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 funerary practices prior to the funeral industry’s rise and its use of embalming. The deceased was instead prepared – laid out – and remained in the home until burial. This was a sacred, almost ritualistic, process.
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.
She was the inspiration for the movie ‘Songcatcher.’ North Carolinian Jane Gentry — piano teacher and Appalachian folk-music historian, was eagerly sought out by folklorists in the early 20th century. Cecil Sharp, founder of The English Folk Dance and Song Society in England, visited her home on at least eight separate occasions and collected more songs from Jane (70) than from any other singer in the ‘Laurel Country.’
Next, we’ll take a look at the odd tools you’ll find tucked away in the corner of a barn. Antique gadgets that stump the experts frequently turn up. In the era of hand-made tools, it was logical that one-of-a-kind implements were created—the man who custom-made his own tools could allow himself the luxury of making tools to meet his needs.
Wherever North Georgia evangelist Samuel Porter Jones preached, liquor stores closed, theaters and jails emptied, and cursing was reduced to whispers. The Reverend Jones (1847-1906), or “just plain ‘Sam Jones,'” as he preferred to be called, studied to be a lawyer, but drinking and gambling almost brought him to the brink of ruin.
In our next segment, Kentucky author James Still discusses the influences that gave his writing its voice. “How did you escape the stereotype ‘hillbilly’ writing?” — a frequent question. That is, the stereotypical mountaineer and his dialectical speech as rendered by several authors of fiction in the past. I was hardly aware of them, didn’t have access to their books. My experience was with the folks themselves.”
We’ll wrap things up with the story of convicted West Virginia murderer John Hardy. It seems he and another man were both enamored of the same woman. A game of craps fueled by whiskey and envy led to Hardy killing his challenger. Hardy wrote a ballad about his fate while in prison, and sung it on the scaffold before they hung him. The ballad was preserved and later recorded by the likes of the Carter Family and Bob Dylan.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Country Music Hall of Fame we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by the West Virginia Coon Hunters in a 1927 recording of “Greasy String.”
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.