The Career of a Counterfeit Artist and the World of Literary Forgery (2002)



Simon Morel author of the poet in the murder what's your book about it's about a forged Emily Dickinson poem that was bought by the Jones library in Amherst they believed it was a genuine poem it was spotted by the curator of Special Collections at the Jones library in April 1997 in a Sotheby's catalog it was advertised as a genuine Emily Dickinson poem it was a 15 line poem and the first unpublished Emily Dickinson poem in 40 years which was quite an event it's the manuscripts are very rare and very valuable and there hadn't been a new poem on the market for some 40 years so we're in Amherst at the moment yep the stories library that's right the story starts in Amherst which of course it should be noted is Emily Dickinson's birthplace so the discovery of this brand-new poem which was up for sale at Sotheby's at the June 1997 auction was a big event for Amherst and above all for the curator of special collections there it has a his desire to buy it was motivated not just by wanting to add to the collection that they have of manuscripts including Dickinson manuscripts Robert Frost of course lived in Amherst they have a number of those it's also loaded motivated by a desire to bring this poem home if you like and Daniel Lombardo who was the curator who organized a fundraising drive to raise the money the Jones library is not a very wealthy Lively compared with Harvard or Yale some of the big privately endowed libraries and it was a battle for this little town library it's actually the local librarian in Amherst it's not the Amherst College Library it's actually the town's public library but it has this Special Collections section where they have a pretty good collection of original manuscripts related to writers connected with adverse so for him it was an exciting moment it was the chance to bring this wonderful new Emily Dickinson poem home to Amherst on the back a book you have a picture of Emily Dickinson that's right why why is her poetry so valuable she's a great poet and her reputation I think it's fair to say has risen progressively since her death in 1880 she was regarded for a long time as just being too difficult and eccentric in terms of the way that she wrote it's a very modern expressionist sort of idiosyncratic way of writing much more like a Cummings than 19th century poets and for a long time I think the public just had a lot of trouble with these short very complex poems that she wrote starting in I guess the 1920s then progressively through the 50s a big edition came out the forties and fifties her reputation began to soar and really in the last 25 years above all her reputation has really soared and she's now regarded I think it's Harold Bloom that the literary critic that has said that is in his opinion she's one of the two great American greatest American poets and I'll let you guess who the other one is no Walt Whitman so she's overtaken if you like a lot of other candidates or potential candidates for being now regarded as one of the two great American poet Ian you went to her home there in Amherst yes that's right and the homestead it's called which has been preserved as a museum and renovated they've now renovated the house next door the evergreens where her brother and sister-in-law lived it was an extraordinary a world that she inhabited and a very reclusive person she lived at home in the homestead which was a large one of the larger houses it was very well-to-do family to Dickinson family one of the best families in Amherst old New England Yankee family Emily ended up staying at home really all of her life except for a couple of short visits and indeed for the last some 2530 years of her life she never left the grounds of the house and she lived there and worked there wrote her poetry in her bedroom upstairs and for anybody who hasn't been there it's really well worth going it's a bit like you know I think all writers houses are interesting and they're certainly when you go up the stairs and you go into the bedroom you can see the bed that she slept in all of those years on the table by the window where she wrote these extraordinary poems none of which of course were published I mean she was a she left a great riddle and a great mystery to the world when she died she was herself a great riddle and a great mystery in her life because she was so rarely seen you know she dressed in white frequently she was rarely glimpsed she almost never went into the town she was a recluse Howard Hughes's the wrong comparison but she was as reclusive as Howard Hughes certainly how long did she live and when did she die she was born in 1830 and died in 1883 I think it isn't sorry if I get the date wrong but she she died in you know late 40s of complications with her kidneys and what impacted her to have on her life in her poetry and her image that she never married well that's an interesting question I have not thought about that I think in a life it had none at all because she wasn't known as a poet except to a very small collection of friends and supporters she had a number of friends who were editors of literary journals or newspapers and they knew of her work but she didn't get it published it was really just it was a hundred years ahead of the times her poems were so modern in their sound and so unlike the kind of poetry was that was being written during her lifetime that she didn't find an audience at that time so she was really except for a small number of people she was entirely unknown to the public that changed soon after her death but her reputation it took quite a long time for it to really become established and and and for the facts about her life to become clear and they never have actually because she left so little evidence of who she was apart from these extraordinary powers that were found in a locked box you know this was a secret activity for her the writing of poetry was her private confessional if you like it's where she wrote down all of the things that moved her and she cared about most how many bombs did she write she wrote I think the numbers 1789 something like that 7 1789 