In the spirit of Halloween, we thought we’d share a few spooky tales from our archives.
Foxfire 2 is full of ghost stories, or ‘haint’ tales as they were more commonly known. While some are quite terrifying, most often people encountered an inexplicable sound or flash of something white. While the obvious answer might be to investigate it, would you be brave enough to venture into the dark woods without a flashlight or lantern to illuminate the way?
Jud Carpenter: “One night I was passin’ along, th’moon a’shinin’ pretty bright. It was along about ten o’clock at night. Directly I hear somethin’ come scra-a-a-a-pin’ along behind me. I turned around and looked around. ‘Bout that time, that thing hit me right in the bend of the legs. Felt just like an old dry cow hide. I danced away, but couldn’t see a thing. I stood around there a while, kept lookin’ around, but never did see nothin’. Finally, I just walked off and left it. Never did find out what it was.”
Some contacts explained the presence of haints and spirits very matter-of-factly to students:
Hillard Green: “Ghosts are just the Devil after somebody, and they’re seein’ these things for some lowdown meanness that they’ve done. It’s in their eyes and in their mind is what it is. People will see things where they ain’t nothin’. A ghost is a spirit or something that comes t’somebody that they’ve done evil to—harmed them some way ‘r’ other.
“How the Jack-O’-Lantern Got Its Name”
Originally published in Foxfire 11, this short tale from contact Pat Cotter uses a traditional “Jack Tale” to explain how jack-o’-lanterns came to be called such. It came to him from his grandfather and he in turn shared it with Foxfire students:
“There was an old Irish farmer who lived pretty close to him, and he was very, very mean. He didn’t go to church on Sunday. He didn’t go to PTA meetings. He didn’t pay his paperboy. He was just all in all a bad character. He did have one attribute that made him famous in East Tennessee. He grew some of the best apples in the state. On his farm there, he had fine apple trees, and he grew the best, biggest, and sweetest apples in the state. Even the governor would come in and buy his apples. They were just great.
The devil heard about Jack’s apples. It don’t happen so often now, but the devil used to drop in and see people every now and then. So the devil dropped in at Jack’s house one day and said, ‘Jack, I hear you’ve got the best apples in the state.’ And Jack said, ‘I have. I’ve probably got the best apples in the eastern United States.’
And the devil said, ‘Well, I’d like to have some of ‘em.’
So he left and started to the apple tree. Jack followed him with a hatchet. And the devil clumb to the top limb. He set down, picked an apple, and sure enough, it was the sweetest, best-tasting apple he’d ever eaten. While he was up there partaking of the apples, Jack took his hatchet and carved a cross on the bottom of the apple tree. I don’t know if you know about devils and crosses, but the devil couldn’t get by the cross, because it was on the tree trunk. So he was stuck up there for something like forty-three years. He couldn’t get down, and, of course, he was hopping mad all this time.
Well, Jack eventually died of meanness and old age. His first stop was heaven and St. Peter said, ‘You’ve been so mean and bad, you can’t stay here.’ He said, ‘You’ll have to go to hell.’
When Jack died, the spell was broken, so the devil came down out of the apple tree and had to walk all the way back to hell. He was mad and thirsty. He’d been up there for a long time with nothing to drink. He and Jack got to hell about the same time, and they had an awful fight. The devil was mad, and he was ripped, and Jack was ripped because he’d gotten kicked out of heaven. The devil said, ‘You can’t stay here in hell, after what you’ve done to me.’
And Jack said, ‘I’ve got to. I hadn’t got any other place to go.’ And the devil said, ‘No, you can’t, and they fought some more.
The devil gets the best of a lot of us from time to time, you know. Well, the devil started getting the best of Jack, and Jack lit out running. The devil hadn’t had enough, so he picked up a hot coal out of hell and flung it at Jack. It come bouncing along, and Jack saw it, and he said, ‘You know, I’ve been condemned to wander through eternity in darkness. I can’t go to heaven, and I can’t go to hell; I might be able to use that coal.’ He started to reach down and pick it up to use it for a light, and he realized it was hot, so he looked over in a field and sure enough, there was a pumpkin. He took his pocketknife out, and he hollowed out the pumpkin, cut a hole in it, and put the hot coal in there. Halloween night now, you can still see him going up through Union County and some of the other places with his light. That’s how my grandfather told me the jack-o’-lantern got its name.”
Read more spooky tales and stories in Foxfire 2 or share your own favorites from childhood!