Title: A 3-D Tour of Latter-day Saint History: Bringing B. H. Roberts Back to Life
Editors: Steven L. Richardson and Benjamin M. Richardson
Publisher: Signature Books
Genre: History, Photography
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 137
Reviewed by Andrew Hamilton for the Association of Mormon Letters
Ever since humans first started drawing and sketching the world that they saw around them on the walls of caves, many of them began seeking for more realistic and interactive ways to depict the experiences they were living through art. For thousands of years, 2-D drawings, sketches, and paintings were the only option for artists trying to recreate images of life to preserve for posterity and to share the sights they were experiencing with those at a distance. Then, in the mid-1800’s, a succession of inventions allowed for the preserving and sharing of much more realistic and interactive artistic experiences. Between 1832 and 1838 Charles Wheatstone invented and developed the first process that allowed for the viewing of images in three dimensions. Then in 1839 Louis Dagurre invented the first photographic process. Over the next two and a half decades several other inventors, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, would refine, develop, and combine both of these processes and in so doing created the original 3-D camera lenses and the stereoscope (see 3-D Tour, Introduction, pp. vii-viii).
For those who are not familiar with the device, a stereoscope, as explained in the 3-D Tour introduction, was viewing device that allowed the user to look at cards with two slightly off-set photos, the lenses of which created the illusion of 3-D for the eyes of the viewer. The stereoscope became very popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when door to door salesmen sold millions of the viewing and card sets, promising purchasers that these devices would allow them to experience natural and historic wonders that they would never otherwise be able to visit. To put it into a millennial term of understanding, a stereoscope, loaded with images of nature and history, was kind of like the 1900’s analogue version of Google Earth.
During the same time that stereoscopes were riding their wave of popularity, second and third generation Latter-day Saints in the Mountain West were taking a great interest in the history of their mothers and fathers and in the locations in which they had experienced early restoration history. In 1904, the company Underwood and Underwood seized on an opportunity and developed a stereoscope set made up of images created by Henry Strohmeyer of sites important in the history of Joseph Smith and the “Restoration.” They combined this set of images with a booklet containing text written by LDS general authority and historian BH Roberts that gave the story of each image. Soon they were marketing this set to Latter-day Saint individuals, wards, missions, and Sunday schools as “The Latter-day Saints Tour from Palmyra, New York, to Salt Lake City.”
The original 1904 set contained 39 images and accompanying descriptions. The sets were a little pricey, $6.50 cents for the card and book set ($176.00 in 2017 currency) and another 90 cents ( $24.00 today) for the viewer. But many were purchased by Latter-day Saints eager to experience the lands of their fore-mothers and fathers. The sets garnered enough interest that only one advertisement had to be placed and soon a second edition, as well as some “knockoff” sets, were produced (see 3-D Tour introduction, pp. xii-xv).
As time and technology progressed and new inventions began to captivate people, the stereoscope and its accompanying card sets soon began to be forgotten. By the middle of the 2oth century, few viewers and complete sets of the cards were left. The few that still did exist were in museums or in the hands of collectors. In 2005 Steven and Cathy Richardson met with the Utah Stereoscopic Society and were able to view a nearly complete set of the original “Latter-day Saints’ Tour.” Soon the Richardson’s were on a journey through archives and repositories in an attempt to learn all they could of the original “Tour” set. This effort eventually led Steven and Benjamin Richardson to contact Signature Books, which caused this current volume, combining the original images and the BH Roberts texts, to be produced.
A 3-D Tour of Latter-Day Saint History: Bringing BH Roberts back to Life is an oversized, “Coffee table” format book of 131 numbered pages. It is expertly bound and, like many of Signature’s recent books, is published on paper certified by the sustainable forestry initiative. The book has the image of an original stereoscope as well as a set of the familiar “blue-red” 3-D glasses on the cover. Each book comes with two sets of the viewer glasses (well, mine did, a friend of mine got 3 sets!).
3-D Tour is essentially divided up into three parts. A modern introduction gives a brief history and description of stereoscopes, a brief history of the LDS Church, touches on the history and story of BH Roberts as well as his involvement with the original project, and, of course, a description and history of the original “Latter-day Saints Tour” that became this book. The main portion of the book is made up of the original 39 BH Roberts text combined with the original stereographic images. Since they are reproduced in a book and not on cards (and since most modern readers do not own stereographs!) the images are given a 3-D effect using the red and cyan off-set process invented by Louis Ducos du Hauron in 1895. This process has been used to create 3-D effects in early 3-D movies and in many past 3-D books and comics. Most people, I imagine, have probably at some point read a book or, if they are of the right age, seen a movie using this process. It is where the image on the screen or page is an overlapped red/cyan image and the viewer wears glasses with one blue lens and one red lens that then creates a 3-D effect in the eyes of the beholder.
The majority of the text of “3-D Tour” is the original Roberts text from 1904. Some of Roberts’ descriptions are short, no more than a brief paragraph; others, such as the story of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, go on for several pages. Most of the images also have a brief modern caption that usually adds interesting tidbits of additional information, and in some cases, corrections to the original text. For instance, image 11 is said to be the Nauvoo home of Lorenzo Snow and image 15 is supposed to be the Nauvoo home of John Taylor. Neither home was ever the residence of either of these men. The modern captions, as much as possible, correct this information.
