The Girl who had been in an Accident

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 16, 2017

The following story is from an article by Ruth Ann Musick, “West Virginia Ghost Stories,” published in the Midwest Folklore Journal, Vol. 8 No. 1 (Spring 1958). “Since I came to West Virginia in 1952,” she says, “I have collected over a hundred ghost stories. The ‘hitch-hiking girl’ seems to be especially popular. John Jacob Niles has a particularly dramatic version of this, and I have three versions from West Virginia contributors. This version was contributed by Doris Summers, a former student of mine at Fairmont State University.”


The three boys huddled closer together in the car to keep warm. It was a cold night and the snow sifting in under the doors didn’t make the boys feel any better. It was late, but the boy at the wheel didn’t dare drive any faster because the roads were bad. It was snowing heavily, and the road ahead was barely visible.

snowy road

One of the boys made a joke and all three started laughing. Suddenly they became silent. On the road ahead was a figure crawling on hands and knees. They stopped the car and jumped out. The figure was that of a girl, and she had evidently been in an accident. Fearfully the boys lifted her into the car. Her hands and feet were nearly frozen and her teeth chattered from the cold. There was a wound on her forehead that had dried blood on it.

Greatly concerned for her, they tried to get her to tell them where she lived, but at first she wouldn’t speak. Finally she managed a weak whisper.

“I was in an accident,” she gasped. “Mason’s Lawn. Get me to Mason’s Lawn before…”

Her voice trailed off and she did not speak again. One of the boys wrapped his scarf around her. They all knew where Mason’s Lawn was. It was a big estate on Morgantown Avenue. They had driven by it many times. The fact that the injured girl might live there surprised them, for they hadn’t know old Mrs. Mason had a daughter. It was supposed the old lady lived alone.

The car moved steadily and soon reached Mason’s Lawn. As they approached it the wounded girl regained consciousness and became alert. The car came to a halt in front of the huge house. Before the boys could get out the girl muttered a hasty ‘thank you’ and hurried out of the car. They watched her in surprise as she ran up the walk and went into the house.

“Hey,” said one boy, “she’s got my scarf.”

Puzzled, but tired, the boys went home, determined to return the next day.

Upon arriving in the afternoon they knocked on the door. It was answered by Mrs. Mason, who invited them to come in.

“Is your daughter in?” one of the boys asked.

They noticed a decided change in the old lady’s countenance.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “I have no daughter.’

Quite a great deal puzzled, the boys began a complete explanation of the happenings of the night before. It made them uneasy to watch the old woman grow pale and nervous. When they had finished, she caught her breath. When she spoke her voice was tight and strained.

“My daughter is dead. She was killed in an automobile accident several years ago. This is the fifth time someone has tried to bring her back to me.”

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The story of the Wampus Cat

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 13, 2017

In Missouri they call it a Gallywampus; in Arkansas it’s the Whistling Wampus; in Appalachia it’s the just a plain old Wampus (or Wampas) cat. A half-dog, half-cat creature that can run erect or on all fours, it’s rumored to be seen just after dark or right before dawn all throughout the Appalachians. But that’s about all everyone agrees on. In non-Native American cultures it’s a howling, evil creature, with yellow eyes that can supposedly pierce the hearts and souls of those unfortunate enough to cross its path, driving them to the edge of sanity.

Cherokee folklore, which is filled with tales of evil spirits lurking in the deep, dark forests that surrounded their villages, offers a different view of the Wampas cat.

An evil demon called Ew’ah, the Spirit of Madness, had been terrorizing the village of Etowah (or Chota, depending on the version you hear) in what is today North Carolina. The village shamans and warchiefs called for a meeting. The wise shamans told the warchiefs that sending the braves to hunt and kill the Ew’ah was surely going to be the end of the tribe, for the Ew’ah had the terrible power to drive men mad with a glance. The warchiefs argued that the Ew’ah could no longer feast on the dreams of the Cherokee children, and that something must be done. Together they agreed that their strongest brave would go alone, and bring great honor to his family and tribe by killing the mad demon.

the Wampus CatStanding Bear (or Great Fellow, depending on the story version) was the strongest, fastest, sneakiest, smartest, and most respected brave in all the Cherokee nation, and he was chosen to do battle with the demon. As he walked from his village, the shamans blessed him, and the warchiefs gave him many fine weapons with which to slay the beast, and on the edge of town, his wife, Running Deer, bid him a final farewell. She would never see him the same way again.