yeah I think 700 were found in this lock box that and then another 1089 were found elsewhere some of them had been sent to friends in letters or just as gifts she wrote poems you know if after somebody had died she sent a consoling note and often a little poem and none of them had titles none of them had dates and only 10 of them had been published in her lifetime and those against her will so when she died the world her family initially and then the world discovered this really it's one of the great literary riddles of the world actually is when were these poems written and to whom were they written because as I say in the book if you look at a writer like William Wordsworth in England because he was published and the poems appeared at specific dates and had titles and were written about him in reviews you can establish a chronology of the writers life you know when William Wordsworth wrote lines written above Tinton Abbey you know how old he was what he what was going on in his life why he wrote the poem none of this is no I've had Emily Dickinson one page for your book that God cannot be understood everyone agrees we did not know his motives nor comprehend his deeds then why should I seek solace and what I cannot know better to play and Wintersun than to fear the snow what's that that is the forgery that is a poem that was forged by Mark Hofmann an extraordinarily gifted forger also a double murderer and hence the title of the book the poet and the murderer and that was the poem that was that appeared in the Sotheby's catalog in April 1997 and it was seen by the curator of the Jones library it's a 15 line poem the date that the forger hop mark Hoffman ascribed to his 1871 which is important big cars Emily Dickinson was what 40 41 at that time and she was writing these kinds of poems had great years as an artist in most prolific years and the years at which she wrote her greatest poetry for which she's remembered with this sort of late eighteen fifties early sixties 1862 s for there's a little bit after that her talent started to cool a little bit her production started to lessen as well and she did less revision of her poems and she wrote these kind of little homily pieces with which this is it's not when the experts looked at it when Daniel Lombardo looked at it and then asked Ralph Franklin at Yale University to have a look at it at it as Daniel Lombardo was thinking of buying the poem he wanted a outside opinion and he took it to somebody called Ralph Franklin who was the head of the binary library in Yale at Yale University and Franklin is the world's acknowledged expert on Dickinson's manuscripts her handwriting the whole publication history the history of her workshop as its called and Franklin looked at the poem and both he and Lombardo felt it wasn't a great poem you know it was I think the best comment I heard was if this was Emily it was Emily on a bad day but she did write other poems around this time and later that were not you know there were little homilies there so called wisdom pieces and that led them to think well okay the country in terms of the content it could be an Emily Dickinson play so far we have Amherst Massachusetts the Jones library is it a private libraries at a local public library it's a public library funded partly well partly brought by the town of Amherst and partly by donation for the special collection you get Ralph Franklin who is with the by Nikki library rare books and all that at yes right then how does both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas come into this right well the press I should go back to the beginning of the story how I've got to find out about it I read a little article in The New York Times that said this poem had been found and it was the first unpublished Emily Dickinson for 40 years it was going on sale and it was a half a page article had talked about Dickinson her reputation some of those things we've been talking about they didn't really think twice about it I happened to read it six months later I read a very small piece in The New York Times that said the unpublished Emily Dickinson poem recently purchased by the Jones live in Amherst for twenty-one thousand dollars has been returned to Sotheby's as a forgery so go back to there for a second the New York Times had bought off on the idea that this was a real pump everybody had so they bid a big article and Sotheby's is involved selling it the new york-based sale that they were gonna have yeah and so up till that point every I thought this is a real thing and your friend Dan Lombardo who has the Jones library was gonna buy this thing absolutely and the probably the the the main reason that he was satisfied he did you know his own so called due diligence he looked at the poem he looked other poems that Jones lied we had genuine Emily Dickinson poems one I think we've got on the table called a little madness and spring which comes from the same day this play this is actually a photocopy of a genuine Dickinson writing in pawn famous poem the first Jones library owned from much the same date and the first thing that Dan Lombardo did was to compare the letter forms the writing to handwriting of the poem that God cannot be understood with this poem and Ralph Franklin did so also and I think it's safe to say that Lombardo decided to buy the poem because Ralph Frankland a great expert if anybody in America if anybody in the world would know what is a genuine Emily Dickinson poem based above all on the handwriting the content was good enough it wasn't great but it could be Emily Dickinson above all it was that it was the handwriting and Franklin at Yale University took the poem that turned out to be a forgery and he has charts of letter forms or the examle Dickinson's handwriting this is one of the interesting kind of puzzles in the whole story changed enormous Lee during her lifetime indeed if you compare manuscripts from when she was in her 20s to manuscripts at the end of her life you would barely believe that the same person had written these poems and very cleverly the forger in a sense it shows the greatness of the forgery he chosen a time 1871 where her