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Get Ready for Halloween with Jackie Torrence’s “The Golden Arm”

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Jackie Torrence onstage at the National Storytelling Festival.
Jackie Torrence, photographed by Tom Raymond at the National Storytelling Festival in 1997.

As we always do when Halloween rolls around, Folklife Today is gearing up for scary fun!  We have a couple of spooky stories in store for you, as well as a surprise in late October.  Our first scary tale is Jackie Torrence’s classic version of “The Golden Arm.”

“The Golden Arm” is an old folktale of wide distribution, classified by folklorists as ATU 366. It is known in Europe, and in American tradition was told by both white and black communities. It is one of the most famous ghost stories in American tradition, having been used by Mark Twain as one of the main examples in his essay “How to Tell a Story.” You can read Twain’s version, written in somewhat outrageous African American dialect, at this link.

Born Jacqueline Carson Torrence in 1944, in Chicago, Illinois, Jackie Torrence was raised in North Carolina. She spent her early childhood on Second Creek, where she lived on a farming settlement with her grandparents. Jim Carson, Torrence’s grandfather, told the family traditional tales he had heard from his father, a former slave. Jackie trained as a reference librarian, and became a storyteller by chance in 1972, when the children’s librarian at the High Point Library called in sick and Torrence filled in. Soon, she had a budding career as a storyteller.  “When I found storytelling and realized that I could make that extra money, and pay my bills, and feed and clothe my child—I went after that job with a passion,” she told Storytelling Magazine in January, 1999. Torrence became  a successful storyteller and a spokesperson for the storytelling movement, appearing frequently on television, with appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and CBS Sunday Morning. She wrote two books, The Importance of Pot Liquor and Jackie Tales: The Magic of Creating Stories and the Art of Telling Them. She produced nine recordings on several labels, several of which won awards from the American Library Association. Her 1992 play, Bluestory, a history of blues music, was performed by Jackie with Piedmont blues musicians John Cephas and Phil Wiggins.

Jackie Torrence died in 2004 at her home in Granite Quarry, North Carolina.

In the player below, hear Torrence’s performance at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, in 1986. It is part of AFC’s International Storytelling Collection (AFC 2001/008). Below the player, find my transcription of Torrence’s tale.  The photos are by Tom Raymond, and are part of the same collection.

Jackie Torrence onstage at the National Storytelling Festival.
Jackie Torrence, photographed by Tom Raymond at the National Storytelling Festival in 1997.

I would like to tell a story
A very old story that I heard from my grandfather.
He said that, many years ago, there lived a man and his wife.
They were an ordinary couple
and every night the man would seat himself before the fireplace and smoke his pipe and watch the smoke rings curl beneath the chimney.
Now his wife was really not an ordinary person at all.
For after she finished her chores about the house
she too would take her place before the fireplace.
But her left arm and hand were made of solid gold.
And she would polish and shine
and polish and shine
that golden arm.

One night she said to her husband as she polished that golden arm, she said
“Do you…
Would you promise me that
if I should die before you
you will bury me with my golden arm?
Will you promise me that?”
And he said, “Huh?”
And she said, “promise me now
that you will bury me with my golden arm!”
And he said, “Oh, yes, yes, yes,
I will. Uh-huh.
Do not worry.”

Well, many years passed
and they lived together
and they were quite happy.
When one day the old woman died
and I suppose it was from carrying the weight of that golden arm.

And the night before they buried her
her husband thought to himself
“I can’t let them put that gold into the ground.
Why if I had that gold from that golden arm
I could buy myself a brand new house
I could buy myself a brand new suit of clothes
I could buy myself a wagon and ten white horses.”
[Chuckling]

So he went to the place and he cut off the golden arm.
And the next day his wife was buried without her golden arm.
But that night he stood in front of the fireplace holding the golden arm
and thinking to himself,
[Chuckling]
I’ve got the gold from the golden arm
I shall buy myself a brand new house [cackling with glee]
I shall buy myself a brand new suit of clothes [cackling with glee]
I shall buy myself a wagon and twenty white horses. [cackling with glee]

And just as he admired the golden arm
he just happened to look up through the window
and the sky that had been so bright with stars was now very dark.
And the wind started to blow about the house.
And the noise of the wind
you could barely hear a thing
but over the sound of the wind he heard:

“Who-o-o-o’s…
go-o-o-o-o-t…
m-y-y-y-y-y…
go-o-o-o-olden arm?”

