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Scary Stories Podcast: Episode 13 for Halloween 2019

Episode Thirteen of the Folklife Today Podcast (or Season two, Episode 1) is ready for listening! Find it at this page on the Library’s website, or on iTunes, or with your usual podcatcher.

Jackie Torrence onstage speaking into a pair of microphones

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

Get your podcast here!

This is a special episode for us, for a few reasons. Of course, thirteen is a number with folklore significance, as we mention in the podcast itself. You can read about that in this blog by Stephanie Hall. But as “Season Two, Episode One,” this episode also sets us on the path for a whole new series of adventures–beginning, as usual, on Halloween.

So, what’s the deal with this episode? The hosts, Stephen Winick (me!) and John Fenn, introduce three of their favorite scary stories from AFC collections. The stories have been featured here on the blog, but the podcast gives you a convenient new way to download and enjoy them, along with the usual witty banter from John and me. The American Folklife Center is kicking off an initiative to bring greater recognition to women folklorists and collectors in the next several years (read more about this here), so this podcast features three stories from great women storytellers who amassed their own collections. In the commentary, we also mention some significant male figures, including American author and icon Mark Twain, children’s author Alvin Schwartz, and folklorist Kenny Goldstein, who all loved scary stories.

The first story is Jackie Torrence’s version of “The Golden Arm,” which we published, as both audio and transcribed text, in this previous blog post.

The second is Mary Celestia Parler’s “The Witch Who Kept a Hotel,” which was featured, as both audio and transcribed text, in this previous blog post.

A woman sits, pointing at a caption which is pasted in a scrapbook underneath swatch of quilt. Two men and two women stand behind her, reading along with her.

Professor Mary Celestia Parler with University of Arkansas students reviewing Ozark folklore materials, ca 1950s. We believe this photo was taken for publicity purposes by the University of Arkansas News Service. A copy of it resides in AFC’s Vance Randolph Collection.

The third is Connie Regan-Blake’s “Mr. Fox,” which was featured as audio only in this previous blog post. At that time we weren’t able to publish the transcription, so I’ll place it below, just underneath her picture.  Readers should be aware that the story features some disturbing images–I can’t say more without spoilers, but proceed with caution!

As always, the podcast also features a full transcription of the stories and the commentary, which you can access from the episode’s page…which, once again, can be found right here!

Thanks for listening! Below, find Connie Regan Blake’s Mr. Fox!

Connie Regan-Blake tells a story in the Library of Congress’s Mumford Room on September 6, 2018.

Connie Regan-Blake tells a story in the Library of Congress’s Mumford Room on September 6, 2018. Photo by Stephen Winick.