handwriting was particularly complicated Ralph Franklin has described as her handwriting was coming apart she was writing she had trouble with eyesight at that time and she had hypertension and that may have affected how she wrote and you'll find different letter forms that she used for instance a letter e small e which she used before 1871 and then after which she used a different form after Hayden 21 there's one small he looks like a normal and then there's another he that looks like a 3 turn backwards it doesn't look like it what you and I with the smoke caller Smalley at all both of these letter e's occurred in this poem and so when Franklin went to look at his charts with all of the letters he was finding well good you know here's this letter e here's that form there was two forms of the letter D everything checked out everything that the letter T was right the way she wrote at H was right not just generally right but minutely and specifically right for 1871 so when he looked at this he thought god damn it you know this has to be genuine Franklin and imagining talking now this has to be genuine because as he felt nobody and the world could possibly know these details about her handwriting except him actually the book the poet and the murder the poet is Emily Dickinson the murder is Mark Hofmann where is he today he's in a medium-security prison in Draper Utah mark Hoffman was a Mormon brought up in Salt Lake City very bright very gifted young man was a teenager was interested in chemistry and history science he went to Logan State University had studied biology very interested in science chess very rational mind enquiring mind but he was brought up in a very strict Mormon environment and he became disgruntled with the Mormon Church he had a lot of questions about what he regarded were problem areas of Mormon doctrine and theology to put it bluntly he simply didn't believe many of the founding legends of the Mormon religion and he was also very troubled by a family secret that there was his grandmother had been married in a polygamous marriage after the time that polygamy had been bad and it was a sort of a family to boo to talk about it and he became obsessed by this his own story the story of his own family he wanted to find out what was the truth about his grandmother's marriage and nobody wanted to talk about it his family refused to talk about it the community-at-large refused to discuss it because of course polygamy has been a very problematic institution legacy for the Mormon Church and I think that this inquiring young mind that had a lot of questions like all teenagers you know I have a teenage son and full of questions and the most important thing with teenagers I think is to you keep a dialogue open and there wasn't really he was told you know shut up and believe it's a paraphrase it slightly crudely and I think that generated a great deal of resentment in him he became a twisted person inside I think he also became a person who was forced to become one thing on the outside while he was actually another thing on the inside and he began to Forge Mormon documents which at first he was a brilliant conman and a master of human psychology one of the great Criminal Minds actually I think of the 20th century he knew what people wanted he it was as though he could look inside your heart and tell what it was that you cared about most certainly in terms of manuscript collecting he knew what people wanted and he created documents that would answer that that need you say in the book or you quote somebody the book is saying that he forged a thousand documents that's right and solve them that's right he as far as we know because the full tally isn't isn't in but as far as we know it's about a thousand doc how old is he today he is in his late 40s and he's in prison yeah he was sentenced to prison in 1986 for murder he eventually his career as a forger he created these thousand documents initially they were above all Mormon documents and what he did was diabolically cunning he initially created documents that appeared to authenticate some of the central tenets of the Mormon religion Mormonism is you're probably knows was had a bit of a problem because it has not had historical proof of some of its founding legends and myths which is unusual for such a young religion I mean it's normal that things from the Christian early Christian era have disappeared but Mormonism dates back to the 19th century but we don't really have any part facts and documents to prove its founding legends and there was always a worry within the mormon hierarchy that this was the case and there was a great hunger for what they called faith promoting documents documentation that could prove that what was said in the Book of Mormon was true and what Hofmann knew the culture grew up in it he began to create documents that appeared to support central parts of the Mormon legend to give you an example he he he forged the what would have been the first Mormon artifact a letter from the Prophet Joseph Smith's mother he forged the last which was a letter from Joseph Smith written in prison these are for the Mormon Church he's a huge huge documents you know and he forged something called the Anton transcript it's too complicated to get into but for the Mormon Church these were extraordinary it would be a bit like finding a new letter bison pool and I don't exaggerate here you know for the Christian religion and he sold these to the Mormon Church and thereby won their confidence he was also himself a well respected dealer of historical documents in Salt Lake City genuine historical documents which he used then as a front and he amassed the Mormon Church and its hierarchy and it's worth noting here that the president of the Mormon Church Gordon B Hinckley who was involved with many of these transactions has a figure in the Mormon religion a bit like the Pope in Roman Catholicism Hoffman was eventually dealing on one-on-one terms with Gordon Hinckley who thought of course that he was buying genuine documents you say that the Mormon Church has 12 million people in it were a wise Road go back to again the date thing he's been in prison