Set in Stone, Fixed in Glass
by Nelson B. Wadsworth
“Most Approved Style of the Art”
[p.15] Groundbreaking for the Salt Lake temple foundation in 1853 resulted in the first known crowd picture of a major news event in Utah history. On Monday, 14 February, Marsena Cannon, a daguerreotypist who had arrived in Salt Lake City three years earlier from Boston, or possibly his partner William Smith, was stationed with his German-made daguerreotype camera atop a building across the street from the Temple Block where he was able to capture the historic proceeding.
At 10:00 a.m. some 5,000 citizens began to assemble at South Temple and East Temple streets. It was, wrote a Deseret News reporter, “as clear and lovely a day as the sun ever shone on Salt Lake City, with from one to three inches of snow on the ground in some places, and others quite bare; with some six inches of frost in the earth, though the thaw was quite mild during the day.” According to the newspaper, the “sweetest strains” were played by the Nauvoo Brass Band and Captain Ballo’s Band as several thousand Mormons awaited the arrival of their prophet. Following the invocation, Jesse W. Fox surveyed the temple site with church architect Truman O. Angell, Sr., and then Brigham Young delivered “a most thrilling speech.” “In a few days I shall be able to give a plan of the
[p.16] Temple on paper,” Young said as he stood in the back of a wagon and lifted his voice over the crowd. “And then, if all heaven or any good man will suggest any improvements, we will receive and adopt them…. The temple will be built of the best materials that can be obtained in the mountains of North America.”1
Heber C. Kimball, Young’s counselor, stood in a small buggy and dedicated the plot of ground “to the Most High.” The crowd followed with several verses of “Auld Lang Syne” and moved to the southeast corner of the block. Young took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, picked a one-foot square hole in the frozen earth, dropped a one-dollar silver piece into the depression, thrust in a shovel, and lifted out a hunk of sod. “Get out of my way, for I am going to throw this,” he said to the surrounding throng closely bunching around him. Most of the men in the crowd had brought their own tools and spent the rest of the day excavating the foundation for the new building.
Cannon, the daguerreotypist who may have documented the scene, was [p.17] the first known photographer in Utah. Arriving in the fall of 1850, his ads began appearing regularly in the Deseret News on 10 December 1850. The first ad and all which followed featured a crude two-wheeled cannon, the first illustration to appear in the frontier newspaper. In 1851 Cannon announced a move from the “Old Fort,” the adobe-walled original settlement, to a room over Southworth’s Store. Three years later he advertised reduced prices in one of Utah’s first “sales.”
According to surviving records, Cannon was born on 3 August 1812 in Rochester, Stafford County, New Hampshire, not far from the Maine border. His father was Hiram Cannon and his mother Mary Horne. Surviving descendants believe Marsena’s father was “a prominent doctor who organized the first hospital in St. Albans, Maine.”
