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

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.

55 Comments

  1. Michael Lee Watowa
    October 19, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    great story great retelling.

  2. Olivia Ann Lorraine Schrandt
    June 8, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    I got the chills

  3. Randall
    July 23, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    That story is so scary

  4. I love that story
    August 1, 2020 at 10:40 pm

    I love that story

  5. tavaya lowe
    September 30, 2020 at 9:14 am

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

  6. tavaya lowe
    September 30, 2020 at 9:17 am

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

  7. BEST PUBLISHER OF 2020
    September 30, 2020 at 10:19 am

    BEST STORY EVERY

  8. mason
    October 7, 2020 at 9:54 am

    creepy

  9. mason
    October 7, 2020 at 9:59 am

    that was so creepy

  10. caitlin phillips
    October 7, 2020 at 10:09 am

    It was creepy i jumped at the end

  11. gabe
    October 7, 2020 at 10:15 am

    i like it.

  12. hayden
    October 16, 2020 at 1:06 pm

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

  13. Deacon
    October 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Whats with all the chills up my spine

  14. rossy
    October 21, 2020 at 11:14 am

    nothing scares me

  15. Maliyah
    October 21, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    That was a scary story

  16. Leilani McIntyre
    October 22, 2020 at 10:00 am

    i got the chills to but it was great

  17. lolman
    October 22, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    lol

  18. the golden arm
    October 27, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    that was a good story

  19. Reba
    October 27, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    spine shrieking

  20. Eva
    October 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

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

  21. sara
    October 27, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    that was a great book

  22. dd
    October 28, 2020 at 11:14 am

    that was scary

  23. Diss girl
    October 28, 2020 at 11:29 am

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

  24. Unknown..
    October 28, 2020 at 11:31 am

    I scare you rossy REHEHEHEHE

  25. Alicia Martin
    October 28, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    that is very cool and give me the chills

  26. silas
    October 29, 2020 at 10:57 am

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

  27. Connor
    October 29, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    I was tucking into a ball because I was scared

  28. Mirna
    October 29, 2020 at 9:13 pm

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

  29. isabella
    October 30, 2020 at 12:07 pm

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

  30. 12
    October 30, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    It is scary at the end!

  31. George
    November 1, 2020 at 11:29 am

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

  32. Aaron
    November 2, 2020 at 11:17 am

    creepy but kinda cool

  33. lane
    November 2, 2020 at 11:29 am

    it was scary video

  34. Lyn J.H
    November 6, 2020 at 9:43 am

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

  35. Kiara
    November 6, 2020 at 9:54 am

    that scared me but great story

  36. Aaron Stephens
    November 6, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    I like this story

  37. alex
    November 6, 2020 at 12:24 pm

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

  38. tristan
    November 6, 2020 at 12:47 pm

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

  39. joey weddle
    November 6, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    when she shouted it scared me so bad

  40. Kaleigh
    November 6, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    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!

  41. sebastion
    November 6, 2020 at 2:00 pm

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

  42. Emma
    November 12, 2020 at 1:39 pm

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

  43. Abriella
    November 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    cool story

  44. gray
    November 18, 2020 at 10:00 am

    a good cliff hanger

  45. Single
    November 18, 2020 at 3:41 pm

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

  46. boby
    December 2, 2020 at 10:33 am

    that was sacary

  47. Julia Cobb
    December 2, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    The story is scary but also has action!

  48. gage vultaggio
    December 3, 2020 at 1:51 pm

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

  49. Kittin
    December 4, 2020 at 11:48 am

    That was fun and scary

  50. Jacob
    December 10, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    The ending was so scary!And funny.

  51. Jacob
    December 10, 2020 at 5:47 pm

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

  52. RW
    December 18, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    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.

  53. SO SCARY
    January 26, 2021 at 2:58 pm

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

  54. Katelyn
    January 26, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    my heart skipped a few beats at the ending

  55. steph
    January 29, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    yeet

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