you say since 1986 six the Amherst library purchased was 1997 that's right now where were you when you first read that in the art time story I was a home on Long Island having breakfast and read the story about this Emily Dickinson poem turned up because nothing was known about Mark Hofmann there was no connection and as I said I didn't really note it and then I read a second article that said it was a forgery and I remember putting down the paper and turning to my wife and saying who would do such a thing who could do such a thing then I remembered the first article well what were you doing for a living well I'm a full-time journalist I'm a magazine writer and of course you always you know as a magazine writer you have your antenna up for a great story and I just was intrigued by this and thought who could manage that who would you know he'd fooled Sotheby's he fooled the Jones library he fooled everybody whoever this was if it was a forger which it was and I called up dan Lombardo the curator of the Jones library who had bought the poem and then done his own as suspicions arose dan and one of the stories I tell in the book it's the story of a small town like arian who thinks he's doing the best thing for his you know little home library and finds he's a meshed in this extraordinary story of money forgery auction houses rare documents dealer in las vegas gun dealers in Salt Lake City and the trail eventually leads back to mark Hoffman to a prison cell in Utah and when I heard the outlines of the story from Daniel Lombardo the first 45 minutes over the phone I mean I had that you know classic the hair stand up on your back of your neck I just couldn't believe that behind this Emily Dickinson poem and there was a tyranny to me immediately of course here's this most reclusive were closest reclusive sorry of people who didn't publish in her lifetime who called publication publication is the auction of the mind of man of all people she became the object of this extraordinary convoluted literary scam and I was just fascinated by all of the multiple levels of it and I tried in the book to tell you know all of these different stories the story of Emily Dickinson the story of mark Hoffman Daniel Lombardo's story and to to mesh them together if you like and the more mature and the Mormon Church because you couldn't tell mark Hofmann's story without looking at the culture that he grew up in which shaped him in a in a deformed kind of way now you're from where originally I'm British yep already read well I was an army brat so I grew up aged six months I was shipped off on a on a plane to East Africa and then Paris and then Singapore came back to England when I was nine and Wendy was the first time you came to the United States where I came first in 73 just travelling as a young I just graduated from college but I'd always had a sort of relationship always been interested in America and America can myth and American literature and studied literature at college and I lived in Germany for a number of years in the 80s and then I met my now wife in the early nineties and moved over here and you know became a correspondent magazine writer writing all-american stories for European publications most are you still a bracer sir yes sir and you live here full time since I live here full time since 91 yes 1991 yeah so this is five years ago when you got into all this have you met mark Hoffman no despite repeated attempts he's about as reclusive and secretive as Emily Dickinson and he we tried the the book originated as a magazine story that was commissioned by Harper's Magazine in New York and what year this is 1998 that kind of time 1999 I wrote the first story and it had a tangled publication history Harper's couldn't bring it down to a length that we thought worked it was then bought by The New Yorker the New Yorker walked away from it eventually and I won't get into too much detail on that but they were worried that Sotheby's were going to sue them which I don't think they would have it was eventually picked up the article god bless him by George Plimpton at the Paris Review who we had to do a lot of legal very thorough legal vetting and I remember having to write answer 290 questions from Clinton's lawyer because there was a lot of legal issues at stake and the book doesn't quite prove that Sotheby's knew this they were selling a forgery by a double murderer but it certainly asks a lot of questions about what they did know and I leave it to the audience the reader to decide what it is you know what they did or didn't know and since you're the bookseller bees has had its own problem since this other bees has had its own very great problems of course the former chairman of Sotheby's Alfred aide Talman is currently in the same situation as Mark Hofmann he's in a federal penitentiary for the price fixing what became known as the price fixing scandal commission's fixing and i think in a sense that that says a lot about the kind of culture i can't speak about and know what i want to comment on how it is now but i think it's safe to say that now what what we know about what the chairman of Sotheby's was doing that was illegal for which he's in jail I think it's fair to say that as most companies reflect the habits and behavior of their CEOs whether it's Enron or Sotheby's I think it's fair to say that the culture of Sotheby's at that time was not quite as actually said honest as it could have been did you ever ask the Maritimes why they believed this was a real pawn no I didn't actually I didn't I I think they had no reason to wonder why why it wasn't but it was they had taken that from Celebes with that they would have taken it from Sotheby's here it was in the Sotheby's catalog that seemed to be you know sufficient reason it looked like an Emily Dickinson poem and I I suppose they were generally satisfied that Sotheby's had done its due diligence and their experts had decided it was authentic and ipso facto it was who owns Sotheby's Sotheby's is owned well I think it's about to be sold actually isn't it because Alfred a-tellin was both the chairman and the owner of Sotheby's but originally a British company