Wilford Woodruff and the CHL

Today for most of the afternoon I was at the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City. My mission was to correct a little problem in chapter 6 of the funeral sermon book. A couple of years ago, when I was making typographical facsimiles[1] of source documents (which will be in the book) I was being very careful to triple check transcriptions. But for some reason, I failed in this when it came to the sermon in chapter 6 (the subject of chapter 6 is Joseph Smith’s sermon of March 10, 1844). I seem to have made just one pass at Wilford Woodruff’s journal account. Now I’ve been reading Woodruff’s journal off and on since the early 70s. (It’s worth repeating that read.) I have a sort of summary of his journal entries that focus on what you might call “the good stuff.”

Of course you may ask: what *is* the good stuff. But if you have to ask, you probably don’t want any examples. <grin>

Most of you reading this know that the family had a copy of the journal turned over to a local publishing house (Signature Books). A typescript of the (huge) work was published in (edited by Scott Kenney) 1983-4.

My point is, the thing is in print, with the exception of some portions in shorthand, I think.

The typescript is valuable, certainly one of the most valuable primary source documents having to do with Utah Mormonism in the nineteenth century.

The CHL has the original journals, a microfilm copy and scanned images of the microfilm (which is not very useful since it shows the film artifacts overlaid on the journal images in stark black and white) as well as the published typescript. Now for the odd bit. Anyone may look at the published typescript at the CHL. The microfilm and scans are restricted. Meaning, you cannot look at them without going through a vetting process to see them (legitimate research interest). The microfilm does not contain anything of great interest beyond the published typescript (although I cannot claim to have done a word-for-word comparison).

I have known of this conundrum for some time, but I’ve never really asked about it until today. No one seemed to really know why. Any information is out in the open. There are clearly some parts that touch on sacred matters. But policy has varied over the years. Decades ago, a microfilm of the journal could be read. It was only during Spencer Kimball’s administration that the journal became more restricted. A friend once wrote a paper, a pretty innocuous one, but had to go all the way to the First Presidency to get a photo of one page of the original to go with his article. President Kimball responded to the request negatively, saying that the journal was too sacred. That has changed, since one may obtain copies of the scans provided you can read them in the first place.

My speculation here is this: The journal contains sacred material that the Church would not put in the open by choice. The Church regards temple ceremony as sacred and would not put it in the open.[2] This is the case, even though it already is in the open, indeed several versions are in the open. Tradition marks this situation as similar. But opening the First Presidency’s vault to publish the Book of Commandments and Revelations leads me to believe that Wilford will emerge when the time is right. He deserves that. A truly remarkable record from a truly remarkable man.

[1] A typographical facsimile in this case is typed document which attempts to duplicate every aspect possible of a handwritten manuscript.

[2] Actually, early Utah leaders did consider putting at least some of the Temple ritual in the open. Faithful Latter-day Saints mostly recognize I think, that it is irrelevant to their temple devotions whether someone can read them on the internet.

2 Responses to Wilford Woodruff and the CHL

  1. J. Stapley says:

    At MHA last spring Laurel Thatcher Ulrich delivered a presentation on Woodruff using the journal, and she showed high quality images. She also accessed some first draft journal material, which was apparently donated separately and not part of the Kenney typescript. Rick Turley indicated during the question answer that they would be happy to prepare a critical edition if someone were willing to pay for it.

    I have encountered a number of things that are available in typescript but that are still restricted at the CHL. But the Woodruff diary is so widely read, that it seems odd that it isn’t available for verification purposes.

    On related news, word on the street is that volume two of the GQC diaries is soon to be published.

    • WVS says:

      J., they did offer to let me have material to take home. If LTU had high res scans, that’s something. Maybe they have actually done the whole thing. That would be great. Now, to find a donor. Jon Huntsman? I used to be his home teacher. Maybe I should call him. 😉

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