Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » LDS Response to Discovery of Smith Skeletons, 1928

LDS Response to Discovery of Smith Skeletons, 1928

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 30, 2013

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SPRINGFIELD, ILL., FEB. 21 – (AP) – Branding the “alleged discovery” of the burial place of the Mormon prophets, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, at Nauvoo, Ill., as “a cheap bid for sensation and an act of sacrilege,” B.H. Roberts, of Salt Lake City, assistant historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has revealed that the final resting place had been known to the church for more than 70 years.

The statement was directed against Fred M. Smith, of Independence, Mo., grandson of the prophet, Joseph, and leader of an expedition, which a short time ago dug up the graves of the prophet and patriarch. The party at the time issued statements that the secret burial place of the famous cult leaders had been discovered, and that the remains had not been spirited away to Utah, as had been formerly conjectured.

Collaborating in the criticism of Smith by Roberts were The Deseret News, Salt Lake City publication, and Joseph Fielding Smith, historian of the Utah church and grandson of the patriarch, Hyrum Smith. They declared that as early as 1857, accounts had been publicly circulated revealing the secret burial place, and that in 1884 and 1904, similar authentic stories had been published. They deny that the Utah church had said the bodies had been removed to Salt Lake City. Roberts also asserted that “Fred M. Smith had been warned several years ago not to disturb the bodies.”

Fred, the grandson of Joseph Smith, is a leader of a faction of the church, known as the Reorganized Church of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Fielding, grandson of Hyrum Smith, is historian of the branch of the church that emigrated to Utah following its banishment in Illinois, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“These sacred remains should not have been disturbed,” Joseph Fielding Smith said. “It is a despicable act, performed only by those lacking in all of the finer feelings and in whom the spirit of reverence for things held sacred and holy by all faithful Latter-day Saints does not exist. Fred M. Smith has debased himself. It is almost beyond belief that he should photograph the remaining bones of God’s prophets and show them on screens to a morbid following.”

Roberts termed the “finding” of the skeletons and “refutation” of the Utah claims as “ridiculous,” hotly denying that the Utah church had previously advanced a claim that the remains of the prophets rested in Salt Lake City. He criticised Smith for acting without consent of the heirs of Hyrum Smith.

In reviewing the history of the secret burial, The Deseret News said, that in 1857, a historical account had been printed. In 1884, Roberts said that he had given the true facts of the burial in a book entitled, “The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo.” Further information of the midnight burial had been widely circulated again in 1904 by another authorized writer, Roberts said.

The historical account of the burial, first printed in 1857, described the thousands of people that streamed through the Smith home to view the bodies of the”martyred prophets.” The account was in part as follows:

“The coffins were then taken out of the boxes into the little bedroom in the northeast corner of the Mansion, and there concealed and the door locked. Bags of sand were then placed in each end of the boxes, which were then nailed up, and a mock funeral took place, and the boxes deposited in a grave with the usual ceremonies.

“This was done to prevent the enemies of the martyred prophet and patriarch getting possession of the bodies, as they had threatened they would do.

“About midnight the coffins containing the bodies were taken through the garden, around by the pump and were conveyed to the Nauvoo House, and buried in the basement story.

“After the bodies were interred, and the ground smoothed off, a most terrific shower of rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, occurred and obliterated all traces of the fact that the earth had been newly dug.

“The bodies remained in the cellar of the house until fall, when they were removed to a point near the Mansion and buried side by side. The Bee House was then moved and placed over their graves.”

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  1. Interesting – and probably aggravating to our wayward brethren in Independence – that the AP should refer to the RLDS as “a faction of the church.”

    Despite the indignation of Joseph Fielding Smith, they actually had something of a difficult time finding the bodies. IIRC, the small building which was built over the graves had been moved or rebuilt, and they knew approximately where they were, but certainly not exactly. Animosity aside, I think Fred Smith did us all a service, or we’d be pointing out into that lilypad swamp and telling people that the Prophet was buried “out there somewhere,” if his remains hadn’t already been washed into the Gulf.

    Comment by Steve Florman — August 30, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

  2. Oh – there’s a nice little monograph, along with the offending photos and drawings, about the search for the graves, exhumation, and reburial. It’s available in the C of C Visitor’s Center in Nauvoo.

    Comment by Steve Florman — August 30, 2013 @ 12:13 pm