy (1869–1943) began his photographic career in American Fork, Utah, and eventually continued his business in Salt Lake City in 1915. Sometime in the mid-1890s, Joy took his 8 x 10 view camera to New York and captured the hill during the middle stage of its three important modern phases. The first phase was the 1820s, when the hill was virtually a pristine site where Joseph found the ancient records. The second phase, which is shown here, was the period of human exploitation, when the wood was already harvested and the hill was being used to graze animals to support a working farm. The third phase, which began after the church’s purchase of the hill, was an attempt to reforest the hill to provide visitors with a sense of what it was like when Joseph visited there in 1823 and simultaneously to offer access to the story of the hill via walkways, a monument, and a visitors’ center.

Besides highlighting the grazing of sheep and some horses, Joy provided a window to the stages of development of the fences that divided the land. Joy’s photograph preserves a view of the much earlier split-rail fence, which intersected a wire fence that cuts across the hill diagonally. Note the post and rail fences at the base of the hill and the nearly parallel fence line above it (following a farm road, hidden by the tall grasses of the field in the foreground). Finally, his photograph shows two separate wire fences: one with a board base, the fence running diagonally across the hill; and one with a rock base, near where he set up his photographic equipment.

Additionally, Joy’s large-format print demonstrates a typical practice of photographers from this period. Note the printed words “The Hill Cumorah copyrighted by C. L. Joy,” which appear as part of the print. Joy did not add these words to the print; they were part of the information etched into the emulsion on the original glass plate negative, allowing him to provide contextual and interpretative information to the viewer.

A Mass-Market Image of Cumorah (1904)

At the turn of the 20th century, news and feature articles and accompanying visual illustrations about the church were usually negative, especially during the period of the Reed Smoot Senate hearings (1904–6).45 However, the largest collection of surviving American stereoscopic photographs includes a 1904 set of articles and illustrations about Mormon historical sites, surprisingly free of libel and scorn, titled “The Latter Day Saints’ Tour from Palmyra, New York to Salt Lake City, Utah through the Stereoscope.”47 In fact, through its selection of subjects and details, the non-Mormon firm of Underwood and Underwood subtly reshaped the Mormon image by placing it squarely in the mainstream of American values—no longer emphasizing the differences between Utah and the rest of the nation but rather the similarities between them.

Stereoscopic images are two slightly different views of the same scene that, when viewed side by side through a stereoscope—an instrument with two eyepieces—create a three-dimensional effect in a single image. Scenes that appear flat and uninteresting as simple photographs assume three-dimensional reality in stereo. Millions of armchair travelers enjoyed countless hours of entertainment from this medium, many taking their first look at the world beyond their own neighborhoods.

The boxed set of 29 views from Underwood and Underwood was photographed and marketed three years before Utah photographer George Edward Anderson’s celebrated pilgrimage to church historic sites in 1907.

In light of Mormonism’s changing status in America, both the creation and the content of these stereographs are historically important. The “Latter Day Saints’ Tour” was the first attempt by a professional photographer to document the Latter-day Saint movement from New York to the Great Basin and provided non—Latter-day Saints with one of the few friendly views of Mormon history at the time.

The Joseph Smith Centennial Party View of Cumorah (1905)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth, in December 1905, President Joseph F. Smith invited several church leaders and family members to join him on a trip to Sharon, Vermont, where he dedicated the Joseph Smith Memorial. They visited other church sites during their travels, including the Hill Cumorah.

The longtime owner of the hill, Admiral William T. Sampson, had died recently in 1902. During the following year (1903), his widow deeded the property to Pliny T. Sexton. Admiral Sampson’s brother, George Sampson, lived as a tenant on the property at the time of the visit of Joseph F. Smith party in 1905. Edith Smith, one of President Smith’s daughters, wrote this description of the trip: “Arriving at the [George] Sampson home near the foot of the hill, we were informed that the gentleman was not at home, but his wife, though somewhat reluctantly, gave her consent [to visit]. Pres. [Francis M.] Lyman suggested we climb the steepest part at the north end. It proved to be quite a climb. . . . From the summit we found we had a fine view of the surrounding country. . . . Some pictures were taken.”49

Edith Smith also provided a clue about the individual responsible for the photographs taken on the trip: “George A. took quite a number of Kodak pictures.”50 George Albert Smith (1870–1951), one of the memorial trip organizers and one of the Twelve Apostles, brought along his Kodak camera.51 Edith also mentioned another photographer among the group, Benjamin Goddard (1851–1930), manager of the Salt Lake City Bureau of Information.52 However, a careful examination of the image suggests George Albert Smith was the photographer, because he does not appear to be in the photograph.

