Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Daddy Long Legs (From The Dark Recesses Of Appalachian Folklore) Part 1

     The cultural region of Appalachia has long remained shrouded in mystery by the depths of fog ensnared forests and mountainous terrain that primarily make up a region that stretches from the southern tip of New York to the upper regions of Mississippi.  

                                          Appalachia Region: Map Courtesy of Appalachian Regional Commission

     Serious studies of the patchwork history and folklore of the region has often been hampered by enduring myths and distortions about the various peoples that comprise this region.  When the term "Appalachian" is brought about in most conversations today, typically what follows are tales and visions of moonshine stills and uneducated clans of people often just above the intelligent levels of mongoloids due to inbreeding that's reclusive nature hints at insidious acts hidden from the eyes of most "Urbanites".  Since the early 20th century these prevalent ideas were brought about by sensational journalists whom crafted tales of a reclusive people prone to violence and inbreeding as well as various illegal activities.  These myths and stories surrounding the people of Appalachia still endure to this day.  While serious academic works looking into the history and sociological aspects of Appalachia have made progress in attempting to make sense of the various cultural norms and structures that bind these people together there is uncertainty as to how long this region will remain as it has been for nearly 200+ years.  

One of the biggest cultural aspects of Appalachia is the complex mythology and folklore that has culminated overtime from the melding of various groups of people that have come to settle the land.  These groups range from the original Native American tribes of the region, European immigrants (including Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and German), and African Americans. With each group came bits and pieces of their own cultures and beliefs that overtime have melded into unique beliefs and mythologies.  While Christianity is still prevalent in the region (represented by numerous subgroups including but not limited to Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics (Mostly Northern), and Mennonites) there still exists Native American groups that practice and teach their own traditional religion depending on each tribes own doctrines and beliefs.  Interesting enough despite the obvious divides religion wise these groups may have many archaic and paganistic myths and folktales that have managed to root themselves into the common culture of many of those whom call the Appalachian region home.  Some of these myths and folktales are rooted in very obscure corners of the region and have only been hinted at and barely recognized by Anthropologists and Historians studying Appalachia.  These specialized beliefs and practices have managed to survive despite the onset of modern technology and living standards that are slowly reaching the region as a whole. When discussing regional specific folklore one of the most unusual folk character to emerge from Appalachia, specifically from the area around the small town of Ashmore, South Carolina is the spirit known as "Daddy Long Legs", a particularly terrifying and bizarre denizen that supposedly haunts the town and has been responsible for the disappearance of various people in the region for hundreds of years.  The stories and tales tied to "Daddy Long Legs" can be traced back even to peculiar snippets from oral traditions of the local Native American tribes that called the region home prior to the arrival of European settlers.

The Haint Folktales of Daddy Long Legs

"He has a web like a spider's web,
Made of silk and light and shadows
To hold your fears and dangle them so.
It's a web made to catch a man,

To hold em tight til the end
When he relents and gives his soul away
So ol' Daddy Long Legs can haunt another day"
From The Ashmore Heritage Society's "Folktales and Folksongs of Oconee County" compiled by Hugh Wise

                                            Daddy Long Legs from "Haint Tales of Appalachia" by Annabelle Bishop

The first written account of "Daddy Long Legs" appears in the journals of Dr. Giles Bradford; a colonial doctor from Charleston (known as Charles Town at that time) in 1735 whom wrote of his accounts with a group of French Huguenots as he returned from studying the medical practices of a tribe of Cherokee Indians that were involved at that time in trade with the colonial port city. As Dr. Bradford and his party were making their return trip they stumbled upon a search party of men scouring the area for a missing child.  This search party was from a nearby French Huguenot village that had settled into the region decades prior during a mass exodus from England. Offering their village as a rest point for the Doctor and his party in exchange for assisting with some medical concerns of the settlers, Dr. Bradford and his group made camp at the settlement. What he witnessed during his time there would be immortalized in the pages of his journal.  

