JOPLIN, MO. — Julianne Hare had forgotten about the shoe box tucked away in a hidden space in her grandmother's pantry until she stumbled upon it while cleaning a shelf in preparation for painting.
The shoe box, she would learn, contained voices from the past - and a mystery.
"When I was about 12 or 13 years old, my grandmother, who was not very tall, yelled at me from the pantry to come help her get something off a high shelf," Hare said. "That was my first time seeing those wire recordings, my dad's duck caller and his tobacco pouch.
"She told me they were recordings my dad had made of us when we were kids before he was killed in the motorcycle accident on the chat piles at Prosperity. That was in December of 1957. He had just turned 37. We packed it up and put it back on the shelf."
Raised by grandparents
Hare's mother, Joan, died of leukemia in October 1956. When her father, Raymond "Smitty" Smith, died the next year, her grandparents took her, her three older brothers and an older sister to raise.
Had their grandparents not done that, the Smith children most likely would have been separated as wards of the state.
Hare now lives in her grandparents' old farmhouse.
"I am restoring it," she said. "I just put in new windows. They raised five little kids in this three-bedroom house. I have a sentimental attachment to it. It was a good house until the tornado hit it."
On May 5, 1971, a tornado that swept across Joplin slammed into the house at Travis Acres and Newman roads, east of Missouri Southern State University.
It was the last time anyone saw the wire recorder.
"It was on the work bench in the garage," Hare said. "I used to play with it and sing songs into it when I was little. I was about 2 years old. It had a big microphone that you set in front of it. The tornado leveled the garage. We lost everything in it."
But the wire recordings were saved and placed in the shoe box.
"When I found the shoe box, I remembered back to the wire recorder," she said. "I went on the Internet and found a place - Avocado Productions in Arvada, Colo. - that could take these wire recordings and put them on CDs. The woman I talked to said they were in excellent condition, but she said, 'I am seeing two families here."'
Clues hidden in the reels
The shoe box contained eight reels of stainless-steel magnetic wire.
The Smith family can be heard on some of the reels, but a different family is on the other reels.
Hare believes her father acquired the wire recorder and reels sometime before the Christmas season of 1956. She does not know how he came to possess the recorder.
It appears that the Smith family was recorded over the recordings of the other family.
"We have no idea who this other family is other than what has been recorded on the reels," Hare said.
The reels reveal a few clues. The voice on the reels is that of a man by the name of Larry King, who apparently had a job as a television-set inspector in Houston. His wife's name is Louise. There are two younger people named Junior and Franky.
Louise has a sister, Gert, who lives in Chicago. Gert speaks with what likely is a Germanic or Slavic accent. The family is moving from Chicago to Houston.
King used the wire recordings to communicate from Chicago to his wife and kids, who already had moved to Houston.
In one of the tapes, Gert talks about her canary and parakeet talking back and forth to each other.
She also talks about seeing a performance of Johnnie Ray on "The Perry Como Show" and how struck she was by the brokenhearted voice and animated piano playing of Ray, who was known as "The Cry Guy."
Ray has been cited by critics as a major precursor to what would become rock 'n' roll.
"Larry King's last entry was him trying to get everything packed to head out around April 1, 1952," Hare said. "That was his last entry. Our first entry was around Christmastime of 1956. Mom had died about three months before."
Her father also purchased a Brownie movie camera and recorded film of her standing in front of the microphone while she was singing into the recorder.
The camera, which did not record sound, was purchased to film the flowers that were placed on her mother's grave.
'That is your father'
When Hare got the CDs in the mail, she took them to where she works at Midcon Cables in Joplin and played them for her co-workers to hear.
"People started crying when they heard me singing," she said. "There were men's voices on the recordings. They asked me, 'Is that your dad?'
"I was awe-struck. I didn't know. I didn't know what his voice sounded like. I was too young when he died to remember."
She took the recordings to her aunt and asked her to listen to them.
Hare said: "She heard my Uncle Bob's voice, and then she said: 'Julianne, that is Raymond. That is your father.'
"She started tearing up, and I started crying. We could not believe his voice had been recorded. That first day, I listened to it four times. I had never heard my father's voice before then."