Weeks went by, and there was no word from Standing Bear. Suddenly, late one night, the stricken brave came running back into camp, screaming, and clawing at his eyes. One look, and Running Deer knew. Her husband was no more. With time, he would be able to pick berries and work in the fields with the young girls and the unmarried widows, but he would never be any good as a husband again, and by Cherokee law, that meant he was dead. Standing Bear’s name was never again mentioned, but Running Deer had loved her husband, and she wanted revenge.

Running Deer went to the shamans, and they gave her a booger mask, a bobcat’s face, and they told her that the spirit of the mountain cat could stand against the Ew’ah, but she must be the one to surprise the demon. The warchiefs gave her a special black paste, which when rubbed on her body, would hide her scent as well as her body. She kissed her former husband on the forehead, his blank eyes staring, and headed off to seek her revenge.

Running Deer knew the woods as well as she knew the village, and she ate sweet berries to keep up her strength over the many days, but still she came across no sign of the Ew’ah. Then, late one night, she heard a creature stalking down by the stream. As she crept slowly towards the creek, she heard a twig snap behind her. She spun, and just as suddenly realized how quickly it could have been the end of her. Behind her a wily fox darted across the pathway. “If that had been Ew’ah, I would be mad now…” the widowed Cherokee woman thought to herself, as she continued towards the creek.

At the edge of the creek, she saw footprints which did not belong there, and her former husband’s breastplate lay at the edge of the water. As she followed the prints upstream, she saw the demon. Its hulking form lurched hideously over the water, drinking from the pristine mountain spring. The Ew’ah hadn’t seen her! Running Deer crept ever closer, and just as she felt she could bring herself no closer, she sprang!

The Ew’ah spun, and saw the Cat-Spirit-Mask, and began to tear at itself as the spirit of the mountain cat turned its powerful magic back on itself. The Ew’ah tumbled backwards into the pool, and Running Deer immediately turned on her heel and ran as fast as she could back to the village, never once looking back.

When she arrived home, she sang a song to herself—a quiet song, of grief for her husband, but also of joy for the demon’s banishment. The shamans and warchiefs declared Running Deer the Spirit-Talker and Home-Protector.

Some say that the spirit of Running Deer inhabits the Wampas cat, and that she continues her eternal mission of watching her tribe’s lands to protect them and their peoples from the demons that hide in the dark and lost places of Tanasi.

sources: Cherokee version above related by Enrique de la Viega, of Powder Branch, TN, on 7/11/03, posted to Ex Libris Nocturnis forum at

Mysterious Knoxville, by Charles Edwin Price, 1999

15 Responses

  • Tim Hooker says:

    In Southeast Tennessee, I’ve heard it called a Catty-wampus.

  • While there are towns named Etowah in both North Carolina and Tennessee, the Cherokee village named Etowah was in Bartow County, Georgia, near the Etowah Mounds (which were not built by the Cherokee), and Chota was in Monroe County, Tennessee.

  • Dave Tabler says:

    You’re right! Thanks for catching that and setting it straight, Dennis.

  • Janie Kraker says:

    I live in northern Georgia and comment Dennis for his knowledge and his post. My late father always talked about a Wampus Cat and I was thrilled to find this post. Thank you so much! I travel to western North Carolina frequently and feel that I belong in the Nantahala area. I grieve for what the white man did to the noble Cherokee. As a side note to Tim Hooker’s post….catty-wampus is known to me and my family as “all mixed up” or “out of order” or “out of arrangement”.
    I just returned from a wonderful visit to Fontana Village…we went in February and the lake was almost completely drained…we visited Cherokee, Joyce Kilmer, Robbinsville, Lake Junaluska areas. I am infatuated with Horace Kephart as well and have hiked Kephart Prong several times. Simply put, I love the area and feel that I belong there.