A Postcard of Cumorah (1905)

Plain postcards appeared in the United States as early as 1841, followed by the first government postcards in 1873.53 America’s first official picture postcards were sold at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Between 1901 and 1907, the so-called “undivided back” postcard era began. These postcards often displayed a photograph on one side (usually designated as the front) and a space for only an address on the other side (usually identified as the back). It was against the law to write a message on the address side, so people often wrote over the image on the front side of the postcard.

Two Different Views of the Hill (1906)

Elizabeth Power Smith, as noted previously, donated three images of Cumorah to the Ontario County Historical Society in Canandaigua, New York (see image 6). Two of the three do not have a date or photographer’s name associated with them. The photographic images (5 5/8 x 3 7/8) are glued onto the same decorated card stock (7 x 6). Their exact date is unknown; however, a careful examination of the fences shown in one of the two images (image 12b) suggests a date around 1906.

From Gold Plates to Glass Plates (1907)

Within two years, another pilgrim made his way to the sites associated with Joseph Smith’s ministry. George Edward Anderson (1860–1928) was not the first photographer to dream of a complete photographic record of the rise of the Church of Jesus Christ, but he was the first professional Latter-day Saint photographer to travel from the West to the East to begin the effort. He is arguably the most important photographer of church historical sites to date, both in number of photographs and their quality.

Anderson was called to serve as a full-time missionary to Great Britain and took the opportunity, with approval from the Brethren, to make a photographic record of church history sites on his way. These photographs were important for a Utah-born generation of church members who had heard the stories of the early Saints but who were generally unable to visit the sites where the events took place.

Anderson, known as Ed or Eddy throughout his life, carried with him the heavy camera and glass plates of his trade in what would become a nearly seven-year odyssey before returning home to Springville, Utah. He spent one year photographing historic sites in the United States (1907–8), three years in Great Britain as a missionary (1908–11), and nearly two more years continuing his photographic work in the United States (1911–13) before finally returning to Utah.

After traversing the dew-laden fields, packing his heavy 8 x 10 view camera, he noted in his diary, “Rose before sunup, and by the time the rays lit up the landscape, I had my camera from the other side of the hill (where I left it last night) and ready to make pictures. Made several negatives from different points. . . . One or two more negatives of the hill and visited the top.”56

Unlike the landscape artist, Anderson was enthralled by the capability of photographs to show a person, place, or event realistically—instead of the idealized view often found in paintings. However, Anderson, like other photographers of the period, was frustrated by the fact that his photographs could not replicate the natural colors of his views. He finished his entry for 14 August 1905: “Need the painter’s hand to do it justice and fix the colors.”

Another Postcard of Cumorah (1910)

Beginning in 1907, the “divided back” postcard era began, when the U.S. government allowed the address side of postcards to be divided into two sections (one for the address and the other reserved for written messages; see image 15b).

During this period, some companies, including the Rochester News Company in Rochester, New York, obtained several images of Cumorah and reproduced them over and over again. One photograph with three individuals (two standing and one seated) is found in several formats, including a black-and-white photograph that had been tinted, giving it the appearance of a color photograph, a later development in the photographic process.

An Early RLDS View (1912)

Due to the establishment of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1860 (RLDS—known today as the Community of Christ), another group emerged claiming a special connection with Cumorah. RLDS membership included those who had been members of the Church of Jesus Christ during the Joseph Smith period, a new generation born to those early members, and new converts. Like Latter-day Saints from the West, RLDS members made their way to the Hill Cumorah, and in their turn provided word pictures of their own.57

Members of the RLDS Church were also interested in producing visual images of church history sites. One of the earliest images in the Community of Christ Library—Archives is dated 22 October 1912 (image 16). The first printed view of the Hill Cumorah in an RLDS publication appeared in 1914 and was based on a late 1890s photograph (see image 11a).58

The Bean Family Album (1915–39)

In 1915 Willard and Rebecca Bean were called by President Joseph F. Smith to oversee the Smith farm in Manchester (Palmyra area), recently purchased by the church.59 The presence of this Latter-day Saint family and the subsequent purchase of the Hill Cumorah by the church between 1923 and 1928 provided a new period of visitation, commemoration, and documentation of the site.

The following photographs (images 17 and 18) are taken from the Bean family photograph album in possession of Palmyra Bean Packer. She was born shortly after Willard and Rebecca arrived in New York (hence her first name). Presumably, these photographs were taken by Willard Bean (1868–1949).

