|By Bob Weaver|
I often 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:
"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
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.