  • Jennifer Robinson Whaley says:

    A year ago I got my family tree from my mother who had kept it all in her Bible. I am over three fourths cherokee Indian. My fiance had spoken of a Wampus Cat that he and his cousins had seen on our land as children.We moved to the thirteen acre property last June. I saw something behind our house that i thought was a ghost and another spirit just before dawn.It looked at me as if it were looking into my soul and what I felt was pure rage.When I described what I had seen to my fiance he told me it was the same Wampus Cat he had seen as a child. This is the first time I have looked it up and find this very interesting. Two years ago I gave my three daughters Indian names. My eleven year old named Hannah is the one I gave the name Running Deer. I never knew the story behind all of this and just want to thank you for post.

  • Jennifer Robinson Whaley says:

    who has a drawing or picture of the wampus cat

  • TJ Morrison says:

    I live in Atoka, Oklahoma. I am in McCall Middle School. McCall is the last name of the Mayor that built the school. But anyways, My school’s nickname is the Wampus Cats, so it’s
    The Atoka Wampus Cats. Our football team is good, and so is our softball and baseball team. Basketball, mabye a so-so.

  • Nancy Stafford Griesinger says:

    Catty-Wampus in our neighborhood always meant a rather mixed up situation.
    My people lived in Western North Carolina in what is now Eastern Tennessee. They traveled west and settled (some of them) in Northwestern Tennessee.

  • […] panther.  It’s a creepy ghost story, basically, and like any legend, there are different versions.   If you’re building a party, these are your strong warrior types.  (You know the drill by […]

  • Shannon Duzan-Fowler says:

    The Etowah mounds in Georgia aren’t Cherokee mounds. They were built by the Mississippian Period mound builders (thought to be the ancestors of both the Cherokee and the Creek).

  • brave heart bull says:

    Etowah is a corruption of the Muskogee word, Etalwuh ( E’tvlwv in our language)meaning: Their Town, as in someone else’s. If you remove the “E”, making it Tv’lwav, it then becomes personal.

  • Tony Williams says:

    As a boy growing up in rural northwest Florida, my Granny used the term “Wampus-Cat” to scare us back into the house at dark or at dinner time. Best of my recollection, she described this thing as evil and “of the devil”. Ran on all fours or upright, long fangs and claws and his scream could be heard for a country mile. I remember this as a useful method for her getting my cooperation.

  • BigUrn says:

    The Catty-Wampus don’t give a fuck.

  • Tony says:

    I was attacked by a Wampus cat as a child. My Mamaw would always holler right before dark, “you kids better get in here before the wampus cat gets you” and we would come runnin to the house. A kid at school made fun of me for believing in the wampus cat. One evening we were playing outside and my mamaw hollered the usual. I shot back “Aint no such thing as a wampus cat, we’ll be in when the game is over!” About 30 minutes later I came up to the house and as soon as I opened the screen door, the Wampus cat got me. Its claws felt like a switch on the back of my legs. I learned that a wampus cat is actually a whoop ass cat and it don’t like being sassed.

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You’d have that feeling then of being way far back

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 12, 2017

From 1935-1943, President Franklin Roosevelt looked to the U.S. Farm Security Administration, under the direction of Roy Stryker, to photograph people in need across the country in order to help sell his New Deal programs to the public.

Ben Shahn was one of the first photographers Styker hired. Shahn worked for a part of the project called Special Skills, and also helped create posters and other graphic arts.

“It was a really tough time,” remembered Shahn years later, “and when this thing came along and this idea that I must wander around the country a bit for three months. . . I just nearly jumped out of my skin with joy. And not only that, they were going to give me a salary too! I just couldn’t believe it.”