Sometimes before 1840 Cannon met and married Elizabeth Taylor Bowman, and on 21 October 1840 their first son Hiram was born in St. Albans, Maine. A daughter named Mary was born in 1845 in Boston. The Cannons eventually had seven children.2
In Maine the Cannons met Mormon missionaries and converted. About the time Cannon’s daughter Mary was born, there were thriving Mormon branches in Boston. On 29 June 1844 Wilford Woodruff described a large conference of Latter-day Saints in Boston’s Franklin Hall with Brigham Young presiding and seven members of the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles attending.3 Cannon and his family were listed among the Mormons about to sail from New York for California in January 1846.4 But they never boarded the ship, remaining in Boston instead so Cannon could pursue the exciting new profession of daguerreotypy. A recommended from the president of the Boston Branch described him in 11 March 1846: “This is to certify that Br. Marsena Cannon is a member of the Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this city, in good standing and fellowship; and is hereby cordially recommended to all Saints and honorable of the earth.”5
Cannon seems to have learned daguerreotypy from John Plumbe, Jr., one [p.18] of America’s photographic pioneers, who opened a daguerrean gallery in Boston in 1840 and soon had a chain of galleries operated by agents in a number of eastern cities.6 Plumbe was the first to copy daguerreotypes on lithographic stone, which could explain Cannon’s later interest in using photographs to make engravings. But Plumbe and his agents met financial disaster in 1847, and the galleries were sold to meet the demands of creditors.7
However, Cannon and at least one other agent, William Shew, kept Plumbe’s Boston gallery in operation, first at 75 Court Street and later at 123 Washington Street. While in Boston on 14 March 1849, Woodruff noted in his journal: “I also received a present from Br. Cannon of two Degoritype likenesses of myself, wife and three children in a family group.” Two months later on 16 May, he wrote: “I went into Boston with Father Carter, Mrs. Woodruff and Phebe and Susan Woodruff and got all our daguerrer likenesses taken in one group by Br. [p.19] Cannon.” A year later on 18 February 1850, he again noted: “I called upon Br. Cannon, 123 Washington Street. He took my Daguerotype likeness and put it onto a bosom pin for Mrs. Woodruff. Also one in a small case.”8
Cannon and his family migrated to Utah in the fall of 1850. Between his arrival in Salt Lake City and the ground breaking for the temple three years later, he made numerous portraits of Mormon leaders, including one of Brigham Young in the fall of 1850 at the time he was appointed governor of the Utah Territory.9
Cannon pursued his trade through the 1850s and into the 1860s, advertising periodically in the local newspaper. Just how much he indulged in landscape and architectural photography is not known, but there are a number of surviving pictures. Because of the nature of the daguerreotype and ambrotype images, most pictures have undoubtedly failed to survive. Each view was the final product delivered to the client. As such it was not reproducible until copying by negative came into vogue some decades later.
[p.20] Basically, the daguerreotype was a silver-coated copper plate polished to a high luster and sensitized in a box by vapors of iodine. This created a thin surface of light-sensitive silver iodide. After the plate was exposed in a camera (much like modern films today), development was achieved by heating mercury to 167 degrees and subjecting the plate to the resulting vapor. The mercury deposited itself in varying degrees where light had struck the sensitized surface. The plate was then immersed in a solution of hyposulfite of soda, which removed the remaining sensitive material and “fixed” the image. Daguerreotypy was the first successful form of commercial photography and was popular in the United States and England from 1840 to 1856, when it was replaced by different forms of glass plate negatives and the tintype. Daguerreotypes have a mirrorlike appearance and a negative image is visible if held at a certain angle to the light. The image is usually reversed from the original scene. A sign in a daguerreotype, [p.21] for example, would read backwards. But Marsena Cannon, Utah’s most prolific daguerreotypist, advertised in the Deseret News in 1854 he had cameras with special attachments on the lenses to take pictures without reversing.10
There are few temple views among the surviving Cannon pictures, since the granite walls did not rise above the landscape until the late 1860s. One of Cannon’s scenes of the frontier city was described in the Deseret News for 15 December 1858. The writer described being presented with “two splendid photographic pictures” of Brigham Young and the Beehive House where many of his wives lived. The story praised the quality of Cannon’s work, especially the “lifelike similitude” of Brigham Young and the “beautiful portrayal” of his home and surroundings. “There is a symmetrical perspicuity exhibited in the picture which renders it very attractive,” the writer said. “We confidently recommend this beautiful style of pictures to all lovers of the fine arts.”
[p.22] Cannon by no means had a monopoly on daguerreotypy in Utah in the 1850s, although he was the most prolific and persistent photographer in Salt Lake City between 1850 and 1865. Occasionally he had competition. The first showed up in the summer of 1850. On 14 June an ad appeared in the Deseret News: “Daguerreotype Miniatures!!! The undersigned is prepared to take likeness at his room, south of the Post Office, where he will be ready to wait on those who may give him call.” The ad was signed by Robert Campbell. It appeared only once, and no evidence of his work survives.