“Oh,” he said,
“Who is that?
“Somebody wants my golden arm!
I must hide.”
He looked all about the house
and there was only one place.
it was a closet.
And he started toward the closet
But before he opened the closet door
he looked through the window.

And the sky was darker and darker.
And the wind blew harder and harder.
And the voice was just outside the front door.
“Whe-e-e-e-ere’s…
m-y-y-y-y-y…
go-o-o-o-olden arm?”

“Oh,” he said,
“It’s coming in the house!”

So he stepped into the closet
And he slammed the door
And he turned the key
“Oh.” he said,
“I’m safe.
I’m safe.”

But inside the closet
it was dark
dark
dark.

And all about the house
the wind blew harder
and harder
and harder

And all at once the door
the locked closet door
started to open
[creaking sound].

And the candles had burned low, and out.
And the fire had gone out in the fireplace.
And the wind no longer blew outside.
It was quiet.

But there was that voice
standing in front of the closet door
“Whe-e-e-e-ere’s…
m-y-y-y-y-y…
go-o-o-o-olden arm?”

“Who-o-o..YOU’VE GOT MY GOLDEN ARM!”

And the ghost of his wife grabbed that golden arm
ran down through the hallway
leaped through the window
and nobody’s ever seen that ghost or the golden arm again.

Comments (101)

  1. great story great retelling.

  2. I got the chills

  3. That story is so scary

  4. I love that story

  5. i like this story alot because it tells alot of details.

  6. I like this story because it tells a lot of details.

  7. BEST STORY EVERY

  8. creepy

  9. that was so creepy

  10. It was creepy i jumped at the end

  11. i like it.

  12. when she said whooos YOU GOT MY GOLDED ARM
    that scard me soooo bad.

  13. she said whooos YOU GOT MY GOLDED ARM
    that scard me soooo bad.

  14. Whats with all the chills up my spine

  15. nothing scares me

  16. That was a scary story

  17. i got the chills to but it was great

  18. lol

  19. that was a good story

  20. spine shrieking

  21. thank you i jump at the end every time thank you. 🙂

  22. that was a great book

  23. that was scary

  24. This was the best story every!
    I jumped at the end xD!!!!

  25. I scare you rossy REHEHEHEHE

  26. that is very cool and give me the chills

  27. when i heard whoooyouve got my golden arm i just jumped back into my seat

  28. I was tucking into a ball because I was scared

  29. I love this story I’m so scared the scariest part of the story is at the end.

  30. that was spokey

  31. that was spooooookey

  32. that was spooooookey and fun it was scary when she said YOU GOT MY GODEN ARM

  33. It is scary at the end!

  34. Great story teller, my children were scared of it but always wanted to hear it

  35. creepy but kinda cool

  36. kinda cool

  37. it was scary video

  38. I Loved this it was funny and I jump when she said “YOU’VE GOT MY GOLDEN ARM!” Cuz that was not expected! Lol

  39. that scared me but great story

  40. I like this story

  41. the whole class jumped and screamed when she said YOU HAVE MY GOLDEN ARM

  42. i loved that story it gave me the chills!!!!!

  43. when she shouted it scared me so bad

  44. all i can say is wow! What a great,and chilling story,and what a wonderful way of telling it so much emotion! Thanks so much for telling this story! I loved it!

  45. When it seed you’ve got my golden arm it scared me.

  46. To me it sounds best when you turn your volume down low.

  47. cool story

  48. a good cliff hanger

  49. i got scared just now when she said you’ve got my golden arm

  50. that was sacary

  51. The story is scary but also has action!

  52. it was a good story i really liked it she reads it so good

  53. That was fun and scary

  54. The ending was so scary!And funny.

  55. I was so freaked out that I don’t want to see the ending EVER AGAIN.

  56. When she yelled “YOUVE GOT MY GOLDEN ARM!” I felt like my heart skiped a beat… Did NOT see that coming. Good story, well told.