Another LDS View of Cumorah (1920)

In 1910 New York native William Samuel Kline (1876–1961) established Fellowcrafts Shop in Albany, New York, where he did portrait and landscape photography. He and his family (wife Almira Heeney Kline and son Mitchell Heeney Kline) joined the Church of Jesus Christ on 28 April 1918.60 Soon thereafter, William turned his camera toward Manchester. During the second and third decades of the 20th century, Kline’s Fellowcrafts Shop produced dozens of images of people and events associated with the church historic sites and celebrations in New York, including Cumorah (see image 19).

Cumorah at the Centennial (1923)

Elbert Aoriul Smith (1871–1959), the son of David Hyrum Smith (Joseph and Emma Smith’s son born after the martyrdom), shared an interest in the arts with his father. David Hyrum captured scenes in Nauvoo through a paintbrush, and Elbert captured church history scenes through the lens of his camera. His photograph of the Hill Cumorah (image 20) is one of the earliest images taken by an avid RLDS photographer.61

Lantern Glass Slide (1920s)

Ten years following Daguerre’s astonishing announcement in Paris, lantern glass slides were introduced, allowing the recently discovered medium of photography to be seen in an entirely new format.62 As a transparent slide projected onto a surface, the photograph could now be viewed not only by individuals and small groups but also by a large audience. The new larger scale expanded the utility of photographs, changing the result from an intimate medium to one that was appropriate for entertainment and educational purposes. The lantern glass slides eventually had great impact on educational lectures because everyone could simultaneously view the topic of discussion.

One of the earliest views of Cumorah preserved in this format is located in the W. O. Hands glass slide collection, housed in the Community of Christ Library—Archives in Independence, Missouri.63 Hands, a dedicated member of the RLDS Church, received permission from RLDS Church president Fredrick M. Smith to tour RLDS congregations in the central states and Canada to deliver a lecture series, including “a 40 min. slide talk on the History of our church.”64 During 73 exhausting days, Hands traveled as a volunteer missionary, delivering his three-hour-long lecture series some 63 times. He finally returned home to Kansas City on 23 March 1931, having traveled nearly 5,000 miles.65

The Hill Cumorah (1935)

Three factors contributed to the proliferation of photographic images of Cumorah beginning in the 1920s. First, increasingly inexpensive photographic costs, including small, handheld cameras, allowed nonprofessional photographers to utilize the new invention. Second, the increased mobility of North American Saints meant that more and more of them traveled to church history sites. Third, the increasing financial independence of the Church of Jesus Christ allowed church leaders to purchase the Hill Cumorah in sections over a period of five years (1923–28).

The centennial celebrations of 1923 and 1927 and the dedication of the Hill Cumorah Monument in 1935 continued to raise the awareness and interest of the Saints in the New York sites associated with the restoration.66 As a result, during the ensuing decades hundreds of thousands of people visited this site, many producing images of Cumorah now housed in private and institutional holdings throughout North America.

The face of the Hill Cumorah changed as human contact left its indelible mark during the 19th and early 20th centuries, changed forever from the condition seen by Joseph Smith in the 1820s. Following the church’s purchase of the hill, Willard Bean began the process of reforestation in 1928—attempting to recapture the appearance of the hill as Joseph Smith first encountered it more than 100 years earlier. Additional improvement projects completed during this time included two flagstone paths and a 6 percent grade road to the summit allowing easy access to the top of Cumorah by the increasing number of visitors. The result was a dramatic change in what photographers and visitors encountered when they came to Manchester following the important decades of the 1920s and 1930s.

Many of the images in this article—along with the Hill Cumorah Pageant (“America’s Witness for Christ”), hymns such as “An Angel from on High,”67 the repetition of the sacred story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Mormon itself—will ensure that the light breaking forth from the Hill Cumorah will continue to brighten our religious landscape. As W. W. Phelps wrote so many years ago, the hill in New York will “stand in this generation, as a monument of marvelous works and wonders.”68


