Originally I had this blog all planned out, and all that was required was for me to finish my errands and write it.
However, one of those errands required I make a business call at Prairie Archives. Granted most who live in Springfield know this venerable bookshop, but for those who don't know the store I'll offer a brief introduction. It was started 39 years ago by John R. Paul, and houses an incredible array of antique books and artifacts, comics, and used books. The store is right across from the Old State Capitol.
It was already promising to be a good trip, because I found a new book of ghost stories, Stories and Legends from the Illinois River Valley, by Dan Fletcher.
But what awaited me was a true find. While talking to Mr. Paul he suddenly remembered a book of folklore that might fit my needs. (He has a fantastic memory for what is in the store, and customers' interests.) And after studying the shelves of local history he pulled out Folk-Lore from Adams County, Illinois, by Harry M Hyatt.
I didn't want to believe my eyes, since I have been hunting for this much-referenced book for years. It is one of those that is mentioned in just about any book on Illinois, or folklore, and, of course, nearly impossible to find. Yet here was a copy, and I braced myself for the price.
Then could breath; the price was within my range. It turned out that it was because it was a 1935 second edition, with library markings.
Needless to say it came home. (As did the book of ghost stories! I later learned how lucky a find this also was - little is coming up on this book on the internet searches.)
And I couldn't wait to share the story, particularly when it came from one of my favorite bookstores!
I had the privilege of performing for the Lincoln's Tomb, "Spirits of the Civil War" last Saturday.
While the day was hot it was lovely, particularly under a shady tree not far from Lincoln's Tomb. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to hear Tom Emery's talk "Eddy: Lincoln's Forgotten Son," on Edward Baker Lincoln, but I was able to enjoy Mr. Andrew Bowman's and Mr. Khabir Shareef's performances. Mr. Bowman protrayed his grandfather, Color Sgt. Andrew Jackson Smith, who received a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2001. And Mr. Shareef protrayed Maj. Martin Delaney, who was one of the few African American officers in the Civil War.
These gentlemen are with the Storyteller's Drum, and their performances are well worth seeing.
My own performance was last, and I will admit I wished I had used the offer of a mic. My sinuses were playing havoc with my voice towards the end of the show. But, as they say, a "learning experience."
My show revolved around the experiences of immigrants coming to Sangamon County.
What I decided to focus on was the influence that travel logs, memoirs, and in particular, personal letters played in influencing the decision to immigrate. While my sources were limited to books that had been reprinted, A True Picture of A Immigrant, and Eight Months In Illinois, both being for English immigrants, I was able to give some insight into what most immigrants faced. The books, and Eliza Flowers' letters to her nephew, offered good windows into the challenges and hazards faced - from the time they went to port - to arrival in Illinois.
One story I would like to pursue further was of Mary Nagle, later wife of John Burkhardt, who sailed from Bavaria in 1841, aboard the Oceania. The ship wrecked off the coast of Jamaica, and Mary didn't arrive in St. Louis until 1842, when she learned her father had died. I found reference to her in the Unigraph edition of The History of Sangamon County.
There was a fine attendance for all performers, despite the heat, and I was sorry when it was all over. But am definitely looking forward to the full evening of history, "The Fiery Trial: Civil War Stories by Candlelight."
My recent fascination with tree spirits was renewed with my photographing a tree root, which to me looked like a mole face trying to peer through. And I passingly wondered if tree shapes were what invoked the human imagination to populate them with spirits? Or, if in some cases, the spirit of the tree shaped its outward appearance? However, no matter the origins, there are stories and believes from all over the world that celebrate the spirits of the trees.
Ireland has given the popular lore an abundance of tree lore; with the "fairy tree" being one of the best known.
An author that collected several of these, from sources known to him, was Diarmuid MacManus, who was a friend of Yeats in the poet's later years.
So when I want to "hear" a more authentic voice I often return to reading MacManus's The Middle Kingdom, and his Irish Earth Folk. It was the later that I just finished rereading. He discusses the family lore of The Killaeden Fairy Thorn, which his grandfather decided would look fine in the front of his house. Mr. MacManus remembered his grandfather as a "practical Victorian gentleman," who had little patience for the "Irish ways." So, when none of his help, or neighbors, would do the move for a fee he dug up, and moved, the tree himself. This, the author says, was in 1851, and for several years thereafter his grandfather lost both stock and money. All attributed by the locals to the move of the tree.
At the time of the book's publication, 1959, the tree had grown to a large, venerable landmark, but there were still some who thought the tree should be returned to its original place at Lis Ard, a fairy fort.
Mr. MacManus continues on with stories of "demon trees," which he says are of a different nature than the fairy trees. The fairy trees, and their guardians, are not provoked unless the tree(s) are tampered with, but some trees seem to have a more malevolent, primal, nature. These, be it due to murder or elemental, cause people to hurry on - the sheer nature of the darkness and rage awakening in the travelers a strong desire to flee.
One of the things I love about Diarmuid MacManus's books is that he respected the beliefs, his sources, and the past. And was willing to acknowledge that there may well be something beyond modern ken. And whether one believes in the fairies, or elementals, it can still be said that these beliefs challenge individuals to stop (even for a second), and consider a tree's individuality and right to peace.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.