  57. THIS IS THE BEST SCARY STORY EVER!!!!!!!

  58. my heart skipped a few beats at the ending

  59. yeet

  60. Yes, I agree that the story is really scary.

  61. That was soooooooo freaky

  62. This Was A really good story. I can think of A different scary story like this. It was called, “The Big Toe” I have watched this over and over again and in class, I was watching this, and I freaked out with the ending, knocked my water bottle over, and Scared the whole class half to death.

  63. Bro that was cereepy about the voice of the ghost.

  64. Bro that was creepy about the voice of the ghost.

  65. AWESOME
    STORY
    SO
    FUNNY!

  66. This was really good i enjoyed this and how it was beautiful

  67. im going to have mightmares

  68. I love the way you tell the story.

  69. That was a good way of explaining the story

  70. Not very scary in my opinion

  71. lololololol jumpscare warning

  72. that last part where she just yelled was the scariest thing ever, i litterly jumped out of my seat in class.

  73. THATS SCARYYYYYYYYYYY

  74. all i can say is wow! What a great,and chilling story,and what a wonderful way of telling it so much emotion! Thanks so much for telling this story! I loved it!

  75. graet story

  76. We’ve been trying to reach you concerning your vehicle’s extended warranty. You should’ve received a notice in the mail about your car’s extended warranty eligibility. Since we’ve not gotten a response, we’re giving you a final courtesy call before we close out your file. Press 2 to be removed and placed on our do-not-call list. To speak to someone about possibly extending or reinstating your vehicle’s warranty, press 1 to speak with a warranty specialist.

    • That’s the best Halloween trick played on me this year!

  77. nice story really good tone of voice

  78. Not scary at all.

  79. nah i jumped so high omg

  80. bad story, tbh i didn´t enjoy it

  81. Scary

  82. I got goosebumps!!

  83. This was a super good story, with amazing exaggerations but I don’t think it was that scary it wasn’t surprising that the lady would come back, they should have added more details.

  84. NOT SCARY AT ALLBut it was a good story I loved it❤️but I did jump a little bit at the end

  85. the part where she said “you’ve got my golden arm” near the end scared me a bit. The story teller is awesome, I love the way she speaks and her tone of voice made the story even more exciting. this story is really good

  86. wow the yell made me flinch

  87. it is cool

  88. Seriously? It was a good story but not scary at all.

  89. this was a so scary story jumped and i was tarifid at “YOU HAVE MY GOLDEN ARM”

  90. i loved it not as scary as my fish was hahah i loved the big jump in frght from the story i almost screemed sorry thats no a nice ending id like to here more but it was a good story alltogether

  91. it was a good story you had me jump out of my chiar i was scard but not the scaryest thig but the story in gener ul was nice

  92. you jump scared me and that was a great story it is sooooooo famous because i shared it to everyone in the world

  93. this story goes hard

  94. this is mid no offense

  95. Dang! In the end, I was so scared!

  96. spooooooooooooooooky

    UwU

  97. a
    very

    great

    story.

    Don’t you dare comment on my name.

  98. when she screamed youv got my golden arm it scared the poop out of me

  99. I heard this story as a child on the 1960s, late at night, in the dar, told by older kids. At the end of the story, when the person says “Who’s got my golden arm?” The last time, the storyteller yells “You!” While grabbing one of the little kids’ arms, scaring the hell out of us. Classic memory from more than 50 years ago.

  100. It’s not like the story I was told when I was little. It’s much longer and he didn’t dig up the golden arm because he wanted to buy a house, he wanted it because he missed her so much, so he got the arm and he slept with it and she came in and up the stairs, one by one, then in the bedroom, beside the bed, in the bed right beside you, then I GOTCHA! lol Between each thing she said, she added, give me back my golden arm.

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