THE WITCH MAN OF CALHOUN COUNTY - Patrick Gainer Tale Retold

Often at Halloween I think of our Gilmer County friend, the late Dr. Patrick Gainer, who reveled in the tales he collected from people in Appalachia.

He started being a good listener at the general store at Tanner, and went on to build an impressive legacy around storytelling, music and culture. He was the founder of the West Virginia Folk Festival at Glenville. Here is a Calhoun tale told to him by Wirt Countian, Eugenia Roberts, who said it was every bit true - Bob Weaver:

"I grew up in a small rural community. Almost ever since I can remember, we were told the tale of an old man, who lived about three miles from our home (Calhoun), who was a witch. He was the object of mingled curiosity and terror to us children. At night were afraid, and nothing could have taken us near the old man's place."

"But in the daytime we became braver, and we often talked of going to see him do some of the many strange things people said he could do. We had heard that he could even make a table walk without touching it."

"Finally, one bright spring afternoon, we set out just after Sunday dinner. Because we didn't want to be laughed at, or stopped from going, we told our folks we were going after wild honeysuckle. There were eight of us, five girls and three boys, ranging in age from ten to fourteen."

"It took us about an hour to walk the distance of three miles to the little plank house where the man and his wife lived alone. It seemed as if there could be no evil at this setting. The honeysuckle and fruit trees were blooming around the house, and the door was open, letting the sunlight in. The old man stood at the door and welcomed us. He was of slight build, somewhat bent, and had curly white hair."

"After we told him our names and something about our schoolwork, one of the boys asked him if he could make the table walk for us. He said, "Certainly, I'll do it for you."

"We stood near the door leading into a room which served as a kitchen and dining room combined. It had a wood burning stove and a large cupboard, and in the center of the room was home-made table, with two home-made wooden benches. The old man moved the benches away from the table to the edge of the room. Then he came back to the doorway, crossed his hands, and looked down intently mumbling something which we could not understand, and then he raised his head."

"We saw the table begin to move around the room. It seemed to rise a few inches above the floor and glide around the room, almost as if there were wires attached and someone was guiding it. But there were no wires, and no one was touching the table. But there were eight frightened children watching as the old man, with a strange half smile, looked down, muttered something and the table returned to its place and was still."

"The old man asked us how we liked it, and one of the boys said it was all right, but he thought we ought to go back home. But the old man said he would like for us to see one more trick before we left. Then he took from his pocket and ordinary pocket knife and stuck it in one of the cracks in the wall, leaving the blade hanging loosely in the crack. Then taking a bucket of water from the kitchen stove, he hung the bucket on the handle of the knife, which supported the bucket, although it didn't seem possible."

"We thanked the old man for showing us the tricks, and he asked us to come back again soon. We never did get up enough courage to visit him again."

"Years passed, and the old man became very ill. He said that the Devil was coming after him real soon, because he had sold himself to the Devil to become a witch. He would try and sleep, but he would rise up in bed screaming that the Devil was there, though no one could see anything unusual. They put the Bible under the old man's pillow, but he made them take it away, screaming that the Devil would punish him for it. He finally died in terrible agony."

- For other great stories read "Witches, Ghosts and Signs" by Dr. Patrick Gainer