We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. You can start listening right away by clicking the podcast icon over on the left side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here.
We open today’s show with a look at a dowsing in West Virginia. Water witching (rhabdomancy) is common throughout the region. According to a study done about fifty years ago, at that time there were twenty-five thousand practicing water witches in this country. The actual practice of divining with a forked stick, as we know it, began in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century in Germany.
We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a Calendar of Events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.
Next, a 1910 article from Berea KY newspaper ‘Citizen’ admonishes its readers to “Keep Busy!” ‘Idleness and there are filth and flies in the house, and the weeds hide the view from the window and door,’ the author reminds us. ‘Industry and the home, though it be a cabin, is a place of beauty and roses.’
In Appalachia Santa Claus comes the weekend before Thanksgiving. Since 1943, the Santa Special, more commonly known as the Santa Train, has traveled 110 miles through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee to distribute loads of candy, toys and other goodies to eager bystanders, most of whom have made it a family tradition. The train typically passes through more than 30 towns delivering Christmas cheer. Did you see it go by?
The ‘Walker’ is today the most popular of the American Foxhound dog breed. This breed can be traced to Madison County, KY and a stolen hound called Tennessee Lead. According to legend, drover Tom Harris stole the hound out of a deer chase in Tennessee a few miles south of Albany, Kentucky in November 1852. Harris carried this rat-tailed, tight-haired black and tan hound on his buckboard to Madison County, and sold him to George Washington Maupin.
James Camak started his career as a professor at University of Georgia, left to make a fortune in banking, and went on to become president of Georgia’s first railroad company, a respected newspaper editor, a professor at University of Georgia (again!), and a Trustee of the college. One thing he was not though, was an accurate surveyor. In 1818, early in his career, he was appointed by the state to help survey the boundary line between Georgia and Tennessee. He botched the job. Twice.
We’ll wrap things up with a short oral history from Curtis R. Pfaff, who was born in 1921 in Allais KY. “Thanksgiving and Christmas were our favorite days,” he recalls. “The turkey and ham dinners were the best foods I ever knew. The turkey would be purchased live and dressed out the day before. I will always remember the wonderful smell of the dressing cooking
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by Tommy Hunter and Wayne Erbsen in a 1983 recording the of the classic fiddle tune ‘Cincinnati Hornpipe.’
So, call your old blue-tick hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.