I’m always exploring Nauvoo for emotional scenes—pictures that capture the pathos of those trying and wonderful years that were the glory of Nauvoo.I was there in winter, shooting those kinds of pictures. I’d read scores of pioneer journals and was especially moved by the writing of Bathsheba Smith, who recounted her feelings about leaving Nauvoo:“My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor, and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotions in my heart which I could not now pen and which I then strove with success to conceal, I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future, faced a new life, a greater destiny as I well knew, but I faced it with faith in God…”How do you capture that emotion? I could feel a lump welling up in my throat as I thought about Bathsheba’s words.It was cold and a bit windy as the sun began to set. I saw some tall grasses that began to be filled with the backlight of the setting sun (you can see those same grasses in Plate 2, Bootshop Sunset Winter). I took the Bootshop image then ran for the grasses before I lost the light. It was my last shot of the day.I set the camera up on its accustomed spot on the tripod, carefully composed the grasses with that last remaining light and I took the shot. I walked away with Bathsheba Smith on my mind.I think she would have been pleased.
I had been carefully studying Thomas Kane’s account of his visit to the abandoned city of Nauvoo in September 1846. His account is unlike any other. About 15,000 Latter-day Saints had left their homes and shops behind and headed west just months earlier. Kane recorded:"No one met me there. I looked, and saw no one. I could hear no one move; though the quiet everywhere was such that I heard the flies buzz, and the water-ripples break against the shallow of the beach. I walked through the solitary streets. The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness, from which I almost feared to wake it. For plainly it had not slept long."There was no grass growing up in the paved ways. Rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps. Yet I went about unchecked. I went into empty work-shops, rope walks and smithies. The spinner's wheel was idle; the carpenter had gone from his work-bench and shavings, his unfinished sash and casing. Fresh bark was in the tanners's vat, and the fresh-chopped light wood stood piled against the baker's oven."The blacksmith's shop was cold; but his coal heap and ladling pool and crooked water horn were all there, as if he had just gone off for a holiday. No work people anywhere looked to know my errand."If I went into the gardens, clinking the wicket-latch loudly after me, to pull the marigolds, heart's-ease and lady-slippers, and draw a drink with the water sodden well-bucket and its noisy chain; or, knocking off with my stick the tall heavyheaded dahlias and sunflowers, hunted over the beds for cucumbers and love-apples,--no one called out to me from any opened window, or dog sprang forward to bark."I thought the only way to capture that description was to shoot a scene in winter, at sunset, with silhouetted trees and a building or two. I chose the humble little Ryser Boot Shop. It may have been one of the businesses Thomas Kane visited—with no reply from anyone. All had left. All were on the trail to the west. All could now only see these places, their beautiful Nauvoo in their memories.
Just about every direction one looks on the flats in Nauvoo there are scenes that bring peace to the soul. This particular one caught my eye.I grew up with one of these garden cultivators in Missouri and learned to use it well. It's a wonderful tool to keep the soil loose between the rows and to loosen the young weeds that tenaciously grow at the drop of a hat. It's also a great tool for teaching a boy how to work.The vintage cultivator shown is leaning against the fence of Brigham and Mary Ann Angell Young's property. Mary Ann is my 3rd great aunt and I always love to come to their home in Nauvoo. I feel welcome there.At the time of the Martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham was on a mission in the east. Mary Ann was with the Saints in Nauvoo. She wrote this tender letter to her husband, three days after Joseph and Hyrum were killed:"My Dear Companion. I set down to communicate a few lines to you at this time. My heart is full. I know not what to write to comfort you at this time. We have had great aftlictions in this place since you left home. . . ."You have now been gone allmost six weeks. I have not had a line from you since you left home. I have not time to write much now. We are in great affliction at this time."Our Dear Br. Joseph Smith and Hiram has fell victiams to a vero-cious mob. The great God of the creation only knows whithe[r] the rest shall be preserved in safety or not. We are in tolable good health at presant. I have been Blessed to keep my feelings quite calm through all the storm."I hope you will be careful on your way hom and not expose yourself to those that will endanger your Life. Yours in hast[e]. If we meet no more in this world may we meet where parting is no more. Farewell.”Seeing that cultivator on Mary Ann and Brigham’s fence reminded me that during those horrific days, all work ceased and there was only mourning.
I had prayed about this shot for days. The weather had been too good.Perfect skies don't communicate what I wanted to capture in this sacred scene, for this is the half-way point on the road to Carthage, Illinois--the Martyrdom Trail.I only had one day left in my schedule. Then, some residual moisture blew in from the east on this morning and I drove out to my pre-scouted spot to set up.I pulled the tripod legs out wide so the camera was only six inches off the very dirt by where Joseph and Hyrum rode their horses. Everything started coming together. The sunlight came beaming through the soybean field to the east and the weeds on the trail began to have that perfect morning glow.Joseph said on that fateful day, "I'm going like a lamb to the slaughter but I'm as calm as a summer's morning."As I was laying in the dirt pressing the shutter and pulling focus over and over again, I knew this scene was a gift. It was the answer to my many prayers. I could not stop crying.
Although this shot was taken in the same location as the “Calm Before the Storm” a shot that is horizontal, this one has a very different feel to it.One of my artist friends, Brian Kershisnik, teaches that in your art you don’t try to force symbols; you let them emerge from what you have done. There is so much that emerges from this shot for me.This photograph was taken at the half-way-point between Nauvoo and Carthage. This is the Martyrdom Trail. Joseph and Hyrum rode on this very dirt path.The skies were so spectacular on this morning and the rich colors of the weeds and the soil seemed to bring heaven and earth together. I set the aperture on this shot to F22 and set the focus to bring the foreground and most of the extended photograph to be in sharp focus. But the infinity become just a little soft with that setting—not able to be seen perfectly clear.Joseph and Hyrum were on their way to what their enemies said was the only safe place in Hancock County: The Carthage Jail. The days to follow would be filled with correspondence and preparation for the coming trial on Saturday, June 29, 1844. They would never make it to that trial. They both would be shot and killed by a ruthless mob at 5:16 PM on Thursday, June 27.As John Taylor wrote of Joseph and his brother Hyrum: “[Joseph] lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!These moments on the trail together, even this very spot, were some of the last these brothers would see outside the jail together.