The same summer another daguerreotypist, J. Wesley Jones, stopped in [p.23] Salt Lake City on a photography expedition from the Missouri River to San Francisco. Jones claimed to have daguerreotyped the gold diggings in California, the Rocky Mountains, and life on the frontier, producing some 1,500 view of western America. In the east Jones had some of his daguerreotypes copied in pencil sketches and oil paintings which he used in a lecture called, “The Pantoscope of California.” Ultimately in 1854 Jones’s oil paintings were raffled by lottery in New York, but their subsequent fate and that of the original daguerreotypes is unknown. Among them was a drawing of Salt Lake City in 1851, said to be copied from an original daguerreotype. Jones had also [p.24] photographed Apostle Parley P. Pratt while in Salt Lake City.
A woodcut made from this daguerreotype appeared on the front page of Frank Leslie’s Weekly in New York in 1857 along with a story on the assassination of the apostle in Arkansas.11
The first of a long series of partners joined Marsena Cannon in 1852. William Alexander Smith operated a gallery in Kanesville, Iowa, before migrating to Utah. He joined Cannon shortly after his arrival, and their first ad appeared in the Deseret News on 18 September 1852. The following spring an ad in the 15 March newspaper announced the dissolution of their partnership and Smith’s intention to leave for San Francisco to pick up supplies. “He will return in about six months to renew business,” the ad said, but apparently Smith did not return because his name never again surfaced in Utah photography.
Potential competition for Cannon again appeared in 1854. John W. Browning inserted an advertisement in the Deseret News offering daguerreotype services in “the room formerly occupied by David Lewis[, also a daguerrean], over the [p.27] Book Store.”
Browning announced he was ready to “take pictures as natural as life” and “not to be surpassed by any artist in the East.” His ad also disclosed he had obtained the services of “Mr. S. A. Lobdale, an experienced and skillful operator, lately of New York.”12 A little less than three months after Browning’s ad, Cannon acquired him as a partner. “The same old Cannon will make a few more shots,” announced a new ad. “Those who want Daguerrean Likenesses, will do well to call on Cannon and Browning at the old stand.”13
This partnership did not last long, however. Cannon had still another new partner only a few months later. The name of L. W. Chaffin first appeared with Cannon’s in the advertisement in the Deseret News on 20 July 1854. This ad gave the location of “Chaffin and Cannon’s New Room” opposite S. Mulliner’s on East Temple. It also announced a new stock of plates, cases, and other daguerreo-[p.28]type materials as well as “three German cameras that can’t be beat, with Speculum attached for taking views without reversing.” The ad continued: “Everything we have is new except the workmen, and they are far better than new. Do not neglect this opportunity and say when it is too late, ‘I wish I had attended to it before.’ Now’s the day and now’s the hour. Remember that Old Time has no hair on the back part of his head in the place where the hair ought to grow, so you must take him by the foretop.” Later that year Cannon advertised that his customers could be accommodated with all styles of cases “from the pearl book medallion down to common silk lined bookcase, gold lockets, breast pins, rings and watch keys with likenesses in them.”14
Photographs from this period include views of Brigham Young. The 1858 picture is thought to have been taken in the Beehive House in July following Young’s return from the move south during the Utah War. A rare view of Young and one of his plural wives was also taken some time around 1856-58, probably by Cannon.15 But as the ads imply, the art of daguerreotypy was on the decline. One student of Cannon during this transitional period, James Allen Browning, described the emerging challenge: “In 1855, I in company with my brother David, learned the daguerreotype trade of Marsena Cannon, who was quite famous in this art, but we did not give our attention to the business long, as it went out of vogue, being superseded by photography.”16
Wet plate photography came to Utah in the late 1850s and made the daguerreotype obsolete. The first wet plate images were called ambrotypes and were often referred to as “daguerreotypes on glass.” They were actually small glass negatives converted to positives and placed in miniature daguerreotype cases. Ambrotypes rapidly replaced the earlier form of photography some time around 1856, spreading from the big galleries in the east to the western frontier. They were first advertised in Utah in 1857. The process had been invented in 1851 when Frederick Scott Archer, and English sculptor and photographer, first described the use of collodion, a gummy fluid previously used in medicine to cover wounds, as a vehicle to hold light-sensitive material on a glass plate.