Upon arriving at the settlement Dr. Bradford and his party were welcomed by the cawing of several crows caged throughout the settlement in wicker baskets hanging off of posts. Upon inferring as to the reason behind this many of the settlers shied away from answering.  Only the town's blacksmith and a watchman offered hints as to the bizarre practice.  It was explained to Dr. Bradford as being part of a ward against something.  When questioned further the two men offered only silence.  The rest of the day consisted of Dr. Bradford examining various members of the town for ailments before him and his party rested for the night.  Dr. Bradford had noted that an unusual quietness had seemed to overtake the woods around the settlement.  The various native fauna had all but disappeared save for the cawing of the crows. What awoke Dr. Bradford and his party that night is described in detail...(translated from Colonial English to modern)

"A terrifying cacophony arose steadily throughout the settlement as a feeling of dread filled our hearts. We were frozen in our beds as the cries from the black birds rose higher and higher in the night sky.  It seemed as if the birds were in a harmonious chant that grew louder as whatever had frightened them so came closer and closer.  It had dawned upon me that we were bearing witness to something ghastly beyond our understanding.  Whatever had brought itself into the settlement was not a mere animal as we knew it. The pitch and rhythm of the crows' song began to change as their voices began to relent to silence.  The fear that had overtaken us moments before was gone.  Gathering our courage and pistols we made our way outside.  By the time we made it outside the local settlers were already outside cowering in their doorways while we made our way to the nearby caged crows to see their condition.  None of the birds were alive.  It seemed as if their bodies had been crushed by a force that left no signs on the cages themselves."

Dr. Bradford's journal continues to describe what the settlers referred to the presence as the "arachnide horribles" the horrible spider. The settlers described something that at first seemed an entity that haunts the pages of mythology or superstition literature. Though the feeling of dread that had fallen upon him and his party as well as the strange events that had overtaken them moments before lent some credence to their tale. The entity described wore the vestiges of human appearance at first appearance with a hunched and shambling pose.  It's figure was covered in tattered leather and cloth with strange carvings hanging from pieces of twine from it's belt.  The thing's face was covered in a mask of wood that seemed to have been carved by the hands of some primitive savage.  Gnarled roots still remained protruding from the wooden mask.  None of the thing's limbs could be seen by those that glimpsed it first until the entity had fully made itself known to it's victim.  Slowly the entity would  reveal its true nature.  From the rantings of those haunted by the frightening spirit came a potential reveal of its true form.  While the description differed slightly from person to person a general consensus was that the thing had three sets of spindly armlike like appendages similar to those of a spider with each appendage ending in decrepit hands like those afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Despite it's shambling appearance the entity could move with an unnerving and supernatural grace in order to track it's victims. It was relentless in it's torture of those it had chosen and left only ruin for those poor souls.

         A Depiction of "Daddy Long Legs" from "Bizarre Tales From the Dark Corner"
by Robert Bachman 

The settlers go into further details as to how the entity had set upon them soon after they had established the settlement, and had driven several settlers over the past two decades to either suicide or to pack up and attempt to leave the settlement. It seemed to pick only one of them each season, often driving the victim to insanity before the specific settler would take his or hers own life over a period of that season.  While many of the settlers had held firm to stay and somehow deal with whatever the thing was, the settlement had eventually shrunk from its original 423 settlers to 130 by the time the doctor and his party had come across them.  In desperation the settlers had reached out the local Native American groups for any possible help against the entity. Whatever rituals described by the settlers that were used to ward away the thing were never cataloged by Dr. Bradford in his journal outside the mentioned caged crows.  Upon his return and subsequent retelling of this bizarre event to local newspapers, Dr. Bradford began plans to return to investigate more into the case.  Unfortunately the good doctor would never make his return as his life was claimed soon afterwards by an outbreak of typhoid in the area.  The story would eventually evolve into the folktale known as "Daddy Long Legs".  The Huguenots settlement would eventually become the town of Ashmore with the story of "Daddy Long Legs" gaining an even more bizarre history throughout the years.  Recent archaeological studies of the region trace the origins of the thing known as 'Daddy Long Legs" to oral tales from the local Native American tribes that once called the area home.  The proto-mythology that may have originated this tale will be discussed further in part 2 of this investigation. 

1 comment:

  1. Riveting! I can't wait for the 2nd installment! You are a genius!