Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Tragic Chivaree

This odd but popular custom of giving a newly married couple a chivaree originated in parts of rural France.

It was brought to North America by French Canadians and then spread into the lower 48--specifically in the rural areas of the Appalachian South.

Originally a chivaree * was given to scare off “evil spirits.” It was also an excuse to have some fun.

A chivaree was a noisy celebration done by friends and family of a newly married couple. It took place on the same day as the wedding.

Sometimes a chivaree was an old fashioned wedding reception but more often they were done after the wedding reception--usually around midnight.

A large boisterous crowd would gather outside the couple’s home and would make as much noise as possible. They would sing, play musical instruments, yell, bang on pots and pans and set off firecrackers etc.

The newlyweds’ windows and doors were banged and knocked on until the couple came out. Then the two were separated.

The bridegroom was often placed on a greased fence rail and paraded through the community. This was to “honor” the bride’s choice in a husband.

Then the bridegroom was tied to tree--to allow him to cool down--before he was allowed to return home.

This custom was no longer observed by the mid 20th century--around the end of WWll.

In their book entitled, Kentucky Hauntings Roberta Simpson Brown and Lonnie E. Brown tell the story of one Kentucky chivaree that went terribly wrong.

This tragedy resulted in a haunting that lasted for years.

The Beginning

One fine June day, deep in the Kentucky hills Nellie Crenshaw married her childhood sweetheart, Jeff Barnes.

Their beautiful wedding in the small community church fulfilled a dream that Nellie had cherished for years.

After the wedding the couple went to the home their relatives had built for them. The afternoon passed quietly and the two had a nice supper.

Both had heard whispers about a chivaree so Nellie made cookies and a pot of coffee in anticipation of their visitors.

Jeff who was not as enthusiastic was determined to be a “good sport.” But he just wanted to get it over with.

It wasn’t long before they heard a rowdy crowd outside. The noisemakers stopped long enough to serenade the couple with Let Me Call You Sweetheart.

As the last notes were sung Jeff was grabbed and placed on a split rail from a fence. He offered the expected resistance but then went along with their prank.

A group of men, with the crowd cheering and shouting them on took him into the nearby woods and loosely tied him to a tree. Jeff could hear music and laughter at his house where the reception party was underway.

The men turned to leave but Jeff shouted, “You can’t leave me here like this. You know a bear has been spotted in these woods just two days ago.” Come on. You have had your fun, but it is dangerous. Now untie me!”

The smaller group laughed and just ignored his plea. They had heard about the bear sighting but they didn’t believe Jeff was in any danger.

They then joined the party back at the house.

The End

Within a few minutes they heard terrifying screams coming from the woods.

“Help, Help me?” It was Jeff’s voice.

“For God’s sake, somebody help me!”

The group headed for the woods. They saw a big bear leave the clearing as they entered the area were Jeff was tied.

What lay before them was shocking. Jeff lay still, he was mauled and bleeding. As they drew close they saw they were too late. He was already dead.

The community that had just celebrated a joyous wedding was now gathered, filled with an unbearable grief, for Jeff’s funeral.

Nellie lived with her parents for a time but everything reminded her of her dead husband. She moved away to live with an aunt and never returned.

Frightful Sounds

Appalachian Mountains
Their house remained empty and it eventually fell into ruin.

But people came to believe that it was not deserted. On every anniversary of the wedding and chivaree they heard laughter and singing coming from the home.

These sounds were followed by heart-wrenching screams coming from the nearby woods.

Hunters that ventured into these woods near the anniversary stated they heard a growl and felt cold chills. They never saw the bear but they claimed they felt it stalking them.

As the years passed people were so disturbed by this activity that Nellie’s father tore the house down. But the activity continued.

Stories are still circulated about the odd sounds heard in the woods and near the spot where Nellie and Jeff’s home once stood.

After this tragedy, people in this community stopped celebrating weddings with a chivaree.

* Chivaree or “rough music” is sometimes spelled, shivaree. This celebration was also sometimes called a charivari.

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