2017 – published by CCA Media, Cape Cod, U.S.A.
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As I write this short yarn, it’s September and Halloween is still almost two months away, but to lots of us anytime is a good time for a story about one of our favorite holidays. With that in mind here’s a folk tale about the……
The tradition of cutting faces into pumpkins did originate in America, probably around Boston or New York. But the first carving was actually in Ireland and it was a large turnip, not a pumpkin that was hollowed out, had a face cut into it, and was supplied with a candle to give it a scary glow.
According to the legend a mean, disorderly fellow, named Jack who lived in a shack in Dublin, loved to play tricks on unsuspecting people. His foul antics affected everyone from his own family to the town’s upper class.
He took great delight in tripping old ladies, suspending wires across pathways to injure human and horse alike, and tying a thread around a gold piece that he tossed on the ground and then snatching it away from a person who spotted it and went to pick it up.
Though a rogue and a no-good, mean Jack was very skilled in the art of doing bad things and always managed to escape harm from his foul tricks, even when he pulled one on the Devil himself!
By means of his extraordinary cunning he managed to convince Satan to climb up a full grown apple tree. When the Lord of Hell was halfway up, nimble Jack tacked crosses all around the trunk of the tree.
“I can’t get down,” moaned the Devil. “I’ll suffer eternally if I even so much as brush across one of those terrible crosses. Take them away Jack,” begged old Satan.
“I might remove those crosses for you if you are in a bargaining mood.”
“Name your price you scallywag.”
Jack smiled and thrust out his chest, puffing himself up as big as he could get and told the Devil…..
“The price for me to do it is one soul – my own. You must promise me that when I die you will not claim my soul.”
“Take away those dreaded crosses and it’s done. I shall never lay claim your dark soul, no matter what.”
Keeping his end of the bargain, Jack removed the crosses and the Devil climbed down the apple tree and went to Hell, while Jack went to the pub to celebrate his big victory over the Lord of Darkness.
About 20 years later after a life of deceit and drunken debauchery Jack died and applied for a small apartment in Heaven. At the Pearly Gates, St. Pete took one look at the old reprobate and said “Not a chance. No way! There’s no place for the likes of you in Heaven Jack. Go to Hell!”
So Jack did. He knocked on the door of the gates to the inferno and was met by Satan himself who demanded to know…
“What the Hell do you want Jack?”
“I’d like a little spot in Hell. It doesn’t have to be very big. Really, even a little closet will do.”
“We made a bargain Jack. I promised that I would never claim your soul no matter what. I’m keeping my end of the deal. Get lost Jack!”
“Yes, it’s lost I’ll be,” said the miserable old sinner, for now I’m stuck forever in the dark netherworld between Heaven and Hell and I can’t even see where I’m wandering.”
“I’ll do one thing for you Jack. Here….” said the Devil as he tossed him a flaming ember from the furnace of Hell. “That ember will glow forever and guide you on your endless walk between the gates of Heaven and Hell.”
Jack had a turnip with him, a plentiful and favored food in Ireland at the time. It was a large turnip and Jack felt that it would make a good holder for his flaming ember which was too hot to hold in his hand.
Jack hollowed out the turnip and cut holes in the side. When he placed the ember inside, the light from it shined through the holes and lit the way for him in his perpetual walk.
The last thing new souls arriving at the Gates of Heaven and Hell saw before they were admitted to one place or the other was a mean spirited man carrying a brightly lit “Jack O’Lantern”.
And so it was that during the first great waves of immigration, the Irish brought the tradition of turnip carving to America – though once they got here and discovered pumpkins, they stopped using turnips because pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve.
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Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square, a few years ahead of fellow alumnus, the bizarre comic Andy Kaufman. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His sighting of a swamp creature just before the turn of the century, led to appearances in the Bridgewater Triangle Documentary Film, America’s Bermuda Triangle, and on Destination America’s Monsters and Mysteries series.
In addition to his radio and newspaper work, he held management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at [email protected] All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space: http://billrrrrr.blogspot.com/
He also shares news and videos on his Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/billrrrrr
A Halloween tale straight from Hell for year round reading. It's the story of the mean spirited man named Jack whose despicable life resulted in the very first pumpkin being hollowed out, having a face carved into it, and a light placed inside. But it wasn't a pumpkin, it was a turnip. And it was not in the United States though that is where the first pumpkin was carved. The story starts with Jack and his little shack on the outskirts of Dublin in the 1800s. After causing a terrible carriage wreck by placing an invisible wire across the roadway that tripped four horses, ruined the carriage they were hauling, and injured the occupants; he sets off on his greatest adventure - to trick the Devil!