But [p.31] it was not until Bostonian James Cutting secured patents on 26 July 1854 that the process began to gain popularity in the United States. By 1861 the editor of the American Journal of Photography would write, “The daguerreotype had many friends, but it was doomed. We shall not hear from it again—peace to its ashes.”17
To prepare an ambrotype plate, the photographer coated a glass plate with “guncotton” or collodion dissolved in ether and containing “excitants” such as bromide, potassium iodide, or ammonia. This plate was then immersed in a solution of silver nitrate in the dark, creating a layer of silver iodide in the collodion emulsion. The sensitized plates were loaded wet into wooden holders, exposed while still “tacky,” and developed immediately. The whole process had to take place within a span of twenty minutes because when dry the chemicals would not adhere to the plate and it would lose its light sensitivity.
The resulting negative was then bleached with bichloride of mercury, the [p.33] blacked silver iodide transformed into white metallic silver. When placed against a black background and viewed by reflected light, the picture was converted into a positive image, the white silver highlights reflecting light and the clear negative areas showing up as black from the backing. Photographers used black paper behind the thin negative image to create their positive ambrotypes, or they painted black lacquer directly on the glass plate. Because photographers could prepare their own plates and materials were easily obtainable, ambrotypes were much cheaper.
The tintype, sometimes called “melainotype” or “ferrotype,” was somewhat similar to the ambrotype but was made on black japanned iron rather than glass. With the tintype the collodion base covers the blackened sheet iron. It was invented by Hamilton L. Smith of Gambier, Ohio, in 1855-56. In his patent Smith suggested that the black japan could be applied to any surface, leading to photographs on such backing as leather, textured materials, rubber, and all [p.34] manner of metals. Tintypes, most with a grayish cast, were easily colored and were made in a variety of sizes, often larger than daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.
Marsena Cannon was not the first to advertise ambrotypes in Salt Lake City, although he was quick to pick up this cheaper form of photography. The first ambrotypes were offered for sale 25 March 1857 by A. R. Wright, who accepted produce in exchange for his work.18 Daguerreotype galleries must not have been that profitable, since Cannon also advertised his willingness to accept payment in kind. In 1857 he proclaimed in the Deseret News: “To All Saints: Wanted: Hay, oats, peas, beans, butter, eggs, fox and wolf skins and cash for likenesses…. At the sign of the cannon. Open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”19 A few months later in early 1858, a notice from Cannon read: “Those persons who want likenesses, especially those to whom I am indebted will please call soon as I shall close business in a short time.”20
A suggestion of Cannon’s financial problems can be found in his attempt in 1855 to sell his farm. He was a member of the LDS 17th Ward, living between North and South Temple streets. He listed his property for sale, including a “good adobe house with five rooms, six-eights of an acre of land being a half lot with ten good peach trees in full bearing.”21 Apparently he failed to find a buyer, because in later city directories he was still a member of the 17th Ward and residing at the same address.
In October 1859 at an exhibit of the Deseret Manufacturing Association, Cannon won first prize for exhibiting the best specimen of an ambrotype.22This prize indicates that the daguerrean had at least adapted himself to the new collodion wet plates, but his time was passing. Although Cannon was Brigham Young’s chief cameraman during the 1850s, the Mormon ptophet posed for another photographer near his sixtieth birthday in 1861. C. W. Carter had arrived in Utah with innovations from London which made photography more portable. Another Englishman, Charles Roscoe Savage, arrived in Utah in 1860, bringing with him a knowledge of photography learned during a brief stop in
[p.36] New York City on his way to Utah. For a brief time in 1861, Cannon and Savage formed a partnership, but it was as short as Cannon’s previous joint ventures.
