Lost recording of an interview with 1867 Mormon pioneer found

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

“She had the greatest memory of anybody. I’m hoping I can keep my memory like that,” Jones said. “The day she died at the house, she said, “ ‘Well, my bags are packed.’ ”

The recording

One day, Chapman was telling a friend, Ronald Fox, about her projects and mentioned how much she would love to hear her great-great-grandmother’s voice.

Ron Fox, not related to Ruth May Fox, said Chapman’s wish stuck in the back of his mind.

A short time later, he was going through some volumes in the reference section at the Utah State Historical Society Library at the Rio Grande Station and stumbled on a 1961 published volume called “Utah Firsts,” a master’s thesis by Arthur T. Challis. This man had scoured the Deseret News from 1850 to 1896 to find references to things that happened in Utah for the first time during the territorial period (1847-1896). On the very last page of his thesis, Challis cited an oral interview he’d had with Ruth May Fox on Aug. 9, 1957, using a reel-to-reel device.

Fox did a quick search online for Challis but only found his obituary. He died in 2001, after serving as director of the library at Southern Utah University for 42 years. Fox called SUU to see if the recording was in the school’s collection. It was not.

But Challis had a daughter named Joy who works at Dixie State College. Fox contacted her, and to his delight, she knew exactly where the recording was located in her home. Soon enough, she was on the phone with Chapman arranging to bring the tapes to Salt Lake City and donate them to the Church History Library.

“It was out of the blue and very exciting,” Joy Challis said. “Because of my dad’s interest in recording, I also had an interest in recording. I’m glad we kept those tapes safe. He taught us to preserve our history. I’ve been looking for a reel-to-reel to be able to play these, but I haven’t been able to find anything.”

The voice

On Tuesday, Nov. 26, Chapman, Challis, Jones and another family member were permitted into a preservation room at the Church History Library where they heard the voice of Ruth May Fox for the first time in more than 50 years. They were all amazed at the quality of the recording.

Chapman said the experience was very meaningful.

“It was an exciting moment where we could hear her voice. Her voice was deeper than I imagined, more resounding,” Chapman said. “She was 13 when she came over from England. I wondered if she still had part of a British accent, and she did. You could still hear little bits and pieces of ways she pronounced certain words. Her past was still part of her at 103.”

Chapman also marveled that she was listening to a true Mormon pioneer.

“That is awesome, in itself, that you can still hear the voice of a woman who traveled across the Plains and who could recall and talk about her experience,” Chapman said. “That is a priceless bit of history.”

Jones smiled as she recalled the memory of her grandmother.

“To recognize her voice again … she always had a strong voice,” Jones said.

Challis relished hearing her father’s voice again.

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