Purported Sole Photo of Mormon Church Founder Joseph Smith Sparks Debate

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Is it the prophet?

More than 50 people attended an open house to see a large copy of what could be a 1840s photo of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church.

The display was intended to promote a book from Eborn Publishing of Ogden, "Millions Shall Know Brother Joseph Again: The Joseph Smith Photograph." While some people were swayed, others believe it's not Smith.

"I think the author has done a nice presentation," said Bill Slaughter, a photo historian who works for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But he disagrees with the conclusions.

No one knows where the photo was taken. Merging the photo with a death mask of Smith, as the author S. Michael Tracy has done, also raises issues of scale and size, Slaughter said.

Daguerreotype photography was just reaching the U.S. in the early 1840s. Smith was killed in 1844, although he did visit Philadelphia, which had a new photo studio.

"I thought it was really interesting," Alan Jeppesen of Tooele said. "I think it's Joseph."

The event was held Wednesday in the church-owned Joseph Smith Memorial Building, but it was not sponsored by the church.

The church issued a statement in March, seeking to douse speculation about the daguerreotype, which is owned by the Community of Christ, based in Independence, Mo. That church has historical ties to the Mormon church.

The Mormon church does not have a photo of Smith, only works by artists.

"I'm not convinced," Mel Allen of Mesa, Ariz., said after his visit to the open house. "It looks very much like him, though."