In October 1935 Shahn and his wife Bernarda started out on the first trip in a Model A Ford. Heading for West Virginia, he took photographs in Monongalia County before arriving in Logan County. The couple spent a Sunday and Monday in Omar and also visited Freeze Fork before moving on through Williamson to Kentucky and Tennessee, and then into the deep South.

“I did a series of photographs on a Saturday afternoon in a small town in Tennessee, I believe, of a medicine man. He had a little dummy, ventriloquist dummy, and he had a Negro to help him and so on. It was Saturday. I don’t think there were ten cars in the square, they were all mule drawn carts that had come there. This was 1935; it was incredible you see. The same was true of a lot of areas we covered. You’d have that feeling then of being way far back; but tragically enough, just about a month ago we took a train from Washington to Cincinnati. As I went throughout West Virginia, it hadn’t changed. It just made me sick to see the same darn thing.

Tennessee Medicine Show by Ben Shahn
“The other thing that startled me; when I was down in the mine country, I think it was Kentucky, there was some local strike taking place and I thought I want to cover that. It was being picketed and I thought, ‘Now how do you get into a conversation with a union picket? You offer him a union made cigarette.’ So I bought a pack of Raleighs and I offered him a cigarette and he says, ‘No, I don’t smoke that awful stuff.’ In stronger language than that. He says, ‘Here, I’ve been in the union for thirty years and I won’t smoke that,’ and he offered me a non-union cigarette. This to me is startling you know.

“As was the fact that John L. Lewis, who was a kind of a God of theirs at that time, and you didn’t dare say a word against him…if you had a copy of The Nation with you, I think they’d run you out of town. There was this incomprehensible conflict there you know.

“I got into homes. I stayed with some families. I knew how to do that pretty well, and got to know them, and we still remember their names.”


Ben+Shahn Farm+Security+Administration appalachia appalachia+history appalachian+culture appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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Ghostlore – collected by Ruth Ann Musick

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 11, 2017

The following article is excerpted from ‘Traditions’ magazine, Volume 13, published by Fairmont University, Fairmont, WV. It is reposted here with permission.

The image of a group of friends swapping ghost stories around a campfire late at night is one that is very familiar to Appalachia and an integral part of Appalachian folklore and literary history. Nearly everyone has had his or her experience of ghost stories filled with spooky sounds, horrid murders, and ventures into the unknown, and to celebrate this magical facet of folk literature, we at the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center have chosen a selection of Appalachian ghost stories that Dr. Ruth Ann Musick collected during her years teaching.

In these stories, ghosts fill and color the folk landscape of Appalachia, making trouble and causing disturbances for people from all walks of life. In “The Family That Disappeared,” a ghostly mist haunts a family, while a group of lumberjacks experience the fright of their lives in “Ike the Lumberjack.” A young couple find themselves living in a haunted house in “A Night of Horror,” and in “The Ghost of the Golden Cup,” an antique dealer finds that he has gotten himself into more than he had bargained for. The uncanny and the macabre fill these authentic Appalachian ghost tales, breathing life into the stories of the undead.

Throughout all of these stories, our Appalachian heritage shows through, reminding us of the stories that have been passed down through our families for years. These tales hearken back to our childhoods when we listened to the ghostly stories of times gone by. While they are chilling and sometimes disturbing, they are also nostalgic, instilling within us not only a sense of history and heritage, but also one of the magical whim and mystery of childhood.

Without a doubt, the stories that we have chosen are rife with mysterious events and spooky encounters with the beyond. They really do leave one questioning, “Could this have really happened?” Whether you are an avid ghostlore enthusiast or are a skeptic, I dearly hope that the following stories transport you, carrying you away to worlds of pure imagination and the wonder of childhood. —Ian Williams

The cover design of Traditions magazine Volume 13, published by Fairmont University, from which this article is reprinted. It features pen and ink with mixed watercolor images created by Noel W. Tenney. Various illustrations were inspired by the chosen haunting stories contained in this excerpt. Tombstone carvers, flying cats and kits, a hitchhiking lady in red, and a golden cup are the main motifs used on the cover.