One of the final blows to Cannon’s photographic career came in LDS general conference that fall. The names of Marsena Cannon and his former partner, L. W. Chaffin, were among those read from the pulpit and called to settle St. George in southern Utah to grow cotton for the territory.23 Cannon was listed on the census taken in St. George in 1862, indicating that he answered the call (as had Chaffin). But some time between 1862 and 1865, Cannon returned to the 17th Ward in Salt Lake City. Perhaps he shared the sentiments of Charles L. Walker who reluctantly responded to his church’s call: “This is the hardest trial I ever had, and had it not been for the Gospel and those placed over us, I should never have moved a foot to go on such a trip.”24 Certainly St. George in 1861 was far removed from the comforts of Cannon’s beloved Boston.
[p.37] Setting up a photographic gallery in the harsh southern Utah environment and finding customers to sustain it would have been fairly impossible.
Perhaps his brief involvement with the cotton mission contributed to Cannon’s increasing distance from the Mormon church. Cannon was a member of the Seventh Quorum of Seventy25 and attended meetings of the quorum throughout the 1850s. During the fall of 1856 he endorsed the retrenchment enthusiasm that was sweeping the church. In his quorum meeting he spoke “in favor of a reformation among members of the Quorum” and “expressed a desire to do right and to live in the service of the Lord and for the interest of the Kingdom.”26 Years later someone penciled into the minutes, “By his own request dropped from Quorum.”27 In 1874 Cannon and his family were, according to church records, “Cut off from the Church.”28
Cannon’s final disaffection from the church is no doubt related to his [p.40] alignment in 1869 with the group assembled around Salt Lake merchant William S. Godbe and journalist Elias L. T. Harrison, a group of Mormons who challenged Brigham Young’s prohibition against doing business with non-Mormons. In 1869 Godbe and Harrison established a literary paper called the Utah Magazine, “The Home Journal of the People; and an exponent of the foremost ideas of the age.”29 The liberal views of the publication eventually brought about the excommunication of Godbe, Harrison, and a number of others and set the stage in Salt Lake City for the first sizable schism within the Mormon church in Utah.
In the first two decades of Salt Lake City, candidates of the church-approved “People’s Ticket” has swept into office without opposition. Just before the 1870 election Godbe and his followers established a weekly newspaper which they initially called the Mormon Tribune. With their new paper they set about winning converts to the liberal cause. After a mass meeting was disrypted by crowds of People Ticket supporters, the Godbeites regrouped and managed to announce [p.41] their independent ticket only two days before the 1870 election. Among the nine independent candidates for city councilor was Marsena Cannon.30 The election results of Monday, 14 February 1870, were a disaster for the liberal cause. Of the 2,301 votes cast in Salt Lake City, People Ticket candidates averaged more than 2,000. Cannon, like the others on his ticket, garnered less than 300 votes.
After 1870 Marsena Cannon faded from public view. He moved to Oakland, California, where he apparently set up a business at 1127 Broadway Street,31 and lived with his daughter Sarah. In 1879 Joseph L. Barfoot, curator of the Deseret Museum on Temple Square, collected and printed a number of Cannon’s early pictures of the pioneer settlement.32 Among these views is a picture of the telegraph office on Main Street, dating the picture sometime after 1861 when the transcontinental telegraph line was completed.33 Over the liquor store next to the telegraph office is the sign “Ambrotype Gallery.” This was probably Cannon’s establishment as it looked around 1863 when the photographer returned to Salt Lake City from southern Utah.34
[p.44] Cannon was eighty years old when the capstone ceremony of the Salt Lake temple was held in 1892. Apparently he was living with his daughter in California at the time. Thus he took no photographs of the completed edifice whose beginnings he had documented. Still he left an important, if scanty, legacy of photographic glimpses of life in the earliest days of the pioneer settlement.
