Original Air Date
Original WKMS Program interview aired on
Sounds Good, WKMS.
Original WKMS story description
Folktales and legends, natural remedies and "old wives tales" have a remarkable way of traveling with settlers, taking on a life of its own wherever people settle. This region has no shortage of stories like these. Murray native Mildred Hatcher spent her lifetime collecting and preserving the folktales of Kentucky and Tennessee. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Sarah Hopley, Pogue Library Special Collections & Exhibits Librarian about Hatcher's love of folktales and her impressive collection at Murray State.
Mildred Hatcher was born in Murray in 1904 to William and Lorena. She stayed in Murray and graduated from Murray State College with high distinction after three years. She went on to teach in local schools: Hardin Schools, Paducah High School (where she taught math), Austin Peay State University (where she taught English) and finally Murray State University.
She was passionate about teaching folklore and brought it into most of her classes as an assignment to students. Her collection at Pogue Library contains numerous papers of varying folklore, from home remedies to scary stories. She also served as vice president and president of the Tennessee and Kentucky folklore societies.
Some of the folklore her collection (as mentioned in the interview):
- If a girl is riding in the car when it goes over the railroad track, she must lift both her feet off the floor or she will not marry.
- When a woman is giving birth put a butcher knife under the bed to cut the pain.
Superstitions from Almo, Kentucky:
- A farmer plants his corn in the dark of the moon only.
- A farmer will not start a rail fence in the dark of a moon for the bottom rail will rot faster than it would have in the light of the moon.
- A farmer will not set eggs when the wind is in the north.
- Tomatoes and beans must be planted when the wind is in the north to prevent the plants burning and being damaged by beetles.
Folk remedies from (what is now) Land Between the Lakes:
- To cure whooping cough move the person to another quarter, if this doesn't work, give him five grams of powdered alum three or four times a day.
- To cure asthma smoke a mixture of tobacco and dried stinkweed.
- To cure scarlet fever rub the patient over the body except for his head with a piece of bacon making sure a covering of fat is applied each morning and evening.
- To relieve heart disease take four times a day a teaspoon of juice of asparagus mixed with sugar or a few drops of tincture of foxglove three times a day.
- To stop a nosebleed hold a dime in the roof of a mouth.
- To stop a toothache heat a knitting needle red hot and put the end of it in the hole of the tooth.
- To remove a wart, rub a gold ring on a rug until the ring gets hot then hold it on the wart or bury an old greasy dishrag under a stump and wish for it to go away.
Other regional legends:
A tall tale from 1865 tells the story of a hunter fell asleep in the woods of Calloway County, a mother wolf buried him in leaves intending for her and her young to eat him. He climbed into a tree where he rested instead. The moral might be to always be on your feet and thinking and don't take naps in the woods.
The legend of Henry Allen of Muhlenberg County: One night, Henry got too intoxicated and got violent with his wife. The Possum Hunters got wind of this and came to "take care of him." Henry and his wife met them with guns. The hunters hanged Henry, but on certain nights one can see a rope hanging from the white oak tree and hear the screams of a dying man. Could this be a wild animal or is it Henry's ghost? After the Possum Hunters died the screams went away.
The well diggers of Hardinsburg, Kentucky: A man had nine slaves and told seven of them that they had to dig a well. Unfortunately, they weren't able to find water. The slave owner said they had two days to find water or he'd bury them in the well. They didn't find water so he buried them alive. The legend goes, if you listen closely you can hear the shovels scraping against the rocks and screams sounding over and over. The slave owner said they haunted him his whole life. The person who wrote this story said they went to the field and said they couldn't hear anything at the time.
Hatcher once said said that students write more freely and convincingly when assigned subjects dealing with their own experiences or with what they believe than other topics. Folklore is a good way to approach this, Hopley says. Through Hatcher's decades of work these stories live on in the collection at Pogue Library.
Hatcher died in 1995.
WKMS, Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf
Markgraf, Matt; Hopley, Sarah; and WKMS, "Mildred Hatcher's Lifelong Work Collecting Kentucky & Tennessee Folklore" (2016). Special Collections on WKMS. Paper 7.