originated British company absolutely founded in the late 18th century it's very interesting there and is one of the stories I tell in brief a sort of snapshot history of Sotheby's is one of the interesting things is you know in the early days of Sotheby's foundation in in London in the 18th century which was a fairly raffish century probably our most you know raffish the auction houses were regarded in a very poor light they were regarded as you know basically secondhand salesman of old people's old furniture and paintings and honesty was not something they were associated and they certainly weren't associated with glamour they were sort of yard sales glory five yard sales and of course our age obsessed as it is with celebrity has sort of transformed that and the auction houses have been very clever into transforming themselves into you know icons of high life really you know to go to a Sotheby's sale or a Christie's sale now but whether you buy a Vermeer or a van Gogh or not is regarded much the same as you know having a seat at the best restaurant in New York or you know going to watch polo in Bridgehampton so did anybody ever publish this in magazine form yes it came out in the Paris Review thank just the person he finally got to that yes thanks to George Plimpton who loved the story and actually called it Emily Dickinson goes to Las Vegas which I thought was great because one of the connections one of the back stories was that the document the poem had passed through the hands of a historical documents dealer in Las Vegas of all places not a place that's really known for historical documents or or its culture but more for gambling obviously it had passed through the hands of historical documents dealer they're called Todd Axelrod and it was discovered by Dan Lombardo and later by myself that had have been in Axelrod's possession for a number of years he did exhibit it in his showrooms for sale for $40,000 then the trails that went cold and years later it popped up at Sotheby's and incidentally one of the great the initial article was a sort of piece of detective work it was true connecting all of the dots we had a sort of a skeleton structure of how this poem had got from mark Hofmann's hands a double murderer currently in jail in Utah var Las Vegas to Sotheby's in New York and to the Jones library in Amherst and one of the reasons the story fascinated me was this extraordinary journey across America that this document had taken and passed through these different hands and the initial article that the main thrust of it was to join the dots together how did it get from Hoffman to Las Vegas from Las Vegas to Sotheby's what did Sotheby's know what did the dealer in Las Vegas know who was telling the truth was anyone what's his more information in this book than there was in the article much more about what basically what what kind of things are new in the book in the book well obviously when I got in advance from penguin Putnam Dutton who published a book and had a year to write the book and one of the first questions you're asked is you know why what's in this that could make a book why do we want to know more about this and really what what has become expanded greatly is the role both of Emily Dickinson her life story which is a parallel story of in a way almost secret identity in a way that mark Hofmann's is there's much more about the Mormon Church there's much more about the history of for literary forgery which I became fascinated in and as I tried to tell a lot of different stories but to keep the story moving forward fast as a chapter I do on handwriting it became fascinated in the neuropsychology of handwriting the complexity you know every time we pick up a pen and a piece of paper it's extraordinary complex process that's involving 50 muscles in our shoulder arm and hands and neuro neurological reactions and so I wanted to tell Lots as many different stories as I could in the book as I read the book I kept saying okay who do you murder who do you murder who do you murder Hannah you you don't tell us for a long time use it on purpose yes of course yes of course you want to tell our audience we murder no I think I'll leave it for them to go and buy the book and how much did you decide before you sat down to do interviews that you would not tell an audience like this and they were like this yeah not much actually but that that I I did I did give that away several times and I you know it's just it's better that the reader discovers that it does take a long time and you did you do that on purpose yes absolutely I mean every writer does that whether you know whether it's a nonfiction book or a novel of course there's you know you delay the the climax of the book if you like and it not that that is that the the soul climax and to go back to that thing about what changed in the book the real breakthrough with the writing of the book and where it took on a new dimension and became much more as I hope it is then a long magazine article and I don't think it is a it's it's a book was when I started to see these uncanny parallels between the two main characters the poet and the murder and that's what I need to say of course I am in no sense of waiting mark Hoffman a forger a forger and a murderer with Emily Dickinson but they do have one thing in common and I think it's why one of the reasons I was fascinated by both of them and I think people will be interested when they read the book is we're all fascinated by genius whether it's Michael Jordan you know shooting three-pointers or a great ballet dancer or a great painter or a great writer were all fascinated by those people that seem to have some extra superhuman talent Emily Dickinson certainly did very very great wonderful wonderful poem poet who I one of the pleasures is right in the book was finding out a lot about her mark Hoffman was also a genius he's in my opinion the greatest literary forger that has ever been and there is a long history of literary forgery ever since man first picked up actually a papyrus read and scratched on it and we go back to that you're saying he's the greatest forger in history hmm how do you make that