“Mr. Fox” as told by Connie Regan-Blake

Now the way I heard it
it was a wild, isolated land
way out on the moors.
One day a stranger came to town
said his name was Mr. Fox.
Some people called him Reynardine.
He was a tall good-looking man with bushy red hair and a mustache
and as was the custom of the day
he used to go around and court the young women in the afternoon.
There would always be a chaperone there, usually a parent.
Now there was one woman who really took his fancy.
Mary was her name.
She was an orphan child
but she had four brothers.
So whenever Mr. Fox came to court
which was about once a month in the beginning
one of the brothers would always be there
and they would sit and have tea and
talk.
Well, Mary was very interested in Mr. Fox.
He had been to strange lands and he knew strange languages
and before long he was coming there once a week
usually on Tuesday.
And after a bit Mr. Fox said: “You know, Mary,
I’ve been coming around to visit you and you’ve never been out to my place.”
And Mary said: “Well, Mr. Fox,
I don’t believe I know where you live.”
And Mr. Fox said:
“Well, I do keep myself to myself, but it’s no secret.
I have a house in the woods north of town.”
“Ah, Mr. Fox, that’s what it is.
People around here don’t go into those woods north of town.
Why, I’ve never been any distance at all in them.”
And Mr. Fox said: “Well, Mary,
they’re perfectly safe woods
and I’ll come around sometime and take you out there.”
Well, he never did get around to it and Mary was just as glad.
She wasn’t too sure about going into those woods.
And it came to be a spring afternoon.
A glorious day: the sun was shining, the air so fresh
and Mary was out picking some wildflowers.
She was kind of daydreaming and wandering
and picking mostly bluebells.
They grow in clumps
so she’d pick a few and then walk
until without knowing it
She had gotten into the woods north of town.
Now she wasn’t really lost
she just had to head back South to get home
but she had clearly gone a lot deeper than she had planned.
She looked around
she noticed a clearing off to the side
and she thought she could go over, get her bearings with the sun
and perhaps find a path heading South.
So she walked over towards the clearing
and she saw at the far end of that clearing a house:
old, Tudor, you know, with the big beams set in it.
And she thought
“That must be Mr. Fox’s house.
Well, he did invite me to tea.
I’m sure he’d know the best way home.”
So she walked over towards the house
she went up three big granite steps and it was a heavy wooden door with an iron knocker.
She clanged it and it rang hollow inside.
No one answered.
She was kind of intrigued by now and
she went down the steps around to the side of the house
and she looked in one of the windows
but all she could see was the wooden hallway.
And she thought:
“I’m sure Mr. Fox wouldn’t mind
if I just went in and looked around a bit.”
So she came back around
went up those steps and something caught her eye.
And she looked up and she saw that there were words
carved in the lintel above the door.
And the words said: “Be bold, be bold.”
She thought: “That’s an odd welcome.”
But she tried that door and it was open.
She went inside and found herself in that hallway.
There were several doors leading off to the side.
But what really caught her eye was a grand staircase
leading up to a long gallery that was filled with windows.
And it was the kind of staircase that made you want to walk up it
pretending you’re very rich and very grand
That you have on long dress or a waistcoat.
Well, that’s just what Mary did.
She walked up pretending she was very elegant.
She got to the top of the stairs and still in that daydreaming mood.
Sun was coming in the windows.
And she looked at the far end of that hall and she saw a door and she thought:
“That must be Mr. Fox’s bedroom.”
So she walked down towards the door.
When she got close
she saw that there were words carved in the lintel above that door
and the words said:
“Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.”
Hmm. She opened that door.
It was his bedroom but kind of ordinary inside.
It was very large and a bit dark.
The curtains were drawn.
There was a big four poster bed in one corner next to it.
There was a wooden stand with a fine porcelain bowl and pitcher.
But what really caught her eye was another door and she thought:
“That must be Mr. Fox’s closet.
Oh, he’s such a fine dresser.
I’d love to see some of his clothes.”
So she walked over towards that door and when she got close
she saw that there were more words carved in the lintel above the door.
And the words said:
“Be bold, be bold, but not too bold
Lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.”
She opened that door.
It was pitch black inside and it took a while for eyes to adjust to that darkness.
And once they did, she saw what appeared to be
three vats.
She went to the first and it was filled with a dark liquid
and with her fingers she touched that dark liquid
and then she brought it to her mouth and she tasted it
and it tasted of human blood.
And the second vat
it was filled with bones
what appeared to be human bones.
And the third with hair…
long, silken hair and skin.
She was really frightened.
She came out of that closet, shut the door.
She looked around, made certain that she had touched nothing
or left any sign that she had been there.
She went out of the bedroom and closed that door.
She was hurrying down the landing
when she heard something.
She looked outside and she saw Mr. Fox.
He was striding across that clearing and he was pulling a young woman by the hair
and that woman, she was struggling and screaming and Mary thought:
“I’ve got to hide somewhere!”
And she went running down the staircase.
She went to the side and she crouched down and as soon as she had done that
Mr. Fox, he flung open that front door and came walking across that hallway.
He started up those stairs and that woman, she was still struggling.
So she reached out and she grabbed hold of that bannister and that Mr. Fox
that Reynardine
he drew out his sword and hacked off her hand at the wrist.
He went right on up the staircase, down the hallway and into his room
and all was quiet.
Well, that hand had fallen into Mary’s lap.
She picked it up in her apron and she ran out of that house
and she ran home, south as fast as she could.
That was on a Sunday
and on Tuesday Mr. Fox came to court.
Mary made sure all four of her brothers were there.
They were sitting and having a bit of tea and Mr. Fox said:
“Oh Mary, you’re not very talkative,
is anything the matter?”
And Mary said: “Well, Mr. Fox,
I’ve been having a bad dream and I’ve not been getting much sleep.
And Mr. Fox said, “Well, Mary, you know,
I’ve traveled many miles and I’ve read many dreams.
Perhaps if you’ll tell me yours
I’ll be able to help you.”
And Mary said: “Well, Mr. Fox,
I dreamed I was out picking wildflowers.
When I came to an old house.
I dreamed I went up the steps and something caught my eye and
I saw some words carved in the lintel above the door
and the words said: ‘Be bold, be bold.’
And I dreamed I walked into that house and up a staircase
and came to another door with more words carved above it.
And these words said:
‘Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.’
I opened that door.
And it was a bedroom.
And I noticed another door with more words carved above it.
And these words said:
‘Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.
Lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.’”
And Mr. Fox said:
“But surely it was not so
and it is not so.”
And Mary said:
“But that is the way it was in my dream, Mr. Fox.
And I dreamed I opened that third door and I saw three vats.
The first it was filled with blood
the second with bones
and the third with hair.”
And Mr. Fox said:
“But surely it was not so
and it is not so.”
And Mary said,
“But that is the way it was in my dream, Mr. Fox.
And I dreamed I came out of that closet
shut the door
went out of the bedroom
and I was hurrying down the landing
when I saw you, Mr. Fox,
come striding across that clearing outside
and you were pulling a young woman by the hair
and I saw you come through that front door and start up the staircase.
And that woman
she was struggling.
So she reached out and grabbed hold of that banister
and you, Mr. Fox,
you drew out your sword and you hacked off her hand at the wrist.
You went right on up the staircase
down the hallway and into your room.”
And by this time Mr. Fox was on his feet and he said:
“But surely it was not so, and it is not so
and God forbid that it should be so!”
And Mary very quietly took the hand from under her apron.
She put it right on Mr. Fox’s plate.
And she looked him in the eye and said:
“But Mr. Fox, it was so, and it is so,
and here’s the very hand to show.”
And the four brothers
they took him out back
and they killed him.
And I shan’t tell you how
Lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.

One Comment

  1. Jurretta J. Heckscher
    October 28, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Do you have any information on the source of “Mr. Fox” beyond the description that it’s “a classic English story”? It’s quite a tale, and I’d love to know more about it. Thanks.

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