Orson Pratt letter to Nathaniel H. Felt

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: Orson Pratt letter to Nathaniel H. Felt. This item is a handwritten and signed letter, dated December 11, 1866, written from Liverpool, England, on “Latter-Day Saints’ European Printing, Publishing, and Emigration Office” letterhead. It is a brief letter to Felt, who is serving a mission in the British Mission, giving him advice on how to carry out his duties as a missionary. The letter is also signed and post-scripted by William B. Preston.

Orson Pratt, “Harper’s Weekly,” August 1866

Orson Pratt, Sr. (September 19, 1811 – October 3, 1881) was an American mathematician and religious leader who was an original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. He served several missions for the LDS Church, including as President of the British Mission. Pratt was a leading Mormon theologian and writer until his death. He is probably most known for his pamphlets written in defense of LDS Church doctrines, and publicly announcing the Church’s practice of polygamy in 1853. Pratt defended this practice in 12 monthly installments in the church periodical The Seer. He died in Salt Lake City, Utah, of complications from diabetes.

Finding The Voice of Heaven

In 1977, the Cecil B. DeMille papers (MSS 1400) were donated to the BYU Special Collections.  In this collection, we have 1,263 boxes of correspondence, production-related artwork, still photographs, and AV materials that cover the career of one of classic Hollywood’s most dynamic and significant filmmakers.

One of the interesting pieces of information hidden in Special Collections concerns the casting and effects of the voice of God in the grand spectacle film The Ten Commandments (1956), starring Charlton Heston as Moses.  The voice of God is heard twice in the film, first out of the burning bush on Mt. Horeb, as God calls Moses to deliver his covenant people, and the second when God gives the Decalogue atop Mt. Sinai.

In his autobiography, DeMille speaks of how taxing a prospect this was.  The production team tried sound engineering tricks, tried mixing a chorus of voices from all over the world, and even tried recording under water.  He reveals that Charlton Heston’s own voice was actually used for the first time we hear God’s voice from the burning bush: “An ancient Jewish legend solved half our problem.  The Midrash Rabbah says that from the Burning Bush God spoke to Moses in the voice of Moses’ father, Amram, so as not to frighten him.  That lovely courtesy of God suggested that our audience too might accept a not unfamiliar voice, a little slowed and deepened: and so the Voice of God at the Burning Bush is Charlton Heston’s voice” [431].

The second time that God’s voice is heard is in the climactic special effects sequence when God’s fiery finger writes in stone as each commandment is given.  In the same autobiography, DeMille recalls, “It was impossible to find that voice, until one day Henry Wilcoxon asked me to come to the projection room and listen to some readings of the Commandments by different voices.  One was right.  Henry asked me if I recognized the voice.  I did not.  He told me then whose it was: a man I had known for many years, not a professional actor, whom Henry had persuaded to come to the dubbing-room and record the lines spoken by the Voice of God at the giving of the Commandments, without telling me that it was being done. It was agreed among us that, out of reverence for the part of the Voice of God, the name of the man who played it should not be revealed. I will not reveal it here” [431].

However, after DeMille’s death, Delos Jewkes, a Utah-native and featured soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, revealed his role in the production.  Former curator of the Arts & Communication collection in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections, James V. D’Arc explains, “Sometime after DeMille’s death in January, 1959, it was noised about that one Delos Jewkes, a native Utah singer and sometime bit-playing actor in a number of movies, including The Music Man (1962), began speaking to groups (including LDS fireside presentations) about his years in the music and movie business. In newspaper articles in Utah County newspapers (he retired to American Fork), he claimed to have been hired by Paramount Pictures to be the Voice of God for only one sequence in the film.  As I have repeatedly watched the Finger of God sequence, and having heard Jewkes’s basso profundo voice of his in other films, I have no doubt that Jewkes’ claim was correct.”

Confirming this, an audio engineer recently slowed down a recording of Jewkes voice 14% and found it to be virtually identical to the recording in the film.