  1. See T. Jeffery Cottle and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “Historical Sites,” in Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 502–4.
  2. For a discussion of when, why, and how the New York hill became associated with the Book of Mormon place-names Cumorah and Ramah, as well as with the site where Joseph Smith found the sacred record in 1820, see Cameron J. Packer, “A Study of the Hill Cumorah: A Significant Latter-day Saint Landmark in Western New York” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2002), 38–49. See also John E. Clark, “Archaeology and Cumorah Questions,” in this issue of JBMS.
  3. “For centuries this section was called the Wailing Wall; Jews from the adjoining Jewish Quarter came there to pray and to lament the destruction of the Temple [in ad 70 by the Romans]. . . . The great stones of the lower part of the wall have drafted margins in the characteristic Herodian style. They formed part of the retaining wall built by Herod the Great in 20 bc to support the esplanade of the Temple.” Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), 96–97.
  4. “The Dome of the Rock, begun in ad 688 and finished in 691, is the first major sanctuary built by Islam. It is also the only one to have survived essentially intact. . . . According to current Arab tradition, the purpose of the Umayyad caliph Adb al-Malik in building the Dome of the Rock was to commemorate Muhammad’s Ascension into heaven after his night journey to Jerusalem (Sura XVII).” Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 85.
  5. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1959), 26.
  6. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Palmyra Sites,” Ensign, May 1998, 117.
  7. W. W. Phelps, “Letter No. 12,” Messenger and Advocate 2 (November 1835): 221.
  8. Oliver Cowdery, “The Following Communication,” Messenger and Advocate 1 (February 1835): 80; see also Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” Messenger and Advocate 1 (July 1835): 158–59; and Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VIII,” Messenger and Advocate 2 (October 1835): 195–96. For some of the important early descriptions of Cumorah see Martin Raish, “Encounters with Cumorah: A Selected, Annotated Bibliography,” in this issue of JBMS. Sometimes the titles “Mormon Hill” and “Gold Bible Hill” are used interchangeably in early publications in references to the Hill Cumorah.
  9. Oliver Cowdery, “Letter VII,” Messenger and Advocate 1 (July 1835): 158.
  10. R. W. Young, “In the Wake of the Church,” Contributor 4 (October 1882): 20.
  11. John W. Barber and Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the State of New York; Containing a General Collection of the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c. Relating to Its History and Antiquities, with Geographical Descriptions of Every Township in the State (New York: John W. Barber and Henry Howe by S. Tuttle, 1841).
  12. Barber and Howe, Historical Collections, 4.
  13. Published in John W. Barber and Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of the State of New York; Containing a General Collection of the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c. Relating to Its History and Antiquities, with Geographical Descriptions of Every Township in the State (New York: John W. Barber and Henry Howe by S. Tuttle, 1841), 582.
  14. Larry C. Porter, with the aid of the Global Positioning System (GPS), provides this estimate; see LaMar C. Berrett, ed., Sacred Places: A Comprehensive Guide to Early LDS Historical Sites, vol. 2, New York and Pennsylvania (Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 2000), 155.
  15. Beginning in the 1850s, several illustrated histories of the Mormons began to appear. In most cases, representations of the Hill Cumorah did not match descriptions provided by Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery nor the 1841 woodcut by Barber and Howe; see Charles Mackay, The Mormons, or Latter-day Saints: A Contemporary History (London: Office of the National Illustrated Library, 1851), 18; Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormons (New York: Appleton, 1867), frontispiece; and T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons (New York: Appleton, 1873), 19.
  16. Phelps, “Letter No. 12,” 221.
  17. The earliest views were one-of-a-kind images—daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes with no negatives being created for reproduction. Done mostly under the extreme control of a studio setting, images using these photographic methods rarely showed outdoor scenes or events. Later, beginning in 1850, albumen printing became the primary method of making photographic images from glass-plate negatives. The development of the glass-plate negative radically changed the photographic world. By the 1860s, this process was the most popular way of capturing people, places, and events until George Eastman produced the gelatin dry plate method in 1878.
  18. See Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and R. Q. Shupe, Brigham Young: Images of a Mormon Prophet (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Eagle Gate and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University 2000), 125–26, 302.
  19. See Frank Leslie’s New Family Magazine, vol. 2, no. 2 (Feb. 1858): 114–15.
