Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Guest Post: Manifestations of the Holy Ghost vs. Practical Experience: A Historical Perspective

Guest Post: Manifestations of the Holy Ghost vs. Practical Experience: A Historical Perspective

By: Kevin Folkman - February 19, 2013

I had the occasion recently of teaching our High Priests group lesson # 4 from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow manual. It starts off with a fairly commonly related story about the visit of apostles Lorenzo Snow and Ezra T. Benson, accompanied by Joseph F. Smith and others, to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in 1864. The primary reason for the visit had to do with some irregularities in church administration by Walter Gibson, a missionary there. Here is the story as quoted by William Cluff, one of the other members of the church delegation:

In 1864, Elders Lorenzo Snow and Ezra T. Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles went on a mission to the Hawaiian Islands. They were accompanied by three other missionaries: Elders Joseph F. Smith, William Cluff, and Alma L. Smith. When their ship anchored off the coast of the island of Maui, all but Joseph F. Smith boarded a smaller boat to go ashore. As they approached the island, high waves struck, causing the steersman to lose control of the boat. The boat capsized, and all the occupants were thrown into the water. Soon everyone surfaced except Elder Snow. A group of islanders rushed to help, taking William Cluff and Alma L. Smith in a lifeboat to search for their friend. Elder Cluff related:

“The first I saw of Brother Snow was his hair floating upon the water around one end of the capsized boat. As soon as we got him into our boat, we told the boatmen to pull for the shore with all possible speed. His body was stiff, and life apparently extinct.

“Brother A. L. Smith and I were sitting side by side. We laid Brother Snow across our laps, and, on the way to shore, we quietly administered to him and asked the Lord to spare his life, that he might return to his family and home.

“On reaching the shore, we carried him a little way to some large barrels that were lying on the sandy beach. We laid him face downwards on one of them, and rolled him back and forth until we succeeded in getting the water he had swallowed out of him. …

“After working over him for some time, without any indications of returning life, the by-standers said that nothing more could be done for him. But we did not feel like giving him up, and still prayed and worked over him, with an assurance that the Lord would hear and answer our prayers.

“Finally we were impressed to place our mouth over his and make an effort to inflate his lungs, alternately blowing in and drawing out the air, imitating, as far as possible, the natural process of breathing. This we persevered in until we succeeded in inflating his lungs. After a little, we perceived very faint indications of returning life. A slight wink of the eye, which, until then, had been open and death-like, and a very faint rattle in the throat, were the first symptoms of returning vitality. These grew more and more distinct, until consciousness was fully restored.”

Looking back on this experience, Elder William Cluff knew why he and Elder Alma L. Smith were able to save Elder Snow’s life. “We did not only what was customary in such cases,” he said, “but also what the Spirit seemed to whisper to us.”1

All in all, a nice faith promoting story. However, it prompted a couple of questions in my mind, one of which I already knew the answer to, and one that I did not.

Let’s tackle the second question first. How common was the use of mouth to mouth resuscitation as described in Elder Cluff’s account?

My first look appeared to be disappointing. It turns out that mouth to mouth resuscitation, or MMV (Mouth-Mouth Ventilation in the medical libraries), first developed in Europe during the 18th centuries, and in fact became fairly common in some towns in Germany and Holland, according to Wikipedia. However, that article was a little vague concerning the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th. A Google search turned up some links to the National Institutes for Health which had a series of short articles on the history of MMV, which confirmed that indeed, MMV originated in Europe during the 18th century, only to be replaced in the 19th century in Europe by the use of bellows to inflate the lungs of drowning victims or sudden collapse (think Miracle Max in the Princess Bride). However, even this began to fade as the 19th century wore on, and by the 20th century, especially in the United States, most practices centered on lung compression and inflation via techniques such as the arm-lift and back press type, regularly taught by the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts (“Out goes the bad air, in comes the good air”). It was not until the 1950’s that MMV began to see a resurgence, and become the standard means of resuscitation for drowning victims.2

So for a conclusion, it is extremely unlikely that either Benson or Cluff had any knowledge of MMV, and resorted to what was then best practice; in this case, rolling Elder Snow across a barrel to empty his lungs of water. No doubt that this did clear his lungs, but it did not start his breathing. It is not at all a stretch to see the manifestations of the Holy Ghost in this incident, saving Elder Snow’s life.

But the first question is still out there, and maybe it has occurred to you. Did you notice that Joseph F. Smith didn’t get in the smaller boat, but stayed on the ship? Do you know why?

