Book Reviews Conference Papers
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Ed. David Crystal The Unspeakable Act in the Miller's Tale
The Matter of Scotland, James Goldstein Medieval Child Marriage
Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet Murray Fiddling in the Poconos: Survival or Revival
The Age of Spiritual Machines..., Ray Kurzweil  
The Religion of Technology.... David F. Noble  
Images of Salvation, CD-ROM, Gen. Ed. Dr. Dee Dyas
The Position of Magic in Selected Medieval Spanish Texts. Francis Robienne, Jr.
Michael Murphy’s Reader-Friendly Editions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales: and Michael Murphy, with James Clawson, Companion to Medieval Literature.


Submitted for publication in
Proceedings of the Ninth Annual
Appalachian Studies Conference
Appalachian State University,
Boone, NC, March 21-23, 1986.

John McLaughlin, PhD

English Department, East Stroudsburg University, Now Emeritus


Scots-Irish settlement of the Appalachian Chain was not confined to its Southern links, but extended from Maryland through Pennsylvania to New York, and from Massachusetts up through Maine. This being the case, one might expect that the distinctive cultural heritage of the Scots-Irish might not be confined to the Southern Mountains, but might also be found in the Northern Appalachians.


But Jan Brunvald’s standard introduction to folklore, The Study of American Folklore (Norton, 1968) identifies seven clear and distinct folklore areas of the United States, among which is Southern Appalachia, with an East-West axis dividing the North across New England (p.23), and this neatly-drawn map has been picked up by researchers in other fields; for example, Getis, Getis and Fellman’s Human Geography’: Culture and Environment cites “folk cultural maps” from the early works of Glassie, Loman and Garney (Pp. 182-85) which purport to break off the “Southern Backwoods” or “Appalachian Song Family” at the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, with a consequent disjunct Northern and Southern folk heritage.

However, when one finds himself collecting fiddle tunes like “Arkansas Traveler” and “Black Mountain Rag,” “Mississipi Waltz” and “Turkey in the Straw” from elderly square dance fiddlers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, he must at least begin to suspect that these early folk cultural maps are in need of some redrawing, along a North-South rather than East-West axis, perhaps. Maybe there is more to Pennsylvania than the notorious Dutchies, after all.3


We begin, then, with the question of whether or not the Scots­Irish fiddle traditions of the Pocono Mountains of Northeast Penn­sylvania -- attested to by 93-year-old Papa Jake Miller and 77-year-old Julian Teeple (Interviews, 2/22/86) -- has in fact survived two World Wars, the coming of the interstate roads and satellite TV. Or has it merely been given some kind of artificial respiration by out­siders fascinated by the quaint backwoodsmen (analogous to what Burt Feintuch found in Northumbrian small-pipes revivals --AFS paper, Oct. 1985), or by nostalgia buffs seeking to save the children from rock­and-roll (Dick Blaustein, discussion of Missouri Old-Time Fiddlers Associations, AFS paper, Oct. 1985)?                                                    


If the latter, have some of the well-meaning efforts to restore the fiddler to a place of honor led to unforeseen, even ironic displacements in social function for the fiddling itself, as contests have replaced square-dances as performance venues? When “hot” fiddling wins the prizes, what happens to the fiddler who has spent his performing life providing back-up to a caller? (Interview with Ray Cortwright, 70 year old fiddler for Doc Runsey’s Mountain Dewers, with his distaste for “that bluegrass stuff -- they play too darn fast!” - 2/20/86)

In fact, Ray Cortwright has never won a fiddle contest in the last twenty years - - they go back no further than that in this area of Pennsylvania - - and he knows no other old-time square dance fiddler who has won such a contest. I asked him if it were possible that some fiddlers might become discouraged and hang up the fiddle after enough times of that happening, and he answered, “Oh, yeah -- if I hadn’t had the band to play in, I might have done the same thing myself! I mean, I know I’m an alright fiddler --no star or anything like that, y’know -- but I know I can fiddle, and I’ve been playing nigh on forty years like that. So it’s not that I can’t play. But the judges, y’know, they’re influenced by the crowds, the applause, so they don’t pay attention to whether the tune’s played in the right time or nothing like that. But there’s fellas I know who have just give it all up in disgust --‘Hell, I guess I ain’t no good after all, bud!’ (Interview, 2/20/86).

Asked what the judges should be looking for, Ray answers, “Well, first of all they don’t want none of that bluegrass music. I mean, I like it all right myself, like to listen to it and all, but it doesn’t-shouldn’t— have any place in an old-time fiddle contest. They should be looking for the old tunes, for a start--none of that ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ They should be looking to make sure they can play a waltz, not just a fast breakdown. And this music is dancing music, like I say -- they have got to play it in time, or it’s not being done right. At least, as far as I’m concerned.” (Interview, 2/2186).

