Table of Contents:
The Polygamy Story: Fiction and Fact
(by permission of the author)
President Taylor called the meeting to order. He had the Manifesto that had been prepared under the direction of George Q. Cannon, read over again. He then put each person under covenant that he or she would... consecrate their lives, liberty and property to this end, and that they personally would sustain and uphold that principle.
By that time we were all filled with the Holy Ghost. President Taylor and those present occupied about three hours up to this time. After placing us under covenant, he placed his finger on the document, his person rising from the floor about afoot or eighteen inches, and with countenance animated by the Spirit of the Lord, and raising his right hand to the square, he said, "Sign that document, -- never! I would suffer my right hand to be severed from my body first. Sanction it, -- never! I would suffer my tongue to be torn from its roots in my mouth before I would sanction it!". .
During the eight hours we were together, and while President Taylor was talking to us, he frequently arose and stood above the floor, and his countenance and being were so enveloped by light and glory that it was difficult for us to look upon him.
The 1922 Joseph Musser journal version adds emphasis to the account:
August 7, 1922, at a meeting held at the Home of John Y. Barlow, East Mill Creek, Bro. Woolley related, that on the morning of Sept. 27, 1886, when Pres. Taylor came out of his room, "We could not look at him on account of the brightness of his person. It was a literal baptism. I could look at the noon-day sun easier than upon the person of Pres. Taylor."1
Transfiguration of John Taylor
The dramatic detail with which the highlights of the story is told seems to have been borrowed from the fantasy of make-believe. So far as one can ascertain there is no historical record of any prophet, either in ancient or modern times, delivering a message in mortality while suspended in midair. Not Moses returning from the Mount with the tablets of the Law; not Joseph Smith giving his incomparable King Follett Discourse on the nature of God; not Jacob when, filled with the Spirit and with the responsibility of his commission from the Lord, he denounced the Nephites for illegally practicing plural marriage; not even the Savior himself in any of his profound teachings given during his earthly life. In none of such instances did the delivery of the inspired message require the physical elevation of the prophetic messenger. Yet we are asked to believe that a personal protestation from President Taylor, which in effect merely reaffirmed an existing principle, called for such a supernatural manifestation.
It is a like case as regards the alleged noonday-sun brilliance of President Taylor's person. Again, where is the mortal precedent? True, after Moses' sublime experience of forty days of fasting combined with the Lord's presence on the Mount, "the skin of his face shone." But apparently he donned a veil because the people were "afraid to come nigh him," and not because they were physically unable to look at him. After the thunderings and lightnings of Mount Sinai, they had been afraid even to hear the voice of the Lord, let alone to experience visual manifestations of his power and glory.2
It was likewise with the great modern prophet, Joseph Smith. There are instances on record of his countenance turning "so white he seemed perfectly transparent"; he looked as if "he had a search light within him." "His whole person shone, and his face was lightened until it appeared as the whiteness of the driven snow." But, says one of these writers, "I could not take my eyes away from him" while he was in this condition.3 There is nothing here to suggest a noonday-sun brilliance which dazzles the human eye beyond endurance. All the evidence is that that kind of radiance is an attribute of celestial beings only.
A Heavenly Choir
It is claimed also that additional supernatural manifestations occurred during the protracted meeting.
At the time of the meeting held by Pres. John Taylor, September 27, 1886, during the meeting, singing was first heard by only four or five of the thirteen present, the last song being heard by all present. A Quartette sang, "The Birth of Christ," and a double quartette sang "The Birth of Joseph Smith" and "The Seer;" two or three other songs were sung. The singing was beautiful. President Taylor remarked after singing ceased, "That is the first time I have heard a heavenly choir."4
"The Seer, Joseph the Seer" is the title of a song written by John Taylor with music arranged by Ebenezer Beesley. It was adapted from an old English song, "The Sea," with lyrics by Proctor and music by Neucomm.5
There has never been an LDS hymn entitled "The Birth of Joseph Smith." The same is also true of the alleged hymn, "The Birth of Christ." Two songs in LDS hymnology refer to Jesus Christ's birth: "Jesus, Once of Humble Birth" (Hymns, No. 88) and "When Christ was Born in Bethlehem" (Hymns, No. 295). Could either of these be the hymn to which Lorin Woolley refers?