The cover design of ‘Traditions’ magazine Volume 13, published by Fairmont University, from which this article is reprinted. It features pen and ink with mixed watercolor images created by Noel W. Tenney. Various illustrations were inspired by the chosen haunting stories contained in this excerpt. Tombstone carvers, flying cats and kits, a hitchhiking lady in red, and a golden cup are the main motifs used on the cover.


The Family that Disappeared

On the border between West Virginia and Virginia, a very unexpected thing occurred some years ago. A family was driving to visit some neighbors. A weird sound caused the driver to stop and investigate. As he stepped from the car, he noticed a thick fog very low to the ground. He thought nothing of this but, as he looked around, he noticed it was heading for him. He walked away from the car and left his family there just for a moment.

When he returned, the car was empty and there was no sign of footprints or of the strange fog. His family had disappeared into thin air. He got frantic and raced for his neighbor’s house. He told his story and a small group returned to the scene. Nobody was in the car as the man had said and no tracks of any kind could be found. He returned to the neighbor’s house and called the police to investigate. The policeman told this man that a similar occurrence had happened only a month or so before and still nothing had been found of the others.

This threw the man into a panic and he ran back to his car. He searched and searched but only to find nothing. Then, he heard the weird sound. When he turned, he saw the strange fog rolling toward him. This time he stood where he was and apparently the fog enveloped him. When it rolled away, he was gone and was never heard from again. The police again were called to investigate, but nothing substantial was ever found of either of these two families.

[Note: Corrections suggested by Dr. Musick.]
Collector: Rick Price
Informant: Mother
Location: Border of VA and WV
Date: January 15, 1969
Type: Supernatural, Ghostlore


The Ghost of the Golden Cup

There once was an antique dealer who bought a tarnished golden cup. He acquired this cup at an auction miles away from his home town and his shop. The cup, as it seemed to him, would bring a very good price, so he took it to his shop and polished it until it shined with great splendor. Almost everything this man had bought or sold had a slight flaw in it, but this cup had none. The perfection of this cup pushed it for a fast and high sale price. Still, the dealer couldn’t help worrying about the perfection of this cup. The cup was sold to an elderly lady who loved its simplicity and adored its beauty. This lady took the cup home and drank from it, which was a terrible mistake because the next morning, she was dead. This fact made the antique dealer really worry, so he went to the lady’s son and bought the cup again.

Illustration by Noel W. Tenney

Illustration by Noel W. Tenney

The dealer figured this would be a good way to make some money, so every once in a while he would rent this cup to people who had enemies they couldn’t stand. All of the people who drank from this cup died the next day.

The dealer figured that since the cup had served its purpose in making him rich, he would destroy it to forget its bad memories. One day, he
melted this cup and formed it into a statue of a man. Not long afterward, the statue was sold to an antique hobbyist who collected antique miniature statues. That night, after it was sold, a ghost appeared and told this dealer he would die the next day because of his improper use of this odd golden cup. The dealer didn’t believe this ghost, but in spite of his doubt, he died the next day.

[Note: Corrections suggested by Dr. Musick.]
Collector: Leonard Romino
Date: November 22, 1968
Type: Ghostlore


A Night of Horror

A young married couple had just moved into their new home. It was in a sparsely settled community and their nearest neighbor was a half mile away. The newlyweds had enough of the pioneer spirit that they did not mind the isolation. They felt they had been fortunate to find such a location, for the land was new and rich and soon they hoped to be living comfortably and secure from want. The house consisted of four rooms with a large attic which could be used for an extra room in case they had company.

Four large pines almost hid the house from view and through their branches the breezes stole, making sweet, sad music. The meager furniture left the rooms looking almost bare, but John could make a piece occasionally and Mary was already planning the weaving of a rug for the living room. And, by saving money from the sale of the crops, she hoped to have drapes for her windows. They had worked hard all afternoon and after a nourishing supper, they retired for their first night in their new home. After a time, they fell asleep.

