A small crowd at the BYU Studies Symposium yesterday was on hand to receive Richard Holzapfel’s self-proclaimed Mormon history “bombshell.” He presented the morning plenary session on Wilford Woodruff’s 1897 recorded testimony, the first sound recording made of an LDS General Authority. The audience was treated to hearing parts of this recording, which is also available at the BYU Studies website.
This recording forms part of the many testimonies that are available from Wilford Woodruff concerning “the Last Charge,” a council meeting in Nauvoo where the Twelve were given authority to “bear off the kingdom,” and interpreted by President Woodruff to be the foundation of the succession policy of the Church. Holzapfel’s announcement was that on one of the three wax cylinders upon which the recording was made, the rest of the First Presidency consisting of George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith added their witnesses that they had heard Wilford Woodruff bear his testimony. We thus have the early voice of another president of the Church, the only recording of Cannon, and the addition of “two or three witnesses” to respond to the succession question.
I guess you’d really have to be a Mormon history afficionado to consider this information a “bombshell.” There were a select few in the audience who were moved by the revelation, but the majority took the news calmly. Holzapfel, in contrast, could hardly restrain himself as he built up his presentation and delivered his revelation in the final moments. He mentioned that he had difficulty waiting the few weeks before the symposium to tell anyone this exciting news.
Interestingly, a point was mentioned in passing which grabbed my attention far more than the recording. Apparently Holzapfel and some other historians have recently collaborated on an article discussing for the first time the fact that Sidney Rigdon was not present in the morning meetings at the Nauvoo Temple on March 26, 1844, when the Last Charge was given. This is stunningly important to Mormon history, because it implies that Rigdon was not given the same keys that the rest of the Twelve received at that time. Not only did he lack the right to succession, but he may not have understood the pattern Joseph presented that day in the same way as the members of the Twelve who were present.
I’m enjoying the Symposium so far, and I’ll be back to summarize some more of the proceedings soon.