Cannon eventually returned to Utah after his daughter Sarah married. He lived for a time in Huntsville, and he later lived with his son Bouman or Bowman, who was manager of the Salt Lake County Infirmary and Poor Farm. By 1899 when he was about eighty-six years old he was living in the infirmary. His granddaughter, Lulu Rasmussen, remembered visiting him there: “He was sick and lying on a cot. I remember he cried because he didn’t want to live away from his daughter, Sarah.”35 Cannon died shortly after this visit in April 1900. C. R. Savage, Cannon’s one-time partner, wrote in his diary. “Today Marsena Cannon died, my old one-time partner in the photo business in 1860. He never since then had any interest in the Gospel and was often bitter in his feelings.”36
Seven years after Cannon’s death, his son, Hiram, who was rebaptized, received permission from the LDS First Presidency to rebaptize Marsena and his wife Elizabeth by proxy. “They left the Church with the Godbeites and went to California, where Mrs. Cannon died,” the First Presidency wrote in its letter to the temple president.37
2. Bouman was born on 18 September 1847 in Boston; Marsena on 3 July 1851 in Salt Lake City; Erin on 3 June 1857 in Salt Lake City; and Sarah and Elizabeth, dates and birthplaces unknown. Names from a file of cards kept on members of the old Salt Lake City wards of the LDS church, alphabetically indexed; Old Church Records, LDS Genealogical Library, Salt Lake City.
5. Signed by David Brown, president, and Ino R. Teague, cleark, of the Boston Branch. This document was filed at Cutler’s Park near Winter Quarters, Nebraska, on 20 September 1846. However, his family was still in Boston through 1850. Recommend in historical archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter LDS archives).
6. Cannon’s connection to Plumbe can be surmised by a reference in Woodruff’s journal for 7 March 1848 about a visit from Cannon’s father. Woodruff was in Winter Quarters but getting ready to depart for a mission in the East: “I had a call from Dr. Cannon. He wished me to call and his son Marsena Cannon, 75 Court Street, Plumbe’s Dagaurious Gallery, Boston.”
8. Several of Cannon’s Boston daguerreotypes of Wilford Woodruff and members of his family have been preserved, and today can be found in the Emily Smith Stewart Collection held by Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., Salt Lake City. They are remarkably clear portraits of Wilford, his wife Phoebe, and son Wilford Jr., apparently all taken between 1848 and 1850 when the Woodruffs were in Boston.
9. This original daguerreotype has been preserved and can be found in LDS archives. Still encased in its initial glass and leather frame with bronze mask, it was displayed for years in the Temple Square Museum along with other artifacts from the life of Brigham Young. Because of the image’s value, it has since been placed in a vault for preservation. Two of Cannon’s daguerreotypes of the temple ground breaking have also been preserved and can be found in the same vault, also still protected in their original glass, leather, and brass frames. The two pictures are almost identical, probably taken one right after the other while the captive audience remained motionless below.
15. Preston Nibley had another original daguerreotype in his possession, since a copy appeared in his book Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936), facing page 338. The whereabouts of the original is not known. The 1858 photo is in LDS archives. The original daguerreotype of Young and his wives was at one time in the possession of Mrs. Lorenzo S. Young. It shows Brigham Young with Margaret Pierce.
28. Card files for Marsena Cannon, Mary Horne Cannon, Elizabeth Cannon, and Hyrum Cannon, LDS Genealogical Library. The only entry in the 1874 minute book of the Salt Lake City High Council in LDS archives about excommunication in the 17th Ward reads: “President John T. Caine read the following names of members of the 17th Ward who had been cut off from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for apostasy, on motion of the bishop and council and was sustained by the High Council.” No names are listed, however.
31. A note scrawled in the flyleaf of Savage’s diary for 1878 notes, “Marsena Cannon, 1127 Broadway Street, Oakland.” Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
32. I have been unable to determine just who printed these and where they were distributed. A number of the original, thick albumen prints can be found in LDS archives, and a complete set hangs on the wall in the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City. With the prints is this text: “A Series of View—Salt Lake City, U.T., Taken by Marsena Cannon, from 1860 to 1866. Photographed from negatives in possession of Joseph L. Barfoot, Curator, Museum. Salt Lake City, Utah, November, 1879.”
34. Several of the original glass negatives from the early Salt Lake City views are in LDS archives. There can be no question about their being among the first taken in Utah using the [p.47] then new collodion, wet-plate photographic process. The emulsion has been hand coated on the glass. The resulting photographs are still printable nearly 130 years after the original exposures were made.