Some of the captions give modern updates for the pictured structure. Examples include the caption for the “Gardo House” (image 30) where the caption notes that it has since been torn down, and the Beehive House (image 29), which adds information about the use of the building and its surroundings in the time since, and refers readers to a website that provides more information. I LOVED these modern additions to the text. In fact, they left me wanting more. If I had a “major” complaint about this book, it would be that I would have liked to see more modern commentary and notes on the images and to the BH Roberts text. I understand that this was not the intent of the book. We are all indebted to the Richardsons and to Signature Books for preserving and passing on these historical images and for giving us what was for all intents a “lost” text by BH Roberts.
3-D Tour was beautifully produced and is a fun and interesting way to preserve and share a unique piece of history. Roberts’ original text is, as with all of Roberts’ work, interesting and informative, and the images with their 3-D effect are great. But I must admit, I wish that the Richardson’s had added more commentary or some footnotes to give the reader more scholarly and modern information. Who knows, if there is enough interest (hopefully there is a lot of interest, this is an awesome book!), maybe in the future we will be provided with a “critical text” or annotated style version of this project.
The final section of the book is an appendix. Since we are in a millennial age, think of this portion of the book as you would the “Bonus Features” section of a DVD or Blu-Ray. It includes “Alternative views” of images that were taken for, but not used in, the original set, or that were used in a second edition that came out about a year later. It also has 3-D images of several modern maps and aerial photographs of important Restoration history sites including Kirtland, Ohio, the Independence temple site, and “Adam-ondi-Ahman.” There is also a 3-D image of an original stereograph at the very end of the book just for fun.
Along with the aforementioned desire to have a little more modern commentary or maybe some footnotes added to the text, there were a two things about “3-D Tour” that were a little (very little) disappointing to me. A I have already mentioned, the “glasses” necessary to see the images in “3-D” are the one blue lens one red lens style. The front side of the viewing glasses are decorated in a kind of matte silver/grey color with designs that are meant to mimic the look of the stereoscope that is on the front cover of the book. The right side of the glasses is longer than the left side to provide a “handle” of sorts and has a “wood paneling” design to it. I do think that they look really cool and the “old timey” decoration design is a nice touch, but I’ll admit, I got tired of holding them after awhile, especially since I spent such a long time looking at the book (I’ve mentioned that it is an awesome book and I really liked looking at it, right?). While it is true that no reader is likely to read the text with the glasses on, and the design does allow them to be quickly put in front of the reader’s eyes so that they can see the 3-D pictures, and then removed so that they can read the text, I think that I would have preferred a more standard “glasses” style viewer with ear pieces that would allow me to wear them, something much like the image of standard 3-D glasses that appears on the book’s cover. On a related note with the glasses, some images do have more of a “3-D” effect/work better as a 3-D image than others do; this I imagine is to be expected. I personally had no trouble getting the glasses’ 3-D effect to work for me, and I thought that it was REALLY cool (so did my wife and “Gen Z” children), but I have a friend who has a copy of “3-D Tour” who told me that the glasses “did not do a darn thing” for him and he could not see any of the images in 3-D.
The other thing that I did not like about 3-D Tour relates to the presentation of some of the type in the book. As I have explained, there are two “texts” in 3-D Tour, the original text provided by BH Roberts, and some modern captions, additions, and commentary by the editors. The Roberts text is in standard black colored type and is easy to read. The captions and editor comments are a brownish-yellow color that I found difficult to see and read. I understand the need for a differentiation between the two texts, but I wish that they had chosen a different way to present the commentary/captions.
I would encourage all lovers of LDS history and historical sites to buy 3-D Tour. It makes history fun, it’s “retro,” it’s chic, and it’s really cool! Steven and Benjamin Richardson and Signature Books have done readers and students of LDS history a great favor by editing and publishing this book. Stereoscope images are something of a “lost art.” Few stereoscopes and fewer complete sets of stereoscope images have been preserved to this day. Because of this, chances are that most people have never even heard of the original “Latter-day Saints Tour” set and that even those who have likely have never seen nor would ever see these images without this book. While many Latter-day Saints who enjoy reading history and theology are likely familiar with and probably own books by BH Roberts, due to the unusual nature of the “Tour” booklet, so few copies of Roberts’ accompanying booklet still exist. I am guessing that most people, even most students of LDS history, did not even realize that the text existed. So to have these historical images and Roberts’ text preserved and presented in this beautiful and fun form is a wonderful thing indeed.
Over the years, Signature Books has made great efforts to preserve and present documents and texts from earlier generations of Mormon scholars. Along with their various “Diary” series, they have published the original text of BH Roberts Autobiography, and the original text of James E. Talmage’s Articles of Faith and The House of the Lord. A 3-D Tour of Latter-day Saint History now enters a pantheon of preserved texts that modern readers can study and enjoy. I hope that many copies of 3-D Tour are purchased, shared, and relished. It’s not Google Earth or virtual reality, but 3-D Tour is fun retro-cool and is definitely worth the price of admission!