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French-Canadian Folklore

A friend of mine who is a French-English translator introduced me to French Canadian folklore a few years back. Here are a few of my favorite tales.

The Flying Canoe -- Baptiste pursuades some of his fellow lumberjacks to fly home to visit their sweethearts on New Years Eve.

The Loup Garou -- When Great-grandfather falls ill, Grandfather sets out for the doctor, only to find his way blocked by a large man-turned-wolf, a loup garou! (Spooky New England)

The Loup Garou and the Shawl -- When a woman finds out that her husband is turning into a loup-garou (a wolf) each night, he begs her to help save him.

Old Nick -- A horse with super-human strength is sent to a priest to aid him in the building of a new church. The priest is warned never to remove the horse's bridle.

The Loup Garou's Debt -- When a man or woman dies in debt, they are doomed to roam the earth as loup garou (were-wolves) until the person to whom they owe money forgives the debt. But Grandpere was still mad at Henry when he died and absolutely refused to forgive him; until Henry's loup garou paid him a visit one snowy night! (Spooky New York)


Dog and Cat folktales

It's amazing how many folktales involve dogs and cats. I've rounded up a few of my favorites to share!

The Black Dog of Hanging Hills: Hikers! Beware of a friendly little black dog who may join you on the mountain trail. There is an old saying about the dog: "And if a man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die."

Callin' the Dog: Tall talkin' in Mississippi has been termed "Callin' the dog" ever since that famous tall-tale session when one man offered a hound dog pup to the person who could tell the biggest lie.

Why Dog's Chase Cats: Once long ago, Dog was married to Cat. They were happy together, but every night when Dog came home from work, Cat said she was too sick to make him dinner...

Wait Until Emmet Comes: Some cats visit a preacher who has stopped for the night at a haunted house!

The Talking Mule: The mule is not the only animal that can talk in this story!

The Black Cat's Message: A woodsman on his way home sees a cat funeral taking place. When they see the man, the mourning cats give him a message: "Tell Aunt Kan that Polly Grundy is dead." The woodsman is puzzled and frightened, since he doesn't believe cats can talk and he has never heard of someone named Aunt Kan. (Complete story is retold in Spooky Southwest.)


Pennsylvania Dutch Proverbs and sayings

I am amazed by the number of proverbs and sayings that are produced by cultures over time. My grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch and her house was covered with plaques of the German-English sayings she (and later I) grew up with. Below are the "best of the best" sayings I heard or read as a child.
Throw the cow over the fence some hay.
A big wife and a big barn never did any man harm.
We get too soon old and too late smart.
Outen The Lights.
Children and fools tell the truth.
Kissing wears out, cooking don't.
Short hair is quickly brushed.
An industrious wife is the best savings account.
It wonders me.
Throw Amos down the stairs his hat.
Eat yourself full.

More Pennsylvania Dutch Proverbs are available at: Pennsylvania Dutch History, Genealogy, and Culture and The Pennsylvania Dutch


Railroad folklore

I think the most famous railroad story of all is that of Casey Jones.
"Casey Jones, that heroic railroad engineer of the Cannonball, was known as the
man who always brought the train in on time." This daredevil
engineer led a charmed life until the day he a corner near Vaughin, Mississippi
and saw a stalled freight train on the track. The Ballad of Casey Jones is
still sung today.

Perhaps my favorite railroad song is the Wabash Cannonball. My dad had an old record that I would play over and over again:
"Listen to the jingle,
The rumble and the roar,
As she glides along the woodlands,
Through hills and by the shore
Hear the mighty rush of the engine,
Hear those lonesome hoboes squawl,
While traveling through the jungle
On the Wabash Cannonball"

My grandfather loved the Wreck of the old 97:
"Well, they gave him his orders in Monroe, Virginia,
Sayin', 'Steve, you're way behind time.
This is not 38, it is Old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time.'"