How did Lorin Woolley know the titles to the songs if he did not recognize them as familiar songs? Did the heavenly quartet leader announce the title of each song before it was sung?
This leads to another significant question. How could Woolley remember the titles of a group of songs after forty-three years when he does not seem able to accurately recall the places where he is supposed to have been guarding President Taylor? One would assume that the continual traveling back and forth to underground locations would make a more lasting impression on Woolley's memory than would the titles of songs that, at best, Woolley heard only once.
It seems strange that this allegation of heavenly hymnology never found its way into any of Lorin Woolley's standard versions. Perhaps it was "remembered" after all the standard versions were published. If so, why was it not included in Daniel Bateman's version? This is another case that indicates Daniel Bateman did not experience such events as Lorin Woolley claimed.
George Earl Testimony
In connection with this allegation of supernatural manifestations, we cite another portion of the Lorin Woolley story:
There are only three left who were at the meeting mentioned Daniel R. Bateman, George Earl, and myself. So far as I know, those of them who have passed away all stood firm to the covenants entered into from that day to the day of their deaths.
George Earl, who is purported to have been at the eight-hour meeting, later stated that he had never witnessed any such phenomena as Lorin Woolley described. His statement follows:
August 2nd, 1949
To whom it may concern:
I am making this statement of my own free will and choice, with: no duress nor pressure from any person. And it is truthful and I hope will have a good effect. As a young English convert I came to Utah nearly sixty five years ago, and in my middle teens I secured employment on the John W. Woolley farm in Centerville. I was as one of the family, taken into their confidence, and ate at the same table as they.
In the late eighties I saw come to the Woolley home, and remain there for perhaps eight months the following, although all of them did not remain constantly there, the following; President John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, Angus Cannon, Joseph E. Taylor. I repeat, I ate with them, helped guard them, and knew all the routine that went on from day to day.
I attended the meetings on Sundays, including Fast meetings. President Taylor presented me with a five dollar gold piece, with which I purchased a small trunk, and I still have it in my possession. I at times carried their mail to the Church office in Salt Lake City on horseback. I remember Charley Wilkins and Sam Bateman well.
I heard President Taylor sing "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" at a night party. Now for the crux of the letter. I have been approached during the past many years, by scores of men endeavoring to secure my signature to a statement that I was at the meeting where President was purported to have stood in the air and delivered a powerful sermon upon a certain doctrine, and that heavenly messengers visited him, etc. Never did I see or hear any such things, and I doubt if anyone else did, but I hereby solemnly affirm that I saw nothing supernaturel like that, nor heard such a sermon, and firmly believe It could not have escaped my observation had it occurred.
I am absolutely now the sole survivor who was present during those eight months, and feel it my duty to present these facts before the world, inasmuch as some aspersion has been cast upon my name by those seeking to subvert the truth. I always have had the feelings of the highest regard for all the Woolly family, and still do.
<signed> George Earl6
George Earl apparently was approached many times during his life by Fundamentalists seeking corroboration of the Lorin Woolley story. Each time he was approached he denied that he had been witness to any of the events described by Woolley, although he affirmed his respect for the Woolley family.
Although Lorin Woolley originally claimed that George Earl was one of the thirteen present at the eight-hour meeting, Earl's denials have caused Fundamentalists to later repudiate this claim and to pretend that he only occasionally entered the house between chores and therefore in truth would not remember the details. Joseph Musser later gave the following apology:
Another man is yet living who is said to have been at the meeting referred to. He was at the time a young chore-boy, passing in and out of the house from time to time; and while he recollects such a gathering as having taken place his memory as to details is not such as to constitute him a reliable witness. This man is George Earl, now residing at Centerville, Utah. Elder Earl, in a recent interview, while disclaiming a recollection of the details of the meeting referred to, with emphasis stated that after a life-long acquaintance with John W. Woolley, Lorin C. Woolley, and Daniel R. Bateman, he considers them to be men of probity and strict honesty, and that their testimony on any question can be relied upon.7
This statement baldly attempts to discredit George Earl's reliability as a witness, while at the same time attempting to assert his personal endorsement of any story on any subject that the three above-mentioned persons wished to promote. This statement, of course, implies his tacit approval of the entire Lorin Woolley story. It was in answer to such false and presumptuous claims that George Earl issued his above-quoted statement denying witness to the supernatural phenomena that allegedly took place at the eight-hour meeting.