determination well I I think the the variety of then not the volume he did a thousand documents which is a lot but there was a great French literary forger in the nineteenth century who did many more than that I think something like thirty thousand the extraordinary number so it's not the volume it's the quality and the variety and you know just to sort of backtrack a bit for the viewers you know I think we're all more familiar as I was when I came to this story with lit without forgery there's been some very famous art forger van Meter who did the familiars and many others books have been written but literary forgers have not been so extensively covered and it's a fascinating sort of I came to think of it as a sort of parallel world of literary creativity because they're very gifted people who invent poems or documents they can simulate the handwriting they alter the paper shuffle was a great technician so it's not the quantity it's the quality and the technical skill he most literary foragers they specialize you know as most art forgers do they do Vermeer or they do Monet literary for jurors tend to specialize as well they'll do if it's an American forger there was a very great one in the 19th century called Joseph cosey little Battaglia our American lived in New York did great great forgeries fooled everybody everybody he did a what would have been the original manuscript of posed a raven or a working copy of it got everything right Edgar Allan Poe's hand right into paper everything but that most forgers have tended to specialize they choose one thing they do Lincoln or they do Daniel Boone or they do Edgar Allan Poe because they get good at that one thing and then they stick with that Hoffman as far as we know did a hundred and thirty different handwriting's and not just clip signatures but sustained documents Lincoln George Washington everybody I mean he forged all of the great figures of the Mormon Church Joseph Smith Brigham Young Lucy Smith the prophets mother and the list goes on and on they found a list in his prison cell in 1989 in Utah which where he listed the Mormon forgeries and his non-mormons forgeries and on the list of non-mormon forgeries he did there is every iconic American figure of Abraham Lincoln George Washington Martha Washington Myles Standish Daniel Boone Abraham Lincoln and forth down on that list that was found was the name Emily Dickinson who is that person that caught him well he was and again I don't want to give too much away he was he he he murdered two people he was about to be exposed or he believed he was about to be exposed as a fortune and as a fraudulent he was a con man as well he ran what are called Ponzi schemes using historical documents he would take money for documents he hadn't produced he would take money to buy documents that were going to be worth a huge amount of money then he wouldn't deliver the documents and then you know he would run these schemes and like all criminals he you know he started to get too clever and he thought he could never be caught and he started to get reading and one of the curious things about Hoffman was that his Achilles heel if you like and every criminal has some fatal flaw his was that he was a passionate collector of children's historical children's books above all British children's books he had when he went to prison he had America's finest collection of historic children's books above all he had a first edition of the Lord of the Rings signed by Tolkien he had the first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes extraordinary he had Enid Enid Blyton books he had Beatrix Potter books signed by the author of all the strange things you know this was his obsession actually he was collecting them to leave to his children and he was spending is actually hid the roots of his downfall whether he was himself buying at auction and at Sotheby's among others large numbers of genuine first editions this was his passion he was a Biblio main as they're called somebody who's maniacally obsessed with old books I loved them had a genuine love of them and above all children's book and he amassed this extraordinary action and he was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction buying these things and of course his forgeries he couldn't produce them fast enough to to pay for all of the books he was buying the genuine documents and he started to cut out the corners he was about to be exposed and he savagely murdered two people with pipe bombs and he was then arrested on suspicion of those but to prove he was a murderer they had to first prove that he was a forger that there was a motive for the murders and the motive was the forgery and they could not at first find any sign of forgery in the documents they had been incidentally one of his great forgeries the oath of a Freeman which would have been if it were genuine the first piece of printed Americana the first document printed on the North American continent in 1638 often forged it it was nearly bought by the Library of Congress here in Washington for 1 million dollars after they had bombarded it you know with all of the expertise they had it that document passed a carbon-14 dating test to the crocker nuclear laboratory in davis california it was that good by the way has anybody come after you legally no yeah no not yet no oh my god I don't think so I don't think so Sotheby's don't doesn't sue people because it did I hope I'm not proved wrong it just doesn't want to go to court and make things worse the Mormon Church are they happy with you but I don't know it's been reviewed in the Mormon newspaper but the Deseret News I thought it would get savaged and it was a reasonably polite and friendly review they did say that I did a hatchet job on Salt Lake City and the painted a outdated picture of the Mormon Church but you know of course the thing about that and I'd like to say that is I had to look at the culture of the Mormon Church from the inside from the eyes so to speak through the eyes of Mark Hofman did you talk to Gordon Hinkley by the way president of the church I didn't talk to anybody at the Mormon Church talk to you no did you try to talk