Papa Jake Miller, who lives in a 12’ by 12’ foot shack with an outhouse in back, about fifty feet from the edge of a spreading development outside Portland Village, concurs with his younger colleague. “Now, I recall back when there was dancing six nights a week all around here -- a body couldn’t get to all the dances there was around here! And some of them old guys --boy, they could sure make that fiddle ring it out -- you could hear it half a valley away! And wasn’t none of them contests like you have now - some kid who’s learnt maybe six tunes in his life gets up there and them judges, some of them don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to old-time fiddling!” He is quick to assert that he personally has done all right in his day --. “But you can see some of these kids got prizes in the contests, and be damned if they could fiddle all night long f or a square dance like I done all my young years.” (Interview, 2/22/86).Papa Jake at one time played six-nights a week for dancing, 8 pm to 2 am, at the Eagle Valley Corners Inn, near East Stroudsburg, with sets in three different rooms and people waiting to take the dancers places immediately there was a pause between tunes, just him and a caller, all night long, for ten dollars a night, seventeen years in a row, “And I’d get up in the morning and go to work in the quarry as a blacksmith, and all them farmers had to get home and milk their cows.” (Interview, 2/22/86) While those glory days may be gone now, he still plays host to young fiddlers who come around to learn tunes and swap stories with him in his shack, which he shares with two lapdogs and his trophies from fiddle contests. On the day of our interview, he had to set straight a visitor who called one of his tunes “The Oil City Quickstep.” “Naw it ain’t no ‘Oil City Quickstep,’” he said. “That there tune was learned by my daddy off this nigger who come up from the South. Didn’t have no place to stay, and he was just passing through. So he played us this tune, and my daddy played it after him. And his name was Jimmy the Nigger, so we called that tune its name, and it’s “Jimmy the Nigger’s Tune,’ Yes it is. Come from North Carolina, he did. Jimmy the Nigger.” (Interview, 2/20/86)

The. question of origin of repertoire is an interesting if vexed issue, as the preceding anecdote attests. In fact, the tunes played by Papa Jake and Ray Cortwright and Julian Teeple -- of whom more later -- are standard tunes, to be found in almost any collection of fiddle music, although they may well have been learnt, as Papa Jake’s Daddy learnt them, by ear rather than from the printed page, since nnne of the fiddlers mentioned so far can read a note of music -- “Nary a one,” says Papa Jake cheerfully

Julian Teeple, for example, presents an interesting case. A lifelong bachelor, this old man lives alone in a small house a little off a main highway some thirty miles north of Stroudsburg. He has never played for square dancing, although he has fiddled all his life. Too. shy to play “out in company,” as he puts it, he’s a classic example of the “parlor fiddler,” who plays for family, friends and fellow-fiddlers, but very rarely in public. “Oh, I might go to the occasional dance, just to hear the fiddler, don’t you know, but then if he Wanted to take a break and maybe dance, I’d sit in for a tune or two. But I’ve never played for a whole dance. It’s just not my nature. (Interview, 2/22/86).

However, he has been a keen radio listener all his life --at least, as far back as there was radio -- and he was out of these mountains during World War Two, when he was called “Pop” by his outfit, with whom he shared a prisoner-of-war experience he can still remember vividly; along the way, he has befriended a couple of well-intentioned fiddle enthusiasts, who have kept him supplied with records and, now, cassette tapes of fiddle music. As a result, Julian can play you Graham Townsend and Eugene O’Donnell tunes, along with some of the half-remembered English tunes his grandfather brought over from the North of England over a hundred years ago. “Well, you see, whenever I’d get with a fiddler, I’d pick up his tunes, then the next guy I’d pick up his, and so on and so on. So that means I remember the last ones better than the earlier ones, like you do, so I sometimes can’t remember some of the great old tunes. More’s the pity.” (Interview, 2/22/86).

Among the up-and-coming young fiddlers Julian is in touch with, there is a 29 year old dairy farmer by the name of Steve Jacoby, who is perhaps somewhat more representative-talent aside--- of the mainstream fiddling than “Uncle Julian.” Steve is a member of the revivalist organization referred to earlier, the Fred Williams Friends of Old Time Music, which was founded about ten years ago to "preserve and perpetuate’’ old-time fiddling and Appalachian music. Never mind that the members wear cowboy hats and boots to play, or that the small band within the group -- County Cooking -- has a singer whose repertoire is drawn straight from the country-and-western charts. In the words of Andy Cavage, one of the founders, “Fred saw that the old music was dying out -- maybe because of rock-and-roll, I don’t know -- and he determined to keep it alive, to keep it going, and so that’s how we got set up in the first place. To have the old music, and to see if maybe we could get the young folks interested in it something for them to do with their time” (Interview, 1/28/86).

