Thursday, October 16, 2014

Kentucky Ghostlore

William Lynwood Montell, a former professor at Western Kentucky University, spent fifteen years collecting oral ghostlore. 

He and his students either recorded these stories as they were told or transcribed them carefully so they could be reprinted word for word.

The folklore narratives they collected had all been passed down from generation to generation. Montell published his collection in a book entitled, Ghosts along the Cumberland.

All these stories were collected in the south-central Kentucky foothills known as the Eastern Pennyroyal or Pennyrile.

Among the locals, Tale swapping was a regular form of entertainment. In this part of the U.S., ghost stories were referred to as tramp tales or bear tales. This kind of story was often shared while getting a haircut or told by a grandparent in the home.

The following is one of my favorites from this book. Since most “oral” folk stories do not read smoothly, I have taken the liberty to tweak this one.

Dividing Up the Dead

Origin 1791

One dark night a slave named Sam approached his master and said, “The Lord and the Devil are up at the graveyard, dividing up the dead.”

What actually was going on--two men were gathering hickory nuts and had gone into the graveyard to divide their nuts.

As Sam had passed the graveyard, he heard two voices mumbling, “One for me and one for you. One for me and one for you.”

His master replied, “Now, Sam, you know that can’t be true.” He continued, “ If I could just walk, I would go up there and see for myself.” The old master had been injured in an accident years before and couldn’t walk.

Sam was able to convince his master to let him carry him on his back up to the graveyard. As they stopped by the gate to listen, they heard the mumbling, “One for me and one for you. One for me and one for you.”

Finally, the counting stopped. One voice said, “That is all.” Another said, “No, there are two more by the gate. *

It is said this master who had not walked in years outran the strong slave back to the house.

* What the nut hunters actually meant--each had dropped one nut by the gate as they went in.

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