As September 22nd was the date known as the Autumnal equinox to contemporaries of Joseph Smith in 1823, September 25 was a notable day the following year. Joseph Smith Sr., Jr.’s father, published a notice in the Palmyra newspaper denying “reports [that] have been industriously put in circulation, that my son, Alvin, had been removed from the place of his internment [burial site] and dissected.” Whoa. That needs some context.
The following comes from Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pp. 133-137:
Although absent from Smith’s presently available first-person narratives, both early Mormon and non-Mormon sources agree that on 22 September 1823 Moroni required Smith to bring his oldest brother Alvin to the hill the following year in order to obtain the gold plates. About ten years later, one of Smith’s devout followers, Joseph Knight, recorded Smith’s relating that the following dialogue occurred on the hill in 1823: “Joseph says, ‘when can I have it?’ The answer was the 22nt [sic] Day of September next if you Bring the right person with you. Joseph says, ‘who is the right Person?’ The answer was ‘your oldest Brother.’ But before September  Came his oldest Brother Died. Then he was Disapointed and did not [k]now what to do” (Jessee 1976a, 31; also Hartley 1986, 20). The Smiths’ non-Mormon Palmyra neighbor Willard Chase reported in 1833: “He then enquired when he could have them, and was answered thus: come one year from this day, and bring with you your oldest brother, and you shall have them. This spirit, he said was the spirit of the prophet who wrote this book, and who was sent to Joseph Smith, to make known these things to him. Before the expiration of the year, [Smith's] oldest brother died” (1833, 241-42, emphasis in original). Nearly forty years later, Fayette Lapham remembered that Smith’s father told him in 1830 that “Joseph asked when he could have them; and the answer was, ‘Come in one year from this time, and bring your oldest brother with you; then you may have them.’ During that year, it so happened that his oldest brother died” (1870, 2:386).
In 1884, a third Palmyra neighbor, Lorenzo Saunders, Benjamin Saunders’s brother, was asked, “Did you ever hear Joe give an account of finding the plates?” He replied: “Yes. He gave the account in my father’s house. He said he was in the woods at prayer and the angel touched him on the shoulders and he arose, and the angel told him where the plates were and he could take his oldest Brother with him in a year from that time and go and get them. But his oldest Brother died before the year was out” (1884a, 9-10; also 1884c, 16). At present, no available evidence explains why Moroni in September 1823 required Alvin’s presence the following year.9 Joseph was the son who had had the theophany, but [p.135] according to the family’s Palmyra neighbors, prior to 1823 Lucy and Joseph Sr. both had said they looked to their first son Alvin, not their third, as the family seer. Orsamus Turner first met the Smiths in Palmyra about 1819-20 and later commented: “Their son, Alva [sic], was originally intended, or designated, by fireside consultations, and solemn and mysterious out door hints, as the forth coming Prophet. The mother and father said he was the chosen one; but Alvah … sickened and died” (1851, 213). J. H. Kennedy said that in Vermont, Lucy Mack Smith “announced the advent of a prophet in her family, and on the death of Alvah [sic], the first born, the commission that had been intended for him was laid upon Joseph” (Kennedy 1888, 12).10 Although Joseph Jr. was a treasure seer in New York and in Pennsylvania by 1822 (Blackman 1873, 580-81; W. Chase 1833, 240-41), the Palmyra neighbors also identified Alvin as a treasure-seeker and seer prior to his death in November 1823 (L. Saunders 1884c, 9; cf. W. Chase 1833, 240-41; chap. 2). Moreover, his mother observed that “Alvin manifested, if such could be the case, greater zeal and anxiety in regard to the Record [of the Book of Mormon] that had been shown to Joseph, than any of the rest of the family” (L. M. Smith 1853, 89-90). But with Alvin’s unexpected death on 19 November 1823, it seems that Joseph Jr. again shouldered the primary responsibility in his family’s search for treasure.
Given the messenger’s requirement for the second visit to the Hill Cumorah, the intensity of the Smith family’s despair over Alvin’s death less than two months later is understandable. Alvin’s last words to his brother Joseph were to “do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record. Be faithful in receiving instruction, and in keeping every commandment that is given to you. Your brother Alvin must leave you” (L. M. Smith 1853, 88). Alvin’s final charge underscored the dilemma Joseph now faced: he had been commanded to meet the angelic treasure-guardian at the hill the following 22 September 1824 and to bring Alvin with him. By some accounts, Smith had been violently jolted three times and severely chastised for disobeying instructions during his first visit, and Mormon convert Joseph Knight wrote that now Smith “did not [k]now [p.136] what to do” (Jessee 1976a, 31). One can only imagine the turmoil Smith would have experienced during the ten months between the death of his eldest brother on 19 November 1823 and his next solitary visit to the hill.
