“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” —William Faulkner (put in italic)
“We don’t really think of ourselves and our lives as history,” said Christy Williams Dunton, the Development Director for the Museum of Moab. “But we are. We are living histories.”
As one may carefully preserve the harvest in mason jars, Dunton makes “jars of memory jam,”—her term for the digital recordings of live oral history storytelling that she is stockpiling for the Root Cellar Project. With the consent of the residents and visitors of Moab who participate, their stories will be transcribed and archived at the museum, and eventually made available for public listening online.
Every third Thursday at 5:00pm, The Root Cellar Project holds recording sessions open to the public at The Helipad, a quirky, open-floor building tucked away on 239 West Center Street. A couch, several chairs and a coffee table provide space for Dunton to set up her recording equipment and catch the tales of those who come to share.
While any oral history is welcomed, each month has a theme. In August, the theme was “Prospecting and Mining, Then and Now.” The museum’s event webpage recruited storytellers:
“Uranium Era residents, Rock Hounds, Geologists, Industry Workers of any era and their families especially welcome. Who will spare a story? We can’t wait to find out! You hold the history of our time in the experiences of your life.”
July’s event, inspired by Pioneer Day, was “Pilgrimage and Pioneers.” June’s event was about coming to Moab. In May, the theme was “Memorials,” and in April, it was in honor of Earth Day. The first Root Cellar event was in March and titled “The Mothers of Invention in Moab.”
This was in part because March is Women’s History Month, and according to Dunton, “Moab is known for strong women.”
“Wouldn’t I give my eye teeth to talk to a Native American woman, who had to make do with a metate?” Dunton asked, adding that the theme also implied a contemporary question,“What is it to be a woman now, at this raging time in our history? We need each other’s stories to make sense of what is happening.”
Page Holland came to the March session with stories of the women in her family who lived in the Moab area when the town was still emerging. Holland is a local artist whose work reflects her deep roots in the land and her vivid paintings of canyon country can be found at Gallery Moab.
“A few of my great aunts and my grandmother homesteaded here,” Holland said. “The women who were here in the early part of the twentieth century, the hardships they had to put up with; they did it with grace and humor.”
Holland recalled that they were also very isolated. Her grandmother, who lived miles outside of Moab proper, had to leave young children alone while she traveled the rough road into town for supplies. “They did things we wouldn’t think of doing today, because they had to.”
Holland said she hopes others gain the same insight from these stories as she does. “We are fortunate to the point of being spoiled. We really can do with a lot less.”
Andrea Stoughton, the Education Director for the museum, contributed a story about another strong Moab woman, Helen M. Knight, who was born in what is now Moab Springs Ranch and went on to become the first female school superintendent in Utah. Today, an elementary school in Moab is named after her.
“She was an educator, and I’m an educator,” said Stoughton, who worked in the Grand County School District for thirty years before her position with the museum. “She was very intelligent and very organized. The teachers working under her liked her.”
Dunton said that the Root Cellar Project is just beginning, and volunteers are needed—both to tell stories for the collection, as well as to transcribe the stories already collected.
Find out more by calling the Museum of Moab at 435-259-7985.