to him no I didn't actually I relied on my main source further for the Mormon for the for the LDS account of this whole episode very painful episode in their modern history was a very very good book that was written in the 80s by Richard Turley called victims which was a book commissioned by the LDS Church and it had chapter on verse of all of his Mormon forgeries and I relied you know that was there in a sense that was their official statement that was their official summing up of this whole painful event and I to be honest I assume that Gordon B Hinckley would not interview with me and if he did he probably would not say anything that was different from that also the audience knows that what's what's going on here again going back over he would take forged documents to the church and say you want this $40,000 and if they didn't buy it that would go somewhere else and then the public would see they would undermine the church you basically would in many cases prove that a lot of their basic tenets of their religion aren't accurate well it was more cynical and devious than that and more Machiavellian he first as you said he won the confidence of the church producing documents that appeared to authenticate the religion having won the confidence of the church his real his real goal and he's unique in the long history of literary forgery he intended to use literary forgery forged documents to bring down the Mormon Church to discredit the Mormon Church and having won their trust he began to produce documents that called into question the founding myths and legends of Mormonism it would be as though a disgruntled Catholic were to Forge letters by some poll that proved that some poor was a homicide let's say they were that damaging to the church then once once he would sell them the documents and they bought them they would be hidden away hidden away but he'd leak it that they were there that was that that was the ultimate he was a spin-doctor long before one of the things that interest me about Mark Hofmann was the way that he prefigured a lot of things that have become part of our world subsequently spin doctoring you know the image and reality we live in an age of sort of shimmering surfaces and I think he understood we were moving into that age and he understood that ultimately you know there is no difference or if you're clever enough and devious enough what there is no difference between what something genuine and something forged if it's that good and indeed between who you are on the outside who you appear to be and who you are on the inside and he understood something very deep about human nature and he used that and manipulated that and as you said specific to go back to your question having created documents that were shattering for the Mormon Church if they became public and they were taken they were bought and then hidden away so that people could not see these documents Mark Hofman sort of you know stuck the knife in even further by then leaking the stories to the newspapers to the press about the document that he had just sold so the press then became it became a news story about supposedly this extraordinary document the salamander letter the most famous of his Mormon forgeries that became a news story in itself that this document had been found and then of course that put the Mormon Church in an extraordinary embarrassing position because they had to then admit yes they had bought this document and yes they had so to speak kept it away from the public so they were then if you like Hofmann wanted to show prove that they manipulated history that they manipulated reality and history and he used forgery which is itself a manipulation of history to do that one of the things you point out is that he went through the Mormon ritual and was a missionary or England but also went through something called the endowment ceremony yeah where'd you get the information on what the endowment ceremony I these are very secret as you know probably Mormon rituals one of the things that Mormons are sworn to is to is not reveal any of the temple rituals which it yeah pretty strange to say the least I think anybody reading a book called and and reading my account of the endowment Center ceremony will be very surprised you know people that sort of naked and in white sheets and they have oil anointed on them and it all sounds like something out of ancient Rome or something not modern America you know they're immersed in water and and all of this I I got that information actually from somebody in Salt Lake City I think I'll choose not to name the name but but somebody who's an ex-mormon and who has now devoted their time and energy to telling what they regard is the truth about Mormonism that you know they're they're a dissident Mormon and they make those things public because they believe that both Mormons and non-mormons have a right to know the truth about this religion is there been a book written it explains all the handshake and the Dalman ceremony and all that not so far as I know in that you know so is this gonna be one of the first times that people could read about this that's right I believe so I believe so this is a highly sensitive information before we run out of time couple quick things Dan Lombardo who was the fellow that bought the original Emily Dickinson poem forged poem for $21,000 where is he now well it was one of the the things I loved about the story as I said earlier for me it was the story partly of a small-town librarian by as this wonderful document thinks he's doing a great thing for his hometown suddenly is it had mashed in this world of deception and illusion and money and forgery and gun dealers and a double murderer and Dan was a we became very close through the course of writing this book he was a great help to me and all power to him some people perhaps when he began to be suspicious of the poem might have you know kept the truth about it hidden but he relentlessly went on a mission to find out what was the truth and eventually established enough evidence collected enough evidence to confront Sotheby's they refunded the money but the experience is his journey is very