In the back pages of a 1933 Improvement Era magazine, a story of incredible significance was placed. This story detailed the struggles Lorenzo Snow had, in wanting to reorganize the First Presidency, after the death of Wilford Woodruff in 1898 and how he retired to the temple in order to pray about the situation. The story also described in detail a vision or visitation of Christ to Lorenzo Snow in the Salt Lake Temple and how Lorenzo was told to reorganize the First Presidency “at once and not wait as had been done”. Previously the leadership had always waited until they felt it was a good time to reorganize the First Presidency however Lorenzo Snow wanted to avoid that practice. Over the years the account in this article has been retold in multiple Ensign articles, Institute manuals, Primary manuals, Sunday school manuals, and even the Friend magazine. The only problem though is that it almost certainly never happened. We have no evidence to suggest that it occurred, yet the church allowed it to be published in 1933 and still continues to use it today despite the overwhelming likelihood that it is in fact totally manufactured.
The story itself was published 35 years after the event by LeRoi C. Snow who was the son of Lorenzo Snow though his last polygamous wife, Sarah Minnie Jensen. It describes a firsthand account of Lorenzo Snow telling his granddaughter, Allie Young Pond, of the vision in the temple. Allie herself was the granddaughter of both Lorenzo Snow, on her mother’s side, and Brigham Young, on her father’s side. The firsthand telling of the event in the article is a bit light on details however it does mention that Allie and President Snow were in the temple late one evening and President Snow stopped to tell Allie the exact place that Christ had appeared to him. President Snow then related to Allie that Christ instructed him to reorganize the First Presidency immediately and to not wait as the previous leaders had done.
The rest of the firsthand account doesn’t relay much more information however the article itself lists several unequivocal facts in order to bolster the veracity of the firsthand experience. The first is that during a June 1919 conference LeRoi Snow related the story and Heber J. Grant confirmed the account. Secondly, President Anthon H. Lund personally heard of the story from President Snow himself. Lastly, Elder Arthur Winter had mentioned President Snow had also communicated the story to him privately. Each of these is verifiable as much as we have records and if anyone of these corroborated the story then that would of course greatly help establish the stories truthfulness. However, as we will see each one of them falls apart rather quickly.
The 1919 Conference
The meeting that LeRoi Snow mentioned in the Improvement Era article was the annual Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) conference. This was a precursor to the modern Young Men’s and Young Women’s organizations that we have today. From the minutes of the conference, we know that LeRoi Snow passed the sacrament and spoke during a testimony meeting. In addition, this would be the first public retelling of the vision therefore it would be logical to assume there would be some excitement surrounding it.
However, no journals of the time, including Anthony W. Ivins who was president of the MIA, describe a vision having been retold. The two main newspapers of the time, the Deseret News, and the Salt Lake Herald, both reported on the conference and mention nothing of the vision. For instance, imagine what kind of excitement it would generate today if President Nelson shared a similar vision experience. It would be chronicled far and wide. Therefore, it is very likely to conclude that no such account was related during the conference.
The Testimony of Heber J. Grant
In the article, LeRoi Snow extensively quoted President Grant who allegedly spoke during that 1919 MIA meeting. This would be quite difficult to do unless a written record existed, or LeRoi Snow had an excellent memory as the article was written almost 15 years later. We do however know that nothing was recorded for that date in President Grant’s journal and nothing like this experience was recorded by him at all. LeRoi Snow was unable to provide any information for this claim or a written account for where the words of President Grant came from since we know there were no detailed minutes kept.
In 1926, which would have been seven years after the MIA conference, President Grant received a letter from a member inquiring as to which church leaders had actually had visions of Christ. His response was very simple and matter of fact. He responded, “I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” President Grant would have been in the meeting where President Snow is alleged to have shared his vision. He also was alleged to have been in the 1919 MIA conference where he extensively spoke about the vision and confirmed it. Therefore, it is highly likely that this assertion to support the vision is also manufactured.
The Testimony of Athon H. Lund
In the article LeRoi Snow mentioned that “a few days” after the MIA conference he met with Elder Lund where Elder Lund mentioned “he heard father tell a number of times of the Savior’s appearance to him”. Elder Lund himself, who wrote extensively, never made any record of such a meeting or being told of the vision. It seems likely that LeRoi Snow would have had some interactions with Elder Lund however the extent of these interactions is certainly in question. However, it does seem likely that if someone heard of something “a number of times” that there would be some indication in their private correspondence or public statements to the effect. Therefore, it is highly likely that this assertion is also manufactured.
The Testimony of Arthur Winter
This account is sadly quite similar to the previous one. The article mentions LeRoi Snow had an interaction with Arthur Winter at a sacrament service in the area where LeRoi speaking about Arthur said, “[he] told me he also had heard my father tell of the Savior’s appearance to him in the Temple”. Arthur, who worked as secretary in the president’s office, would certainly have had conversations with LeRoi Snow who also worked in the church offices. The only known diary of Arthur is in the Church History Library however the diary ends in 1900 and there is no known diary after this point. Therefore, there is nothing currently which supports the idea that Arthur knew about the visitation or alleged vision. There is no evidence to support this assertion therefore it is also highly likely that this assertion is manufactured.
In 1946, due to some curiosity about the alleged vision, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles asked Elder John A. Widtsoe to investigate the truthfulness. At this time Allie Pond had been dead for about 3 years and so Elder Widtsoe wrote to her husband Noah S. Pond to get his recollection of things. Noah responded a few days later and individually corroborated each assertion of the article. In addition, he also mentioned that President Snow told the other apostles of the vision, something that we know is incorrect due to contemporary records. In individually confirming each assertion of the article it also strongly suggests Noah was referencing the article while composing his response.
Lastly, he asserted that his wife Allie had in fact written the account down however he was unable to produce a copy of that supposed written account. Due to this Elder Widtsoe’s investigation through Noah was an immediate dead-end. Elder Widtsoe continued his investigation however every single person supposedly associated with the vision, or the corroboration of the vision, was dead except the author LeRoi Snow. In addition, there were no written records or anything that would indicate any claim of the article or that the vision was true. Therefore, the only assumption to be made was the article and the vision itself were a fabrication.
Since there is not a since shred of evidence to support any of the assertions that LeRoi Snow made in the 1933 Improvement Era article, I think it is very safe to say that the events never happened. I am not claiming that LeRoi is lying or intentionally distorting things. I do however think that recalling events many years in the past often leads to distortions and embellishments of the facts. This is evident today with inherently unreliable eyewitness testimony. Individuals can swear that a certain thing happened however the truth can be proven to be totally different. Memories can easily be distorted based on current circumstances and events. Quotes can be misremembered and then reconstructed with a different meaning. Unrelated events can be related in your mind and then the necessary connections be made to make a person’s version of events coherent. Contemporary accounts for any of the listed assertions could help establish them however a lack of those accounts certainly seems to suggest that this story should be ignored and treated as a faith promoting myth.
A lot of information for this article was take from the excellent write up, “From Prayer to Visitation: Reexamining Lorenzo Snow’s Vision of Jesus Christ in the Salt Lake Temple.” by John P. Hatch.