Folklore in Utah: A History and Guide to Resources

Folklore in Utah: A History and Guide to Resources

Folklore in Utah: A History and Guide to Resources

Folklore in Utah: A History and Guide to Resources

Excerpt

In the process of editing this collection of essays and descriptions of programs and archives, I came across two items that I thought especially pertinent and interesting to the study and collection of Utah folklore. The first was Jill Terry Rudy’s thoughtful essay on Alta Fife and Alta’s role in the remarkable folklore partnership that she shared with her husband Austin—and the implications of that role in terms of the increasing professionalization of folklore studies since the 1950s. The second item was a transcription of an interview that Anne F. Hatch conducted with Alta for the Fife Folklore Archives at Utah State University in 1992, four years before Alta’s death. In the interview, Alta was reminiscing about a cross-country automobile trip from Boston to Los Angeles that she and Austin undertook after his discharge from the military in 1946. Their trip followed the “Mormon Trail,” the complex pathway of the Mormon leadership and the faithful from Palmyra, New York; to Kirtland, Ohio; to Far West, Missouri; to Nauvoo, Illinois; and finally across the plains to what was at first named Great Salt Lake City. The Fifes’ purpose on this journey was to collect not Mormon folklore but folklore about Mormons from those residents of the Midwest who still recounted tales about “when the Mormons were here.”

Alta recalled their visit to Hamilton, Missouri:

… we got in there rather late, and we were feeling pressed for time. So early
the next morning, Austin asked someone, I think it was a waitress, who could
tell stories about the Mormons in the vicinity and she said “Bertha Booth,” and
so then Austin went to the editor of the newspaper, who said, “Bertha Booth
knows more about it than anyone.” And he looked at his watch and he said,
“She’s taking her walk and she’ll be home in a few minutes. …” And he told
us where to go. It was a big two-story house with a big yard that was littered
with tin cans and anything you can imagine. And Austin went up to the door
and there was a sign in the window, “If You Can’t Hear, Come Around to the
Back,” and so Austin knocked and nothing happened, and he went around to
the back, and he found a woman in a nightgown and a negligee hoeing in a
small garden, and she had a few scraggly teeth and white hair that had not been
combed in a long time.

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