  20. Richard L. Jensen and Richard G. Oman, C. C. A. Christensen, 1831–1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist: An Exhibition at the Museum of Church History and Art (Salt Lake City: Museum of Church History and Art, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1984), 92.
  21. Richard G. Oman, Museum of Church History and Art curator, notes, “C. C. A. [Christensen] mentioned that he talked to many eye witnesses.” He adds in another communication written later in the day: “I have always wondered if [C. C. A. Christensen] had seen the now missing series of history paintings associated with Philo Dibble. Those would have been some of the earliest visual images of early mid west L.D.S. history.” Richard G. Oman to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, 26 July 2004.
  22. See Packer, “A Study of the Hill Cumorah,” 33–37.
  23. C. C. A. did produce additional images of Cumorah. See the photograph of a gathering in the Ephraim Tabernacle around 1894 where C. C. A.’s large painting of the Hill Cumorah is visible (Jensen and Oman, C. C. A. Christensen, 1831–1912, p. 25). Additionally, there are two other examples of Moroni delivering the plates to Joseph Smith (see Jensen and Oman, C. C. A. Christensen, 1831–1912, pp. 72 and 85). One of these (found on p. 85), entitled “Moroni Delivering the Plates to Joseph Smith,” depicts Moroni handing Joseph Smith the golden plates with a dark Hill Cumorah in the background.
  24. Franklin D. Richards, journal, 12 May 1880, Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter cited as Church Archives); extracts copied from digital images of the journal from Richard E. Turley Jr., ed. and prod., Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2002), DVD pt. 34, box 3, vol. 28.
  25. Franklin D. Richards, journal, 9 June 1880; see n. 24 above.
  26. Franklin D. Richards, journal, 10 June 1880; see n. 24 above.
  27. Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Stevenson, 1893), 10–11.
  28. Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, 11.
  29. Published in the Contributor 5 (October 1883), frontispiece.
  30. Junius F. Wells, “The Three Witnesses,” Contributor 5 (October 1883): 35.
  31. Published in Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Stevenson, 1893), 9.
  32. A review of a Palmyra newspaper does indicate that early November 1889 was mild. “The weather this week has been cool, but splendid fall weather nevertheless. . . . Yesterday (Thursday) the sun was as bright as in June, and the air all that goes to make a fall day delicious.” See Palmyra Courier, 8 November 1889, 2.
  33. The notice of the partnership of Smith and Coatsworth first appears in an 1890 Syracuse city directory. Apparently the partnership dissolved in 1894 or 1895, and in 1902 Coatsworth left Syracuse. See Sarah A. Kozma to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, personal communication, 29 July 2004.
  34. Donor information is found on the back of all three images. Elizabeth Power Smith (Mrs. Arthur C. Smith) donated these images, which at one time belonged to Wayne and Anna Warfield Power. The Powers were married in Syracuse in 1897 and most likely brought the images with them to Ontario County. Why the family collected images of Cumorah is an intriguing question requiring further research. See David Dilts to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, personal communication, 28 July 2004; see also Jane Wolfe to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, personal communication, 30 July 2004.
  35. See Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Every Stone a Sermon: The Magnificent Story of the Construction and Dedication of the Salt Lake Temple (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992), 35–36.
  36. Lambourne produced two copies of each painting. They are both “identical except that one is rectangular and the other set is rectangular with an arched top. The sizes are about the same. The perfectly rectangular paintings are on exhibit in the Museum [of Church History and Art]. The arch topped ones are still in the Salt Lake Temple.” Richard G. Oman to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, 21 July 2004.
  37. “In the Interest of Art,” Deseret Evening News, 29 September 1892, 2.
  38. “In the Interest of Art,” 2.
  39. The painting has been dated usually to 1893; see Richard G. Oman and Robert O. Davis, Images of Faith: Art of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), 21. However, primary sources, including Wilford Woodruff’s journal cited below and a “Chronological Listing of Paintings, 1869–1899,” compiled by the family and located in the Church Archives, indicate that the painting was completed by the fall of 1892.
  40. Wilford Woodruff, journal, 16 November 1892, Church Archives; as cited in Scott Kenny, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal Typescript (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1985), 9:227.
  41. Alfred Lambourne, Hill Cumorah Painted by Alfred Lambourne, From His Sketches Taken Directly on the Spot (n.p., n.d.), [p. 2]. A copy of this unpaginated pamphlet is located in the Church Archives.
  42. See Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “Book of Mormon, opposition to,” in Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 2003), 129–32.
  43. Lambourne, Hill Cumorah Painted by Alfred Lambourne, [pp. 2–3].
  44. Lambourne, Hill Cumorah Painted by Alfred Lambourne, [p. 1].
  45. Gary L. Bunker and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Graphic Image, 1834–1914: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations (Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press, 1983), 65–68, 121–22.