Joseph F. Smith had already served a four year mission in Hawaii, and had made the crossing from Oahu to Maui a number of times, and knew of the particular circumstances of a rough sea, a current that swirled around the jetty near the harbor, and the difficulties of landing in a small boat at certain times. He advised the captain and Apostles Snow and Benson not to get in the boat, but wait until conditions settled down. However, the captain and the Apostles decided to go anyway, along with Elders Cluff and Alma Smith. Joseph F., however, would not get in the boat, and elected to stay on the ship. I don’t know, and it isn’t reported, exactly how the conversation went, but knowing enough about Joseph F. Smith at this still fairly young age, he likely said things along the line of “You’re crazy to get in that boat! You’ll drown!” As senior companions, Snow and Benson may have laughed and called him chicken. At least I would like to think so. But the bottom line is that Joseph F. Smith, acceding to the seniority of his priesthood leaders (also very characteristic of him), let them go, but elected not to go himself until later. Somewhat begrudgingly, they did agree to leave their luggage until later, providentially so as it turned out. I also don’t know if later, Joseph F. Smith said “I told you so,” but it isn’t hard to imagine him responding perhaps a bit temperamentally to the circumstances.3

The conclusions, then, are that even though we sometimes make bad choices, even against the advice of those with more direct knowledge, the Lord still does look out for us, and make allowances for our weaknesses. Apostle Snow obviously got stronger, and later served as President of the Church. But then so did Joseph. F. Smith.

PS – my HP group loved this addition to the story.

  1. See Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (1884), 276–79. []
  2. National Institutes of Health website, accessed February 18, 2012. []
  3. Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, chapter 18 (I am not sure of the exact pages, because my copy of this is in the Amazon Kindle format, and page numbers don’t correspond to the print version. []


  1. Reminds me of a passage in the Book of Mormon I was reading last evening: 2 Ne. 2:1-2

    “in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren. Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”

    I think he’s saying that even though Jacob had to suffer because of the choices of others, the Lord would still use that for his benefit. And even though the Apostles in this story made a poor choice and had to suffer because of it, the Lord still used the circumstance to be able to manifest himself to their (eventual) blessing.

    Comment by Dustin — February 19, 2013 @ 7:44 am

  2. Great additions to the story, Kevin! (we must be a week behind. Stake Conference or something.)

    Comment by Grant — February 19, 2013 @ 9:25 am

  3. Telling people “I told you so”? It’s sometimes hard to quash that impulse, but it’s not impossible…

    Yesterday my kids had no school, and I decided it was time my oldest boy knew how to make a pie crust, so I sent him into the kitchen and told him to follow the directions in the cookbook and ask if he had any questions. He made two nice pies, peach and pumpkin, and let his five-year-old brother help.

    When it was time for dessert after Family Home Evening, I cut a piece of pumpkin pie and put it on a plate and handed it to the five-year-old and told him to carry it over to the table with both hands.

    He was so excited to show everyone the pie that he’d helped make that he carried it into the living room, let go of the plate with one of his hands, and *splat*; pumpkin pie on the carpet.

    We just cleaned it up without anyone saying “told you so” (although the kids did, of course, say a variety of other things) but when I handed him a replacement, I said, “Now this time, remember to hold it with both hands!”

    Anyway, that was a random reflection about your reaction to the story, Kevin. I do think that it’s useful to remember that our heroes and leaders are real people and tend to react to life’s stresses and decisions pretty much like other people do, and that there are often valuable lessons to be learned from their experiences.

    Comment by Amy T — February 19, 2013 @ 1:11 pm

  4. Another “rest of the story” tangent: Remember the story of the little kid at Haun’s Mill, who had his hip joint blown away by the mob, and was miraculously healed because of his mother’s prayers and the Spirit’s step-by-step medical instructions?

    Yup, that’s the same Alma Smith. Evidently, the ability to received detailed first aid instructions from the Spirit runs in the family.

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 19, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

  5. Seriously, Clark? That’s cool!

    Comment by Amy T — February 19, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

  6. The Other Clark, I had no idea. That is truly amazing.

    Comment by kevinf — February 19, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  7. Kevin, reading between the lines of a familiar story is what keeps history refreshing and meaningful. I would have enjoyed being in your class.

    In the “reading between the lines” category, though, I’m afraid Clark may just have trumped you! 😀

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 19, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

  8. Very cool overlaying stories!

    Comment by ErinAnn — February 19, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

  9. Well, between Kevin and Clark, my mind has been well and truly blown. I’ve had similar things happen to me, both the first aid revelation and the go-ahead-fools-you-ain’t-taken-me-with-you. I am astounded that God continues to work with us all in spite of our many failings.

    Comment by Jami — February 19, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

  10. Great insights!

    Comment by Niklas — February 20, 2013 @ 12:40 am

  11. I also taught this lesson on Sunday and in my research reached a similar conclusion about the use of MMV. Wikipedia indicates that MMV was in use in the UK by the Royal Humane Society, so it is theoretically possible if one of these three (Benson, Cluff and Smith) had been in the UK they might have learned the technique. [I ran out of time to research if any of them had been in the UK]. Also, since it was a technique aimed at drowning victims, I would assume it would spread among sailors?

    BUT, my research was colored by a show on Radiolab ( that reported that CPR works so infrequently (less than 10% of cases) that doctors generally don’t want it used on them personally!!

    I don’t know if MMV’s success rate is much better than CPR or not, but I suspect it isn’t too different — CPR is kind of a successor to MMV, after all.