Smith’s own available histories give no details of the visits to the hill between 1824 and 1826, but it seems likely that he hoped to obtain the plates on 22 September 1824 even though he did not bring Alvin. The day was a stinging disappointment. According to Smith’s 1832 autobiography, the messenger told him “to come again in one year from that time . I did so [in 1824], but did not obtain them” (Jessee 1984b, 77; Faulring 1987, 51). His friend Joseph Knight wrote, “But when the 22nt Day of September Came he went to the place and the personage appeard [sic] and told him he Could not have it now” (Jessee 1976a, 31). Lorenzo Saunders remembered that Smith told him, “At the end of the time he went to the place to get the plates the angel asked where his Brother was. I told him he was dead.” Fayette Lapham recalled the story as “Joseph repaired to the place again, and was told by the man who still guarded the treasure, that, inasmuch as he could not bring his oldest brother, he could not have the treasure yet” (L. Saunders 1884a, 10; Lapham 1870, 2:386). As Smith left the hill in disappointment on 22 September 1824, apparently the message he had received was: without your dead brother Alvin, you cannot have the gold plates.
Within days of this second unsuccessful visit to the hill, local events indicated that someone evidently contemplated remedying the impass by exhuming Alvin’s body. Joseph Smith, Sr., published a notice, dated 25 September 1824, in the Palmyra newspaper, denying “reports [that] have been industriously put in circulation, that my son, Alvin, had been removed from the place of his internment and dissected.” He chastised town gossips for disturbing the peace of mind of a still-grieving parent, and then made two comments that allude to his son Joseph as target of such gossip: “[these rumors] deeply wound the feelings of relations … [and] have been stimulated more by desire to injure the reputation of certain persons than a philanthropy for the peace and welfare of myself and friends” (Wayne Sentinel, 29 Sept.-3 Nov. 1824; Kirkham 1951, 1:147; Rich 1970, 256). Biographers of Joseph Smith to the present have consistently ignored Mormon and non-Mormon sources concerning Moroni’s requirement to bring the now-deceased Alvin to the hill, and therefore have regarded this as a bizarre incident explanable only by neighborhood malice (Brodie 1945, 28; D. Hill 1977, 60; Gibbons 1977, 42; Bushman 1984, 65).
However, the treasure-guardian’s unfulfilled requirement to bring the now-deceased Alvin provided a context for such rumors and denials. As explained in pseudo-Agrippa’s Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy: “From [p.137] hence it is, that the Souls of the dead are not to be called up without blood, or by the application of some part of their relict Body” (1655, 70; 1665, 67; 1783, 123). Barrett’s The Magus, the source for the design of Joseph Smith’s Jupiter talisman, observed, “There are two kinds of necromancy: raising the carcasses, which is not done without blood; the other sciomancy, in which the calling up of the shadow only suffices.” Despite his negative attitude toward the practice in general, Barrett noted that the power and knowledge to do so rested with “God only, and to whom he will communicate them” (1801, II:69, 70). Even though they were influenced by the magic world view, none of the Smiths may have actually considered this drastic option, but someone in the family obviously described the angel’s requirement and Joseph’s predicament to neighborhood friends, since Willard Chase, Lorenzo Saunders, and Fayette Lapham all knew about the situation. Someone evidently talked openly about the possibility of using part of Alvin’s remains to fulfill the requirement of the treasure guardian by necromancy, and village rumors required the denial, which Joseph Smith, Sr., published in six consecutive issues of the local weekly. Without providing details, E. D. Howe’s Mormonism Unvailed claimed that young Joseph became “very expert in the arts of necromancy” (1834, 12). And a year later, Oliver Cowdery’s published history of the new church also referred, without details, to rumors that Smith dug treasure “by some art of nicromancy” (1835, 2:201; Kirkham 1951, 1:103).
Reading on, one learns that, in Alvin’s absence, Joseph then tried Samuel Lawrance (a seer stone buddy), and then ultimately chose his wife as the consort needed for retrieving the plates (a wife he had recently married [eloped!] according to the alleged will of God revealed through a seer stone). But that’s another story.