Near midnight, they were awakened by a rending crash in the kitchen. “John, what was that?” screamed Mary, grabbing her husband in horror. “I don’t know,” whispered John, “but it sounded like falling dishes.” He was out of bed now, grasping for the lamp and matches beside the bed. Lamp in hand, he walked cautiously to the kitchen. “Nothing amiss here,” he called back to Mary who still lay in bed, frantically clutching the covers about her.

“We must just have been dreaming,” said her husband as he came back into the room. No dishes were broken and the cupboard was in its rightful place in the corner. “Strange that we should both have had the same dream,” Mary whispered, trembling. John set the lamp on the stand and turned down the wick, leaving a very small flame which cast pale ghostly shadows across the floor. He had just settled comfortably in bed when there came a sound as of water dripping—just a subdued pat-pat-pat, about a second between each drop. Neither spoke for a time—the water pail must be leaking, though it hadn’t before. “John, will you please see what it is?” asked Mary.

“I just can’t possibly sleep until I know. I seem to be a bundle of nerves since that crash.” John turned up the light and started for the kitchen. “Wait for me,” panted Mary. “I don’t want to be left alone.” The noise ceased as they stepped into the kitchen. The water pail was not leaking and there was no sign of water on the floor, but there was something which neither had noticed before—a large reddish-brown splotch on the floor near the table. It looked like paint, but both wondered why Mary hadn’t noticed it when she scrubbed the floor that day.

Glancing up at the ceiling they saw a similar stain, as if something had run through from the attic. John started up the steps and Mary followed him fearfully. They searched carefully and the light at last fell upon a dark red stain and a large smear which looked like dried blood. They discovered a path of blood leading toward the stairs. Their fear was beginning to leave them now and there remained only the desire to trace down this mysterious phenomenon. Down the stairs and into the kitchen it led them. Now, John noticed something he had not observed before.

A section of flooring had been cut out and then nailed back into place. With the aid of a mattock, he loosened the boards and underneath, in a shallow grave, he found all that remained of a human being—a well preserved skeleton. They were horrified but their fear soon left them. They went back to bed and to sleep. Early next morning, John and Mary walked to town about four miles away and reported their discovery to the constable. An investigation soon led to the discovery of the murderer and he was given a long prison term. Never afterward were the young couple disturbed by weird noises and they lived happily for many years in what had been a haunted house.

Informant: J.R. Kimble
Location: Wetzel County, WV
Type: Ghostlore

Ike the Lumberjack

This story was told to me by my grandfather who is still living in Shinnston today. The time was in the middle of March in 1922. The place was a small village called Everette. The lumberjacking crew had just arrived from another job and were “doing the town” before their next job. Their job was to clear the Everette forest. My grandfather was a member of that crew. The Everette forest was practically untouched because of the legend of “Ike.”

Ike was supposedly the ghost of an enormous lumberjack who was killed by a giant redwood tree in the Everette forest. The legend said he would come out once a month and chop down a tree in the middle of the night. Many people of the village had heard chopping in the night and the next day they had always found a giant redwood tree on the ground. Many crews had tried working the Everette forest but they were all scared off.

The next day, the crew started to work and everything went smoothly for about two weeks. One rainy night, the crew was awakened by a loud chopping and groaning noise in the forest. The men got up and ran toward the chopping sound. When they were almost there, a giant redwood fell and killed two men. The rest of the men ran back to the camp and left that night. Some said they had heard footsteps crunching away from the fallen redwood. The Everette forest remained uncut.

Collector: Robert Patterson
Informant: Grandfather
Location: Everette, WV
Date: December 5, 1966
Type: Ghostlore


Dear reader, there are many more stories beyond this excerpt to be found in the original ‘Traditions’ article! See below the photo to order a complete copy.


The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont, WV.

The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont, WV.