interesting because it's the experience for him buying this forgery and just at finding that what he thought was going to be the pinnacle of his career and the best thing he ever did for his local community turned out to be this awful event and really he thought you know his life was finished in Amherst and his career as a curator would be finished and he was deeply deeply disillusioned by the whole series of events I mean it's shattered all of his illusions about the auction houses about the manuscript trade and he threw up his job and gave up the job and left and done at one time was in pretty bad shape you know he really felt that his life had melted down but as it turned out this came to be an opportunity and he started a new life as a writer he's practicing Zen Buddhism he's living on Cape Cod and there's very very happy man so you know in a sense I also wanted the book to be a sort of morality tale not just another true crime story about a you know an interesting bad man but a sort of morality tale and the book ends with everybody I think getting there just rewards Emily Dickinson wins eternal fame Daniel Lombardo has a new life and the forger is where he belongs who's Doorly old Doorly old Doralee olds was mark Hofmann's wife and you talked to her old yes I did on two occasions here's a picture of her we're back in 1988 at the hearings yeah it's in when did she divorce him in 1989 after he'd been sentenced and he was in jail Darley olds olds is the maiden name as she reverted to her maiden name once she became too yes I talked to her twice at length very fascinating woman that and a woman I felt very sympathetic towards their been questions people have raised questions about what she knew I didn't know I mean Mark Hofmann did his forgeries in the family house down in the basement and people have said well how could this woman not know you know what was going on down in the basement that he was creating these forgeries but I choose to give Doorly the you know the benefit of the doubt and and there's a reason for that specific to the to the culture that they both lived in with which is that Mormon wives are not expected to ask their husbands questions about what they're doing they're not expected actually to ask their husbands questions about much at all let alone you know what are you doing down in the basement honey so she was a sort of a true faithful Mormon wife who didn't didn't ask any of those questions and I like to be and you could say I've chosen to believe because she has suffered enough and had a very very hard time obviously I choose to believe that she didn't know how much of all this story was reported in the Deseret News the Mormon newspaper oh the original story Oh a huge amount a huge amount I mean it was reported in Time magazine the Hoffmann case of the Mormon forgeries and 80s was a pretty big news story it was on television when the murders took place it was in Time magazine it was it was a big event because it was a as something that involved the Mormon Church when it came to the book you know that's the only part of the story I tried to concentrate on this this one forgery this Emily Dickinson forgery and as I said what the book took on a greater depth when I discovered the strange uncanny parallels between these two people they both were one thing on the outside Emily Dickinson was well-to-do daughter of a leading family she was another thing on the inside they were both great at were very very you know they were both geniuses at what they did her writing poetry him forging these documents and what interested me in writing the book was to if you like to to bring these to carry just together a bit like electric wires and and see what sparks would would fly I hope I'm not giving them away on this but it don't I need to ask you about this oak is one of the things you've learned is that he has now a withered hand yeah which is an interesting irony and the whole book how did it happen and what impacts that had on him did you know of yeah he tried out his wife Doorly we just talked about tried divorced him he tried to commit suicide mark Hoffman in jail he took a huge overdose sleeping tablets and he you know passed out was in a coma and he lay on his right side and crushed his whole arm and it and that circulation was cut off many hours 810 hours something like that and that permanently damaged his his right hand and as far as I know he's not able to forge now as a result of it he was also injured in a in a bomb blast because and now I'm starting to give away rather too good because we don't have much time I watched you go any farther with that but because they a couple things I need to ask you when it was it first-degree murder that he was convicted no it wasn't it was second-degree with when he's eligible for parole he's ours were for parole in 2006 and it's the New York Times after all they started all this have they reviewed your book no I'm waiting for him so there had been a word in the book and the in the newspaper about so far at the time we're taping no oddly enough of the The Washington Post The Boston Globe many others have but the New York Times seems to be staying away I don't know why here's the cover of the book our guest has been Simon Worrell he lives on Long Island he's a British citizen and he wrote a book called the poet and the murderer thank you very much thank you Brian it was a pleasure

4 thoughts on “The Career of a Counterfeit Artist and the World of Literary Forgery (2002)

  1. All of the boring nonsense of the endowment ceremony is available in video and sound on youtube.

  2. This is one of the best books I've ever read. Mark Hofman's poem he wrote under the guise of Emily Dickinson, was quite beautiful. Mark Hofman is one of those people who are brilliant and at the same time, insane. Very interesting. Give it a read!

  3. Brian Lamb was an excellent interviewer. He would ask questions that a person who may not know anything about a subject might ask in addition to perhaps more sophisticated inquires . When he asked a question he would let the person answer without interruption.

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