  46. Notice the interesting variant on current Mormon usage, “Cumorah Hill” in the Underwood & Underwood caption; see also “Noted Career Ends in Death of P. T. Sexton,” Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 7 September 1924, [p.1], where the term is used again.
  47. See Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “Stereographs and Stereotypes: A 1904 View of Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 18 (Fall 1992): 155–76.
  48. George Albert Smith, diary, 26 December 1905, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, microfilm copy in Church Archives. We would like to thank Ronald G. Watt, Church Archives, for providing a transcription of this entry for our use.
  49. Edith Smith, diary, 26 December 1905, Church Archives.
  50. Edith Smith, diary, 22 December 1905.
  51. George Eastman demonstrated the gelatin dry plate method (1878); introduced Eastman American Film, which is the first transparent photographic film common today (1885); produced the Kodak camera with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest,” creating the birth of snapshot photography (1888); introduced the daylight-loading camera, which meant that the photographer could now reload the camera without using a darkroom (1891); changed the company name to Eastman Kodak Company (1892); and produced the “Brownie” camera, selling it for one dollar and the film for it for 15 cents a roll (1900); information taken from the Kodak Web site, www.kodak.com (accessed 11 August 2004).
  52. “Bro Goddard attempted to obtain a picture of the [Kirtland Temple] pulpits but was asked to desist. George A asked for the privilege and was refused. Before Bro B had been discovered the Kodak had already got in its work,” Edith Smith, diary, 27 December 1905.
  53. For an overview of the history of postcards, see Tom Phillips, The Postcard Century: 2000 Cards and Their Messages (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000).
  54. Frank H. Leib first appears in the Salt Lake City directory in 1901 as residing at 247 South Second West; see R. L. Polk & Co’s Salt Lake City Directory (Salt Lake City: R. L. Polk & Co., 1901), 1352. He appears in the business section, “Lieb F. H (post cards), 203 Brooks Arcade” in R. L. Polk & Co’s Salt Lake City Directory 1908 (Salt Lake City, R. L. Polk & Co., 1908), 1352.
  55. David Dilts, e-mail message to author, 9 August 2004.
  56. George Edward Anderson, journal, 14 August 1907, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City; as cited in Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, T. Jeffery Cottle, and Ted D. Stoddard, Church History in Black and White: George Edward Anderson’s Photographic Mission to Latter-day Saint Historical Sites, 1907 Diary, 1907–8 Photographs (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1995), 167.
  57. An important early word picture was provided to RLDS readers in 1881 by one of the RLDS twelve apostles; see Wm. H. Kelley, “The Hill Cumorah, and the Book of Mormon,” Saints’ Herald 28 (1 June 1881): 162–68.
  58. Vida E. Smith, Young People’s History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Lamoni, IA: Herald Publishing House, 1914), 1:10.
  59. For a discussion of Willard and Rebecca Bean’s labors in New York, see David F. Boone, “‘A Man Raised Up’—The Role of Willard W. Bean in the Acquisition of Church History Sites in Upstate New York,” in this issue of JBMS.
  60. Record of Members, Albany Branch, Albany Conference, Eastern States Mission, Church Archives. See Kahlile Mehr to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, personal communication, 21 July 2004.
  61. In 1927 Smith wrote a pageant entitled “Remember Cumorah,” commemorating the 100th anniversary of Joseph Smith receiving the plates. The Saints’ Herald requested that “every branch should make the Sunday following September 22 a day for special service commemorating this event, and where possible the pageant should be presented.” Saints’ Herald 74 (27 July 1927): 884.
  62. During nearly 100 years, this medium was one of the ways large groups of people saw images. Only during the second half of the 20th century was it replaced when the Kodachrome three-color process made 35mm slides less expensive to produce. The views that glass slides represent are either drastically changed or no longer exist and therefore capture a moment in time.
  63. Some of the original papers were donated to the Community of Christ Library—Archives, Independence, Missouri (hereafter cited as Community of Christ Library—Archives) in 1988 by Floris M. Hands. After his death in 1996, the remaining slides with relevance to the Community of Christ were donated by Barbara Hands Bernauer, Community of Christ assistant archivist.
  64. Form letter sent to RLDS pastors dated 1 December 1930, W. O. Hands Papers, Community of Christ Library—Archives.
  65. W. O. Hands to Earl Williamson, 1 April 1931, W. O. Hands Papers, Community of Christ Library—Archives.
  66. For a discussion of the 1935 Angel Moroni Monument, see Allen Gerritsen, “The Hill Cumorah Monument: An Inspired Creation of Torleif S. Knaphus (1881–1965),” in this issue of JBMS.
  67. Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1998), no. 13.
  68. Phelps, “Letter No. 12,” 221.
  69. Roscoe A. Grover, “Moroni Lives Again,” Improvement Era, September 1935, 544.