We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:
We open today’s show with a late 19th century story from Bob Taylor, a former governor of Tennessee. Out of his 1896 memoirs comes this delightful piece describing the joyous courtship rituals to be found at a Tennessee mountain taffy pull.
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.
As the sky grew dark, the Indians sang a death song to honor this beloved man of peace whom they called the Son of the Creator, goes the Cherokee Legend of the Stone Crosses. All of the animal nations of the forests soon came and stood by them. Because of their sorrow, the Cherokee began to cry. Their tears soon covered the ground.
“I thought no more of old time play acting in the mountain country till on Christmas Eve in 1930 some of the men and boys at Gander [KY] presented for me an old mummers’ play,” said noted KY folklorist Marie Campbell in a 1938 Journal of American Folklore article. “Later two of the men gave me a fairly complete text for the play. “All of the contributors were old people, and the play presented at Christmas time in 1930 was almost as new for the young people who belonged to the community as it was for me. Thirty or more years had passed since its last performance, and the play will not be presented again by this community because the two men who knew the text are both dead.”
Not every place has the distinction of being named after a Christmas treat. Tradition holds that Pudding Ridge, NC, in western Davie County, got its name one rainy day in February 1781 during a Revolutionary War engagement. Fortunately most Appalachian traditions associated with the classic seasonal treat Christmas Pudding have a much more positive connotation than that of being chased by enemies through the mud.
“For Christmas you didn’t get much. There wasn’t much,” says Gwynn Jones (b. 1908) of her childhood in Warrensville, NC. “One little country store close by. There were more in the county, but they had nothing for children. We would get some oranges (they had oranges for Christmas) and some candy. We had no toys; however, there were dolls. As I remember they did have little dolls for the girls. My father and mother would get the girls a little doll.”
We’ll wrap things up with an exploration of a unique Christmas tradition from Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “The sound of its popping was quite like that of a firecracker. It was much less expensive than a firecracker and far less dangerous,” Herbert Lamont Pugh tells us. He’s describing the uses of a dried hog bladder on Christmas Day, as he recounts his boyhood holiday memories from early 20th century Batesville, VA.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Blue Ridge Institute Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by E.C. Ball in a 1978 recording of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.
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.