Indeed, a reference to this can be found in the DeMille papers. Inside Box 683, Folder 4 in the DeMille collection,  we found a note dated March 4, 1955 which includes a stapled piece of paper verifying that earlier on February 28th, two men had come in to record for Mr. Wilcoxon.  They were Delos Jewkes and Thurl Ravenscroft (of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch fame). 

While maybe not a signed contract, or a definite ‘the Voice of God was ________,’ it pieces together a likely scenario.  Also in the same box and folder are discussions of how the Voice of God would be handled with tact in various language translations and for certain audiences worldwide.  It goes to show what deep treasure troves we have here at the HBLL, just waiting for student scholars and researchers to come uncover. So come down and look through a box, or read an autobiography of your favorite filmmaker.  You never know what you might find.


Special thanks for research assistants Elizabeth Condie and Brittany Brockbank; and of course Jim D’Arc, who had much of this in his head.

DeMille, Cecil B. The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille. Hayne, Donald ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1959).

Transcontinental Railroad Anniversary

May 10, 2018 marks the 149th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah – linking both East and West Coasts of the United States for the first time. To commemorate this anniversary, here is a link to an image of the “Joining of the Rails” by Charles Roscoe (C. R.) Savage.

Savage was one of three photographers commissioned to document this event – one of the most important in 19th Century American history. Along with this iconic image, second in fame only to Union Pacific photographer Andrew J. Russell’s image of the event, Perry Special Collections has two other images that Savage took on this day (see below):

Getting ready to lay the last rail / C. R. Savage, Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869


Driving the last spike / C. R. Savage, Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869

Starting in August 2018, look for exhibits and other events here at Perry Special Collections and the Lee Library, and throughout the state, as we gear up for the 15oth anniversary of this important historical event!

Happy birthday to a beautiful book!

English poet John Keats published his famous long poem Endymion in the spring of 1818. The first literary reviewers hated it, but over the centuries, the poem and poet’s legacy has grown and it’s now a staple of English poetry anthologies. Even if you’ve never read Endymion, you probably know its first line: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Special Collections owns a first edition of Endymion, bound in the 20th century by the renowned firm of Sangorski & Sutcliffe. It truly is a thing of beauty!

The Lost Class of 1899

During the commencement ceremonies held last week, 6,297 degrees were awarded for those graduating in December 2017 and April 2018. This makes up a significant portion of the approximately 8,500 students that graduate each year. On the other side of the spectrum, however, is the Class of 1899–a lost graduating class caused by shifting university program requirements.

Following the inauguration of President Benjamin Cluff, Brigham Young Academy began strengthening its requirements for granting degrees, while expanding its curriculum. At the time the Church Normal Training School was established in 1891, incoming students had to be high school graduates of at least age 14 and were required to complete a four-year course of study to qualify for a Bachelor of Didactics diploma. Both of these requirements changed in 1894/1895, with the admission age raised to a minimum of 16, and successful completion of a comprehensive examination. Graduation requirements were also adjusted, moving from a four-year to a six-year program. When the Collegiate Department was formed in 1896, graduation requirements changed again, returning to “four years’ work, beginning with the twelfth grade. This includes the Normal Training School of three years’ work.”

At the time of the requirements change in 1894/1895, those that had been previously enrolled were allowed to complete their degree according to the old requirements, if they could graduate before the end of the 1898 school year. Due to these shifting requirements, only one student graduated in 1899 with a bachelor’s degree–John M. Mills. Mills had first entered the Academy around 1886, and was allowed to complete his program in 1899. However, the Utah County Democrat reported that “there was no graduating class this year.” This aberration was changed the following year with full commencement exercises for the “Century Class” of 1900.

For more information about graduating classes, see the commencement programs and student newspapers available on the BYU History digital collections page.