Subterfuge and Innuendo
Some Fundamentalists have explained away George Earl's statement as a public subterfuge, claiming that he privately vindicated the story. It is alleged that George Earl made his 1949 statement in order "to remain in the good graces of those who opposed the  meeting." To veil the truth (as Lorin Woolley contends), George Earl purportedly "signed a carefully worded statement which though true, has given a wrong impression." His statement set up a "straw man" which he "carefully destroyed, while the true coin remained." Then, after all this pretended subterfuge, the authors frankly confess:
We had rather that if a public statement were to have been made, that it had been a direct affirmation of the same testimony he had borne on previous occasions in stead of a "smokescreen" attack on a "straw man."8
The "previous occasion" referred to came from the allegations of a daughter of B. Harvey Allred. She wrote in 1968:
.We attended the funeral of John W. Woolley [Dec. 15, 1928] in the stone Church in Centerville, Utah. My husband and I took Daniel R. Bateman there by automobile from his home in Midvale, Utah. We arrived shortly before commencing time. In fact, we were among the first to enter the building on that occasion. "Uncle" Dan, as we often lovingly addressed Brother Bateman, noted that Brother George Earl was up front placing song books in the choir seats.
Brother Bateman motioned us to follow and went forward to greet him. They met with hearty hand shakes. "Uncle" Dan introduced my husband and me as well known and trusted friends, while placing one hand on Brother Earl's shoulder and one on my husband's. Brother Bateman then requested him, as one more witness, to tell us his testimony as a participant in the events of September 26 and 27, 1886.
Brother Earl, having greeted us with brotherly cordiality, looked at his watch observing that it was less than twenty minutes until funeral time. He further stated that he had other preparations to make for the funeral and expressed regret that there would not be time. Then he brightened. Placing a hand on Uncle Dan's shoulder he said in substance as follows:
"Since there will not be time to relate it now I want to tell you young people this: Whatever Dan has told you about that meeting I will verify as the truth!"
This manifestation of confidence he had in Dan Bateman was uplifting. We parted with expressions of gratitude as Brother Earl resumed his work.... I met George Earl only once. I believe that he was true to his testimony to the end.9
It is interesting that during all the years George Earl lived after this purported event, neither Allred's daughter nor anyone else was ever able to secure any direct testimony from him on this subject to support their allegations. Why not? Earl stated that he "had been approached during the past many years by scores of men" endeavoring to get him to confirm the Lorin Woolley story. The best Joseph Musser or any of his colleagues could obtain from Earl was denial of the whole affair, so Earl is reported as "too young at the time to remember," "passing in and out of the house and not present," "disclaiming a recollection of the details of the meeting referred to," not a "reliable witness" to the events because "his memory as to details is not such as to constitute him" such, and so on. Allred's daughter's account is a vain attempt to explain away Earl's public testimony, a vindication that even Fundamentalist priesthood leaders could not obtain.
It seems the whole Lorin Woolley story must continually be vindicated by subterfuge and innuendo. With Earl's testimony as an important control, and considering the journals of other alleged participants, the Lorin Woolley story rests on a shaky foundation.
1. Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 6. See also Allred, A Leaf in Review, p. 186, which describes President Taylor as "surrounded by a thin halo of light."
2. See Exodus 34:29-35; 20: 18-19.
3. See the accounts of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner and Lorenzo Snow in the book They Knew the Prophet, compiled by Hyrum L. and Helen Mae Andrus, published by Bookcraft.
4. Items from the Book of Remembrance of Joseph W. Musser, p. 30. At a commemorative meeting held on December 20, 1936, Joseph Musser reported in his journal: "Charles H. Owen read the 'Seer,' a song composed by John Taylor. It was announced that this song was sung by a Heavenly Choir, during the meeting held at the home of John W. Woolley, Sept. 27, 1886.
5. Hymns, No. 296. Information from the Church Music Department.
6. Statement of George Earl, August 2, 1949, Church Archives, Salt Lake City.
7. Truth, vol. 2, no. 8 (January 1937), p. 118.
8. Bishop and Bishop, The Keys of the Priesthood Illustrated, pp. 167-169.
9. Allred, A Leaf in Review, 2nd ed., appendix 2, pp. 237-38.