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 right 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 Jesse Stuart, a Kentucky poet laureate and author of more than a dozen novels and autobiographical works. Just as William Faulkner spent a career drawing on life in Oxford, MS to create a rich portrait of his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, so Stuart came back again and again for inspiration to his native Plum Grove, KY and the foibles of its mountain men and women.
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.
“Thomas Hunt Morgan, winner of the Nobel Prize for biology in 1933, and known before his death several years ago as the greatest living biologist in the world, received his first schooling in what I understand was a log cabin schoolhouse in Oakland, MD,” says Julia McHenry Howard in ‘A Summer Home in the Mountains’ from 1953. “He and his cousin, Charles McHenry, were great rattlesnake hunters and amassed a trophy of rattles which I still own.” Julia McHenry Howard has lots more to say about the extended family of her great grandfather, Francis Scott Key, composer of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’
It’s the whispering foil, the flexatone, or simply, the musical saw. Some consider the musical saw an American folk musical instrument believed to have gotten its start somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains in the 19th century. The region has a rich history of improvised instruments and the peculiar melodic nature of the saw would tend to lend itself quite nicely to mountain music.
Dr. Joseph S. DeJarnette, director of Virginia’s Western State Hospital from 1905-1943, was one of the state’s leading voices in the 20th century social movement known as Eugenics—the belief that information about heredity can be used to improve the human race. For Americans who feared the potential degradation of their race and culture, eugenics offered a convenient and scientifically plausible response to those fears. Between 1927 and 1979, the state sterilized 8,300 residents thought ‘unfit’ for general society, including blacks, Native Americans, the feeble-minded, the promiscuous and the poor.
We’ll wrap things up with a piece written by Margaret Fowler in 1937 for WPA Alabama Writers’ Project, “Folklore of DeKalb County.” In the middle of a winter night, a pioneer family discovers a bear in the chicken house with its head stuck in a syrup barrel. “What with gran’mammy a whooping him with that broom, pappy a-yelling and gran’pappy cussing a streak every time he hopped, that b’ar was just plumb skeered to death, I reckon.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Library of Congress National Jukebox, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Vernon Dalhart in a1924 recording of “De Clouds Are Gwine To Roll Away.”
So, call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.