We usually post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. But today’s Halloween, and we’ve got some stories that’ll have you checking under the bed and in the closet before your day is over! We’re on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:
Today’s show will consist entirely of spooky tales from the collection of the Frank & Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center in Fairmont, WV.
Between the 1950s to the early 1970s, WV folklorist Ruth Ann Musick collected folktales at church socials, fairs, festivals, and other community functions.
Most of the tales collected were labeled as legends, for they contained extraordinary, remarkable, even bizarre supernatural and preternatural events and encounters that had happened to ordinary people. Historically, isolated hills and little-traveled roads were scenes of potential violence. Later, the Industrial Revolution claimed lives in railroad, bridge, and tunnel accidents. Coal mining accidents in particular have produced numerous tales of ghostly and ghastly encounters.
In addition to its abundance of tragic circumstances, Appalachia’s climate and topography offer ideal settings for strange happenings. Its rolling hills cast long shadows into deep hollows while patchy valley fog oozes up from cooling waters to hang from green ridges. Suddenly, a breath of wind cuts the fog into will-o’-the-wisps that spin off into the pale moonlight and float over a lonely road – or in the deepest tunnel of a coal mine – or beside an empty railroad track – waiting – waiting – for someone. Lifted beyond or below the natural, the ghostly and ghastly tales are born.
In storytelling, three major ghosts abound. The first is the helpful spirit. Miracles and tales of help from fairies and other wee folk have been traditionally told in the hills. The most prevalent helper, however, is the benevolent ghost that returns to save a loved one in distress, such as a sick mother or trapped miner.
The second most recorded ghost is the “unrested” spirit or poltergeist, usually the spirit of a person who has died suddenly or tragically. The poltergeist drifts upon the earth, attaching itself to a familiar person or place. Thus, the haunted house or haunted person story is created. The third type of supernatural encounter, the revengeful ghost, is the least common tale to be found in the hills. Sometimes a ghost returns to see that justice is done or that the truth be known. In contrast, the preternatural tales go below the natural to present ghastly encounters of evil doings, such as vampires, werewolves, trolls, giants, dragons, devils, and especially witches.
The 6 folktales presented here were collected through the field study component of Fairmont State University’s Folk Literature classes and housed in the un-published folklore estate of Ruth Ann Musick. The first 5 tales were gathered by Dr. Musick with her students between the 1950s and early 1970s. The final tale was collected by Judy Byers and her students during 2010 Spring Semester, following in the same tradition.