Traditions, which is the official journal of West Virginia folklore/folklife studies, was originally started in 1950 as West Virginia Folklore with Dr. Ruth Ann Musick as its longtime editor. It was a quarterly journal and linked to the West Virginia Folklore Society, the fourth such society in America to showcase regional follkore. The name was changed in 1993 to incorporate more content related to the study of folklore, such as its scholarship, research, and educational application, along with the actual lore. Dr. Judy P. Byers and Noel W. Tenney have served as co-editors since 1993, and it is published annually. The Society with its archives and membership evolved into The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, also, in 1993.

The complete version of this article can be found in Traditions, Vol. 13, which you can order from The Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont, WV. The price for an issue of the journal is $10.00 which includes shipping plus information about becoming a Friend of the Folklife Center and its various activities.You can also contact the Center via Facebook. Special thanks go out to Dr. Judy P. Byers, Director of the Center, for her help preparing this article.

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Cousin Urbin was a Musician, a True Troubador

Posted by Dave Tabler | October 10, 2017

Cousin Urbin was a Musician, a True Troubador (abridged)

‘The Mountain Eagle,’ Whitesburg, KY, January 28, 1965

By Larry Caudill


Back in the first decade of the 20th century the grandmothers of us mountaineers were apt to believe that such frivolities as dancing, card-playing and banjo picking were erosive of character if not downright sinful—wasters of time which could better be put to useful work. So she didn’t allow such capers around her home.

Detail from William Sidney Mount (American genre painter, 1807-1868), ‘The Banjo Player’ (1856)

Detail from William Sidney Mount’s (American genre painter, 1807-1868), ‘The Banjo Player in the Barn’ (1855); collection of Detroit Institute of the Arts

My older brother Fred, who died in 1946 as Dr. F.W. Caudill of the State Board of Health, clung always to those principles, though not to extreme in practice.

Me, now—I have noticed over the decades that skill in a youth at dancing was conducive to the poise and fast reflexes that made great college athletes; that contract bridge is the finest discipline for the mathematical mind and orderly thinking of all card cames;  that few things can revive sagging spirits like a rollicking rondo or evoke the delicious agony of nostalgia like a sad sweet ballad on the old banjo.

Among the unforgettable characters of our boyhood was a kinsman, Urbin Cornett. Orphaned early, he was a true and beloved vagabond. He lived here and there among the kith & kin.

At every household he was accepted simply as just another of the young ‘uns and took his share of the work or play.

If the work became too onerous or he became otherwise unhappy, Urbin simply moved on. He traveled lightly, with little more than the shirt on his back, a pocket knife — and his beloved banjo. For he was a musician, a true troubadour.

When Urbin came to Grandpa Arch Cornett’s for a sojourn he carefully cached the banjo in the barn before going to the house.

After supper of a moonlit autumn evening Urbin was apt to saunter out to the barn and with his banjo, rest against the back of the barn and play and sing the ancient ballads which now make fortunes for professional folk-singers with guitar and dulcimer.

Urbin at other times was a master storyteller around the hearthfire, especially ghost tales. It was said that he believed in ghosts.

In the household were some eligible girls—and there were the inevitable wooers. These young men knew of Urbin’s banjo in the barn and his penchant for indulging his loneliness with lonesome songs behind the barn.

They decided one night to test out his belief in ghosts. One of them took a white sheet to the barn, hid at a corner and put the sheet over his head in the manner of the most approved ghost.

As Urbin sang the saddest climax of the tragic ballad, the youth stepped out of hiding into his view.

Urbin got one glance, sprang up and ran headlong for the house, reaching the outlying cookhouse as the nearest haven of refuge.

There sat Grandma, beside the warm kitchen stove, calmly smoking her clay pipe.

To his horror, Urbin suddenly realized that he still had his banjo in his hand.

He escaped, but it was quite a passage of time before he was again seen around Grandma Martha’s premises.

Maybe there’s a moral here: it’s all right to let yourself get carried away with your music, but don’t let it carry you into trouble.

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