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Salamander Letter & Other Forgeries

Curt Bench (owner of Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City) knew Mark Hofmann very well, having purchased many artifacts and documents from him.    Hofmann’s most famous forgery was known as the White Salamander Letter. The letter threatened to re-write Mormon history and fooled many experts in Mormon history.

It was just such a different take on the traditional story as one could imagine, and so he [Mark Hofmann] had claimed to have gotten it back east, a letter that came into his hands through a compatriot of his when actually later we find out that Mark created the document.  It kind of turned Mormon history on its head and then you have people squaring up on each side, the scholars that are trying to make sense of it and others saying there’s no way that could be true.

Mark didn’t just fool Mormon experts.  He actually tried to sell something to the Library of Congress and many of those experts were fooled as well.

Oath of a Free Man which was the first printed item in America that he tried to sell to the Library of Congress for $1 million to $1 million and a half.  He completely created that.  He has the plates made for it.  He printed it and altered letters and kind of rubbed them down so they looked old.  He did all kinds of things and the Library of Congress was doing tests on it, and the American Antiquarian Society was another that looked very closely at buying that, and that was a huge deal when that failed to sell because Mark owed so many people money because of his schemes and a lot of it was over the McLellin Collection which nobody ever saw but there was a lot of talk about and a lot of money that changed hands over it.  Because that failed to sell, The Oath of a Free Man, Mark was in a world of hurt financially and had to come up with money.

It’s amazing the number of experts Hofmann was able to fool.  Don’t forget to check out Part 1 of our conversation.  What do you think?

White Salamander Letter & Other Forgeries

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Bombs in Salt Lake: Introduction to Mark Hofmann

In 1985, three bombs in Salt Lake went off in two days.  It was the work of Mark Hofmann, a master forger and now a bomber.  He killed two people and injured himself in these bomb blasts.  Curt Bench was actually a good friend of Mark Hofmann at the time as well as one of the victims killed, Steve Christensen.  Curt gives us his firsthand account of how he learned about this, and especially how he was introduced to Mark Hofmann.

Curt:  Well I tell people I didn’t know him well as well as I wish I had, as I should have.  When you said we were good friends, we were friends, but we did a lot of business together.  He kind of established himself as a, I guess today what would we say?  [He was] kind of a rock star.  He had made some amazing discoveries of Mormon documents, the Anthon Transcript and things like that that got him a lot of attention.

I met him.  I was in the same business, although we hadn’t really done documents very much, maybe once in a while but we did a lot of rare books, other collectibles and so I was kind of excited to meet Mark Hofmann who had gotten all this attention and had established himself as an expert in documents as well as other things, rare books, and things.  So it made sense for me to get to know him and to do business with him and we did a lot of business over the next few years.

Hoffman didn’t deal in just Mormon documents.

We had a Daniel Boone document {early American frontiersman}.  I’m just trying to think of some things that weren’t just in the Mormon field.  Some things were books but quite often they were documents and so this was my big foray into that field.  I was a relative novice when it came to Mormon manuscripts and documents and so I kind of let him guide me in a lot cases.  When he would—he wasn’t dramatic at all and didn’t seem like he was trying to sell you.  He wasn’t a used car salesman type at all.  He was quiet and introspective but he made a big deal about things, but often he would say, “It’s a nice item.”

Were any of the items caught early?  Check the podcast to find out.  (You may also be interested in our interviews with Shannon Flynn who talks about Mark’s teenage forgeries!)  What do you think about this tragic story?

Curt Bench, Owner of Benchmark Books and witness of Hofmann Bombings and forgeries

Bombs in Salt Lake: Introduction to Mark Hofmann

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Overcoming “Nice” Racism

We’ll finish our discussion with Dr. Darron Smith of the University of Memphis today and finish off by talking about how to overcome racial discrimination.  A lot of people think when you use the word “racism”, it only applies to hostile communications.  Smith talks about “nice” racism.

Darron:  Yes, I have a nice bumper sticker that says that.  Utah the nicest racists you’ll ever find.  It says that on the bumper.  It’s really kind of cool.  Yes I think people, the lay public, tend to think that racism is about individual acts of meanness, aggression, you know one race against another.  ‘I hate you Rick, you cracker.’  ‘I hate you Darron, you nigger.’  Right?  That’s what they think racism is.

That’s very small.  That’s inter-personal racism.  That’s where it stops for most people.  They don’t go beyond that.  We’re talking about institutionalized racism, we’re talking about practices, patterns, behaviors, beliefs that get imbued into an institutional standard or norm, and people are racist by practice, racist by default, racist by privilege in the sense that whites in this country benefit from racism because racism allows whites more privilege because of their skin complexion.  Being white means you have more privilege in this country because you don’t have to deal with driving while black.  You don’t have to deal with being kicked out of BYU because you had sex with some girl who wanted to have sex with you, or you don’t follow the Honor Code, or whatever the issue is, whatever the stereotypical notions that follow around people are, I don’t have to, white people don’t have to worry about that.  That’s something that whites take for granted in a racist society.

Blacks and other groups that are marginalized have to constantly deal with that on some level whereas whites don’t.  So that’s the difference.  White Americans look at race as an interpersonal phenomenon and it stops there.  What I’m saying, at least what I think you are saying or at least alluding to in your question is that it’s deeper than that.  It’s amorphous yet it’s superfluous.  It’s everywhere.  We engage in it all the time, but we don’t even know about it. We’re unconscious of it much of the time until it’s brought to our [attention.]

We’ll talk about the less overt racism and how to overcome these problems.

So the Good Samaritan Rule only applies to whites.  Whites are more apt to help other white people, they’re less apt to help other people, especially blacks.  Blacks are more apt to help other people as well as other blacks.  Other groups are more apt to help other people as well as their own group.  Whites are the only group that has no love for others, maybe Asian, maybe sprinkled with Asian but whites routinely do whites, hang out with whites, look and vibe white.  That has to change.

Most white Americans in this country, not all white Americans, but most white Americans I would argue lack empathy for people of color.  That’s why it’s easy to pull a gun and fire and kill a black man without any real remorse.  That’s why when you see pre-incident polling between whites and blacks after a shooting, you get such different answers about—blacks see it as abhorrent, whites see it as, he shouldn’t have been—he should have stayed still.  They don’t see this guy as a human.  They don’t.

Janan [Graham-Russell] talked about it in the meeting.  I was trying to get that when Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, he said in his statement, he looked like a demon.  Blacks have a long history of being caricatured, objectified like that, demonized like that.  So if you don’t see people as human, it’s easy to cast them off.  Until that changes in white America, we’re going to continue to talk about this.

What do you think of Smith’s characterizations?


Overcoming “Nice” Racism