    Our perceptions of reviving someone are colored by television, where CPR works about 70% of the time. he reality is that reviving someone like this is usually not successful.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 20, 2013 @ 4:05 am

  12. What a wonderful and uplifting story for the morning. It is so wonderful to know and realize that the Holy Ghost works with you in such a detailed way, due to your faith. A great lesson!

    Comment by Reeta Z — February 20, 2013 @ 6:30 am

  13. Kent, Benson had not served a mission to Europe. Cluff had served in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, so it is a remote possibility, but his own account would indicate that he was not familiar with the technique. Smith had returned only a year earlier from 3 years in England, but as he was still on the ship, even if he had been familiar with MMV, he would not have been in a position to help. All in all, I am inclined to give full credence to the title of the lesson. What my research did indicate to me is that MMV was not really ever a recognized practice in the United States during the 19th century, where American exceptionalism and Jacksonian democracy seemed not at all reluctant to reject any European medical innovations, like Pasteur’s germ theory, say, or Lister’s antiseptic practices (tongue firmly in cheek, but only slightly.)

    Thanks to all for the comments, and especially TOC for his incredible find regarding Alma Smith.

    Comment by kevinf — February 20, 2013 @ 8:52 am

  14. Oh, medical history. That’s my first love when it comes to history.

    The chances of any of the people in this story having heard of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is somewhere between negligible and zero.

    Kent, I just looked at your link, and the information about CPR in there is entirely about end-of-life care, when the patient is terminal and CPR is being listed as part of a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. Their use or misuse of the ten percent statistic (probably from this study: is unfortunate if applied to the general population, especially if you consider cases like Lorenzo Snow’s drowning. When bystanders use CPR in out-of-hospital cardiac events, they are able to save up to ten people out of a hundred who would otherwise die.

    Everyone should know CPR, and it should be used as necessary. The new CPR guidelines no longer include doing concurrent mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, so that removes the “ick” factor for many people.

    Although this video is a little too short — you don’t want to do CPR on someone who has fainted or is having a seizure — it does show how to do teen and adult CPR; heels of both hands together on breastbone; press hard at about 100 beats per minute:

    Child CPR is slightly different, and anyone who spends much time with children should know how to do it as well.

    Comment by Amy T — February 20, 2013 @ 10:17 am

  15. “When bystanders use CPR in out-of-hospital cardiac events, they are able to save up to ten people out of a hundred who would otherwise die.”

    Amy T., I’m not sure I understand your point. Isn’t “ten people out of a hundred” 10%?

    In any case, I’m not trying to assert that a particular number is correct, just taht the proportion of the time that CPR is successful is lower than the proportion we see on TV.

    I’m merely suggesting that even with today’s significantly better techniques, the chance of someone being revived from circumstances like those of Lorenzo Snow aren’t high — not the 70% that we see on TV shows.

    Please tell me if my assumption is wrong.

    AND, in case anyone misunderstands, I’m NOT suggesting that CPR shouldn’t be tried!

    Comment by Kent Larsen — February 20, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

  16. Whew! That’s actually what I did read into your comment, Kent. Glad you cleared that up. :)

    Okay, so ten out of a hundred may have sounded illogical, but if you state that something has a ten percent chance of working, some people will see that statistic and abandon the project before it begins, but saying that you have the chance of saving the lives of ten people out of a hundred who would have died otherwise frames it in a way that people would find it to be a public policy worth promoting, along the lines of organ donation, using a bike helmet, etc.

    Comment by Amy T — February 20, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

  17. Isn’t it interesting how to some people 10 in 100 and 10% mean exactly the same thing, but to other people they apparently communicate something different? Something to keep in mind the next time one finds one’s self in a conversation where the two parties appear to be talking past one another.

    Regardless of how one expresses the statistics, anyone embarking on CPR should do so with the realization that it most likely isn’t going to be successful. Otherwise, that person might be racked with guilt that they somehow “failed.” This is not any different from the process of learning a new skill. I hope no one starts with an expectation of immediate success with no failures.
    From my perspective, every instance of resuscitation of someone that goes on to live is a miracle.

    Comment by Matthew — February 25, 2013 @ 8:26 am

  18. Sorry, Kevin, for going off on a tangent in the comments of your otherwise fascinating post.

    Comment by Amy T — February 25, 2013 @ 10:02 am

  19. Another side note here pointed out to me by my husband: In both Francis Gibbbons’s biographies of Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith, there are accounts of the drowning and Joseph F. Smith’s refusal to board the boat. A more detailed version of it is found in The Life of Lorenzo Snow, by Thomas C. Romney. At some point, Lorenzo Snow related the experience to Heber J. Grant, telling Pres. Grant that “at that particular time the Lord revealed to him the fact that the young man, Joseph F. Smith,…would someday be the Prophet of God” (Romney, p.206). The author cites Improvement Era, Vol. 22:847.

    Comment by Julie — February 25, 2013 @ 10:13 am