A photograph of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement, has been discovered in a locket belonging to his great-great-grandson. It is the only known photo that exists of the American prophet.
The daguerreotype image of Joseph Smith was taken in 1844 but only found in 2020. Smith’s descendant Dan Larsen, 79, has spent the last two years verifying the image that he found in a pocket watch that bears the initials of his great-grandfather Joseph Smith III, the leader’s oldest son.
Larsen discovered the image during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the lockdown causing him to sort through old boxes of family artifacts. He inherited the locket in 1992, but its finial was bent making it impossible to open it, so he stored it away for safekeeping.
“I was a little hesitant about prying the locket open,” Larsen tells Religion News Service.
Larsen was able to wrest it open and was stunned to see a picture of a man staring back at him.
“In my mind, there was no question who it was,” Larsen says.
So followed an exhaustive 18 months of research and analysis. Larsen assembled a team of experts to verify the image of Smith, including hiring facial recognition experts to compare the daguerreotype to Smith’s death mask. The company reported back that 19 of 21 measured features matched, within a 95 percent confidence interval.
A famous oil painting made of Smith in 1842 was also analyzed in a bid to substantiate the image. The experts concluded that Smith’s hairline and other features were a match and that both images show the same “distinctive frown line near the left eyebrow.”
Historians had long believed that such a photographic portrait of Smith existed based on claims various relatives had made. Fortunately, the image is still in good condition after being protected from light thanks to being locked inside the pocket watch for decades.
Larsen tells the Salt Lake Tribune that finding the picture was a “spiritual” experience. “I looked at it for an hour or so with my wife. It was an emotional moment,” he says.
“I knew Joseph was with me, I felt his spirit. I saw him.”
Image credits: All photos by Dan Larsen.