A wonderful railroad story is Kate Shelley Saves the Train.
"Kate realized that a midnight express train was due to pass over the Honey
Creek Bridge, possibly sending more people to their death if she did not warn
the nearby Moingona station of the washout. Kate Shelly knew there
was a nearby trestle bridge with a tiny catwalk over the flooded Des Moines
River. So, amid the darkness and the storm, Kate crawled on hands and knees
across the catwalk ... (to) warn the station agent of the wash-out."

A spooky railroad tale is the story of the Phantom Train of Marshall Pass. On a stormy night, a wild rain, running without schedule or time card, chased a passanger train down a steep, snow-covered switch back, nearly crashing into her before plunging down and down into the canyon. When the passanger train reached safety, they were told they had been chased by a phantom train reenacting its fatal last moments before it crashed into the canyon depths, killing everyone aboard. (Story retold in Spooky Southwest.)

A more pleasant tale is that of the Ghost on the Tracks (Spooky Southwest), in which a flirtacious female ghost sometimes visits the men on board the train when it passes her on dark nights!


Some Weatherlore

Weatherlore is based on observation of the environment and the effects that changes in the weather have on insects, animals, birds and people. Probably one of the most famous weather lore sayings is from an old English proverb:
Red sky at night, sailors delight
Red sky at morning, sailors take warning

A variation on this theme goes:
Evening red and morning gray,
sends the traveler on his way.
Evening gray, morning red,
brings the rain down on his head.

According to Stalking the Wild: "At dusk, a red sky indicates that dry weather is on the way. This is due to the sun shining through dust particles being pushed ahead of a high pressure system bringing in dry air. A red sky in the morning is due to the sun again shining through dust. In this case however, the dust is being pushed on out by an approaching low pressure system bringing in moisture."

Here are some of my favorite weather sayings!

If the rooster crows on going to bed, you may rise with a watery head.
Clear moon, frost soon.
When the daisy shuts it's eye, soon will rain fall from the sky.
Mackerel skies and mares' tails/Make tall ships carry low sails.
When clouds look like rocks and towers, the earth will be refreshed by showers.

More weather sayings available at Weather world.

Some of my favorite folklore characters have dealt with the weather. Davy Crockett had to unfreeze the dawn; Febold Feboldson was a reknown drought buster; and Pecos Bill took on a tornado!


The Dutch influence on American Folklore

New York folklore still retains much of its Dutch influence. Many common NY folktales have come to us from the time when New York was New Amsterdam. Below are just a few!

In the story of the Baker's Dozen from Albany (retold in Spooky New York), Saint Nicholas teaches a stingy Dutch baker to be generous with his goods.

When Captain Kidd pays a visit to the Dutch widow of one of his crewmen, she is pursuaded to hide him from his pursuers. In exchange for her kindness, the Captain turns her money and many of her possession to gold using the gold tooth given to him by the devil (The Gold Tooth -- Spooky New York.)

Spuyten Duyvil, at the tip of Manhattan, takes its name from an old folktale about a trumpeter named Anthony who was trying to warn of an attack on New Amsterdam.

Jan Sol bravely guards the main gate of New Amsterdam, until he encounters a "monster" that sends him running for help! (Read the full story in Spooky New York.)

Saint Nicholas visits a poor family in New Amsterdam on Christmas eve. When they offer him their hospitality in spite of a shortness of food and money, he rewards them with riches beyond their wildest dreams.

The ghost of Peter Stuyvesant (Peg-leg Pete) still haunts St. Mark's Church in the Bowery.

Roly-poly Nicholas Van Wemple of Flatbush has a close encounter with a haunted mill and some rascally pirates on his way to get a New Year's goose for his family dinner. (Spooky New York)

The Devil challenges a Dutch musician to a fiddling contest in what is now the borough of Brooklyn. Fortunately for the Dutchman, the Devil did not like Dutch hymns!!! (Spooky New York)


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