Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Through the Fire

Through the Fire

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 18, 2011

On August 29, 1902, the home of Ezra Carter Foss (1833-1919) and Emily Cheney Foss (1851-1929), of Farmington, Utah, caught fire, when a deficient kitchen flue allowed sparks from the stove fire to reach the walls of the upstairs story. When it was discovered, the cry of “Fire!” went out through the streets and the neighbors rushed to see what they could do.

The fire had gained hold unnoticed upstairs, but the main story was still relatively smoke free when the fire was discovered, so men were able to enter the house and carry out most of the furnishings downstairs before they were driven out by smoke.

Upstairs, though, was a different matter. Moroni Secrist (1850-1906), the Fosses’ bishop, climbed atop the porch at the front of the house and entered a window to an upstairs room. The smoke there, however, was so dense that he was pulled out by men behind him before he could do anything. He did, however, grab hold of a tablecloth that covered a table near the window and drag it, along with a few books that rested on it, out of the window as he was pulled to safety. The corners of the tablecloth were tied into a knot and the bundle tossed onto the pile of household goods in the yard.

The Fosses were grateful that so many of their possessions were saved. The house, though, was a total loss, and they moved temporarily into a vacant house while their own was rebuilt. Their house guest, a Farmington woman who had leased her own home that summer and was living in Salt Lake City, but who stayed with the Fosses while visiting in Farmington, went back to Salt Lake that night. She had to – her clothing and everything else she had brought with her had been burned in an upstairs bedroom.

Some time later the guest returned to Farmington and called on the Fosses to see how they were recovering after their loss. She told them that she could cope with the loss of her clothing – including “a nice plush cape” of which she had been fond, but oh! she regretted losing the books that had been on the table in her bedroom.

That’s when Emily Foss remembered to tell about Bishop Secrist’s aborted attempt to remove articles from the upstairs bedroom. She had found the knotted tablecloth while sorting out her own rescued belongings, and now she returned it to her one-time houseguest.

And that’s when Aurelia Spencer Rogers (1834-1922), who had founded the church’s Primary program in Farmington in 1878, learned that her journals, including the records of the first 20 years of the Primary’s history, had been saved.



  1. Ardis,

    Your ability to find these gems of history never cease to amaze me! Plus what a great story. Of all things for the Bishop to be able to save, that he managed to grab something so priceless is truely amazing.

    Comment by andrew h — July 18, 2011 @ 8:53 am

  2. Don’t you think there should be some sort of award for people like Bishop Seacrest and the Rollins sisters? Maybe someone could come up with a more elegant title than “Brave and Valiant Preservers of the Documentary History of the Church.” : )

    By the way, my most immediate reaction to this story was to vow to make a new backup of all my family photos and family history and blog and other important files. My computer is automatically backing up to an external hard drive, but like just about everyone else who uses a computer, I need all these files stored off-site in case of fire, computer crash, or other random occurrence.

    Comment by Researcher — July 18, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  3. …and let me correct that name in my comment to “Secrist”…

    Comment by Researcher — July 18, 2011 @ 9:05 am

  4. I’ve just noticed that The Friend told this story back in 1978. Either Sister Rogers recorded versions of this story more than once (entirely possible), or else The Friend elaborated with invented details — the version I have, in Sister Rogers’ words, includes the quotation “As he neared the window he reached out his hand and felt the cover on the table and drew it toward him, gathering up the corners with the books … and passed them to those on the outside. Thus the records were saved through the providence of God.” used in The Friend, but that account doesn’t justify the claim that Sister Rogers aided in the bucket brigade.

    Sometimes I wonder, as I handle old records, what they have been through in their travels from creation to that moment. Have they been sitting in somebody’s trunk, just waiting for the archives to be built? Or have they been through hairbreadth escapes from fire or flood or being thrown into a trash heap? So many things that once existed have been lost — how did this survive, and why?

    Today would be a good time for me to follow Researcher’s lead and renew my backup …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 18, 2011 @ 9:33 am

  5. It will be cool to find out why some records survived and others not. The book of Abraham is a good example, with parts being lost in the Chircago fire and other parts being found in someone’s attic.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — July 18, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  6. Awesome.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 18, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  7. Very awesome.

    Comment by Michelle — July 18, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

  8. I love this, Ardis

    Comment by Bruce Crow — July 19, 2011 @ 9:53 am

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