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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Revisiting Henderson's Past: Old Dick Fiddler

It's time for another peek into the archives ...

Old Dick Fiddler

From Paul Bunyan to Johnny Appleseed to Jesse James, American folklore has been a part of our national identity nearly since the foundation of our country. However, at a local level, Henderson’s own tales, legends, and folklore contribute to its communal distinctiveness, as well. As retold several years ago by the late Maralea Arnett in The Gleaner, the tale of Dick “Fiddler” is one of those oral traditions unique to Henderson.

According to the legend, Dick, a slave on the Henderson plantation in the early part of the 19th century, was known as Dick Fiddler because of his prodigious talent on the stringed instrument. In fact, Master Henderson, who knew that Dick was not his hardest worker, regarded him as a “necessary nuisance” to assuage his other slaves. One day, Dick was on his way to play at a wedding, a typical engagement for the musician, when he met up with a pack of wolves in the woods.

Fearing they would smell his angst, Dick dared not run, so he managed to stave off the hairy monsters by spasmodically dragging his fingers across the strings of his fiddle. The hissing cacophony kept the wolves at bay long enough for Dick to make his way up onto the rafters in a nearby cabin, but they soon followed and began snapping at Dick’s dangling legs. Then, Dick, in one final frantic effort, began to play “Yankee Doodle” for the pack. Apparently, this last-ditch, desperate measure appealed to the wolves, as Dick found that he had a captive audience. He continued playing song after song until the impatient wedding-goers came looking for their entertainment.

The moral of the story: “Even wolves are too fastidious to stand bad fiddling.”

To read Maralea Arnett’s article “Wolves and Fiddler’s hair-raising experience” or to read more about Henderson’s folklore, visit us upstairs in the library. Want to see what else we have? Visit us upstairs in the library, or view our webpage here.
(Photo is of Farley slave quarters on Rucker Road II.)

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