Good Life

Lifelong Learning: Spring course dives into folklore of Pennsylvania’s wilds

The mountains of Pennsylvania are a source of pleasure and fascination to most of us. Clinging to those high mountain peaks and the valleys are human-interest stories and lurid legends that capture the imagination.

But then the inevitable question arises: Are they true, or are they just the products from the imaginations of gifted story-tellers? After all, episodes dealing with people hunted by wolves and mountain lions seem out of place today. Likewise tales of witches who can turn themselves into black cats or ride on broomsticks can be nothing more than “tall tales,” and accounts of ghosts and haunted houses are nothing more than “far-fetched” reveries with natural explanations. Then there are the sad chapters dealing with the state’s Indian wars — oral histories handed down through generations that never made the history books but that preserve a picture of those perilous times and how hardy and brave the people had to be in order to survive. But how much truth is contained in these oral histories and tall tales ?

It is a question that has fascinated me. I’ve collected old-time Pennsylvania mountain folk tales and legends since 1970 and wrote the seven-volume “Pennsylvania Fireside Tales” series. I analyzed each tale like it’s a little mystery, trying to find the nuggets of truth that might be buried in it.

The tales feature Indians, hunters who trailed the wolf and the mountain lion, ghosts, witches, gypsies, moonshiners, and other characters of the long ago. These tales are the “soul” of these dark and rugged hills that we call home.

An unashamed lover of those “hills,” I feel there’s something sacred about them and consider myself lucky when I can visit them. The sight of dark blue mountain ranges in the distance, the green and brown patchwork of fields below, and the outlines of red barns and grey stone farmhouses snuggled into the rolling hills and forestlands that make the picture complete always remind me of how fortunate I am when in their midst, collecting legends and folktales in this green land swept clean by cool mountain breezes.

Join me for the April 24 Osher Lifelong Learning Institute course, “Pennsylvania Mountain Folk Tales and Legends: Fact or Fancy?” Using a slide show, I will share some of my favorite stories and delve into the history behind them to reveal their origins and to uncover the “kernels” of truth they hold.

To obtain a free Spring 2015 catalog, call OLLI at Penn State at 867-4278. OLLI membership is open to all adults who love to learn. There are no grades or exams, just learning for the pure enjoyment.

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