New Exhibit: The Relief Society Bazaar

Special Collection’s newest small exhibit is ““Handicrafts & Heritage: LDS Relief Society Bazaars,” a look at the 20th century phenomenon of Relief Society fundraising fairs. Relief Society sisters from all around the world participated in bazaars, selling handmade crafts and foods to raise money for their Relief Society budgets. The exhibit features photos and crafts from bazaars held from Provo to French Polynesia, in conjunction with the larger exhibit on level one of the library, “Welcome to Our Charity Bazaars,” which tells the story of fundraising bazaars’ origin in Victorian England. The exhibit will be on display through the month of May.

Victorian Leisure: Games

Special Collections has just digitized a set of books of games from Victorian England. From charades and riddles to group party games and homemade toys, these books illustrate the types of home-based entertainment which were popular among children and adults in the 19th century. Find and try a game your ancestor might have played, or at least learn what characters from your favorite 19th century English or American novel were doing when they were playing games like “forfeits.” You can find the scanned items at the library’s Victorian Collection on the Internet Archive.



New arrivals: French literature

A collection of 18th century editions of French poetry and drama has recently been added to Special Collections. From major authors like Voltaire and Molière to collections of obscure playwrights, there are plenty of resources now available for scholars of French literature. Books from this collection can be found in the library catalog by searching for individual titles and authors or by using genre terms like “poetry — French,” “French drama,” or “French drama (comedy).”

Theodore McKean family record book

Theodore McKean (1829-1897)

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: Theodore McKean family record book (MSS SC 1990). This item is a handwritten record book that documents the genealogy of the McKean family. It also includes a short autobiography of Theodore McKean. He describes his youth, his conversion to the Mormon faith, and his various business affairs.

The LDS Church History Library also holds papers related to Theodore McKean, all of which have also been digitized.

Theodore McKean (1829-1897) was a Mormon businessman, politician, and militia leader who lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. McKean was born on October 26, 1829, in Ocean Township, New Jersey, to Washington McKean and Margaret Wallin Ivins. On April 12, 1847, he married Mary Page Gulick, and together they had eight children. On November 27, 1851, he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1853, Theodore traveled alone in the Anthony Ivins Company to Utah. In 1857, he returned to New Jersey to pick up his family and bring them to Utah. Theodore and Margaret began their journey across the plains on June 1 at Westport, Missouri, in a mule-drawn carriage. Theodore was named a captain of a single-family company, consisting of his wife and three children: Sarah (8), Mary (5), and Theodore (1). The McKean’s arrived in Utah on July 22, 1857, settling in Salt Lake City.  In Salt Lake City, McKean was a businessman and served as a Utah territorial marshal, city councilman, and counselor in the bishopric in the Salt Lake City Sixteenth Ward.

In 1869, Theodore was called on a proselytizing mission to the United States. On May 11, 1875, he took a second wife, Elizabeth Ann Emery, and together they had 14 children. That October, Theodore was called on another mission to the Southern States. In July 1891, at the age of 61, he was called once again on a mission to the British Mission.

Theodore McKean passed away in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 9, 1897.

Native Souvenirs

When missionaries go to foreign missions, it is not uncommon to pick up some souvenirs that are made in the country. When senior missionaries and mission presidents go they have the ability to purchase more native art.  This material lore, which is not necessarily made by LDS artists, enhances their homes and brings back memories. This is a Ghanaian basket  made by local artists.




This is an altar with a carved depiction of the prophet Mormon made by a local member of the Church in Ghana. A missionary couple requested the piece of art be made for their misson president and his wife.







This artwork was purchased from a local artist and demonstrates the colors and movements of Ghanaian women.



Here are replicas of Ghanaian transportation. The buses are full of people and creatures and the boats are also jammed packed. These wooden pieces came from the market.  It is possible to find representative artwork from many countries and cultures.

The Wilson Folklore Archives have been lacking in representations of material culture. During the course of this year, we will be increasing the number of items in the collection and sharing them with you on the blog.


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