Among the things that they’ve done with their time is bring Graham Townsend -- one of Steve Jacoby’s idols -- down to the Poconos for concerts at a local high school. I was asked by Steve if I would like to videotape the concert, and, although it was at the time a bit off my taste, I agreed, hoping that serendipity would strike as it so often does when you give it half a chance. The concert was a success. Graham Townsend had no objection to the taping -- “for educational purposes” -- although he was quick to make it clear to the audience that he had records and cassettes out in the hall to be autographed at intermission, etc. I made the promised copy for the Friends (9/7/85), and thought no more of it until this past April, when I asked if I could travel to a grange social, where the Friends would be playing.

In the middle of the concert, Steve stepped up to the microphone, and-announced he was going to do “The Mockingbird.” It is the tune, of course, with which Graham Townsend won the World Championships at Sherbourne, in 1962, and with which he had brought his Honesdale audience to their feet the preceding September. With my video camera rolling, Steve then proceeded to produce a near note-perfect copy of Townesend’a performance, right down to “patter” and fiddle-taps (“That’s a woodpecker!”). As far as I know, Steve Jacoby had never seen Graham Townsend in performance before that September show. On the other hand, he had had the videotape available for study during the following winter months.... If I am correct, then, we have a demonstration of how videotaping can enter into the oral processes of tradition, no different in kind than phonograph records or audio-cassettes, but with the added dimension of the visual image for the apprentice fiddler to learn the master’s bowing and fingering -- and tapping

In this case, then, it could be argued that I am in no different case than the enthusiasts referred to earlier, who had loaned Julian Teeple cassettes of Irish music and thereby interfered with his memory of English tunes. I stand guilty as charged, I suppose; both cases, in fact, might stand a bit closer scrutiny, since it seems to me that they are perfectly natural processes, no more to be rolled back than the waves for Canute. Indeed, the only caution I would make in situations like this is for the collector to be aware of these and other “interferences” from “outside the tradition.” Otherwise, he might collect an item from a fiddler and misidentify its sources, through ignorance of these intervening possibilities.

A case in point might be a tune with a French-Canadian-sounding name, “The Joys of Quebec,” which I collected in a session of the Fred Williams Friends of Old Time Music, in their weekly practices. Especially since Andy Cavage had cited French-Canadian as one of the three major ethnic influences in Pocono Mountain fiddling (the others being Scots-Irish and German), I might have been tempted to look further North- let us say to Graham Townsend? for the source of this tune. But it so happens that it has also been recorded on the June Appal label (out of Kentucky) by the Dutch Cove String Band, among others; could it not also belong among the tunes passed along to Papa Jake by Jimmy the Nigger...?

The point is, of course, that both are clear “possibilities,”neither is the exclusive “correct answer,” and the collector who insists upon tracking down the sources will have a long and dusty road to travel to get there. Another caution might also be in order, for the unwary collector in Pennsylvania. There are a number of fiddle contests in this area each year, run as part of local fairs and, more recently, by resort hotels as part of their tourist attractions. At one such - - this one run as part of the Greene-Dreher-Sterling fair in Newfoundland last August -- I videotaped a dazzling, intricate display of Irish fiddling, by a young man with forearms like hams and thick, short fingers, a swarthy chap wearing a cowboy shirt and the inevitable boots. In fact, he won the contest, with a comlination of “Tennessee Waltz,” “The Irish Washerwoman,” and “Katy Hill.” To the neophyte collector -- and we have been fore­warned that the Governor’s Heritage Commission is soon going to be hiring a fresh young Ph.D. to come up into the Northeast and begin fieldworking his way around the mountains - - this might have been captured as a prime example of the revival of fiddling in the Poconos and all that. As it happens, I knew this chap from else­where. He is Tony De Marco, who was once the fiddler in “Flying Cloud,” the house band at the Eagle Tavern in New York City, and a veteran fiddler with two albums of fiddle music - - one a twin-fiddling album with Brian Milner -- on the market. Tony owns a house in the vicinity, and is a friend of Steve Jacoby, through whom he heard about this new contest, with its prize money waiting for the best in show -- which he clearly deserved (Contest video­taped, 8/28/85).

Now, this is not to say that Tony or anyone else should have been “flagged off the track” - - although I did hear some mumbling from other young fiddlers about “damned ringers” - - it is just to caution the unwary to watch where they are putting their feet before they make too-quick pronouncements concerning the state of the art in fiddling among the Pocono Mountains.

It is with these contests that I would like to close this quick survey of what I have found to be the case so far in my research. Their motives are obviously mixed -- to preserve the old-time fiddling, to entertain the tourists until casino gambling is legalised, to enrich the local fair programs-- but it is clear that they have taken over from the square dances as public venues for fiddle music in this area. Doc Rumsey’s Mountain Dewers may play the local YMCA, and Fred Williams Friends of Old Time Music may play the grange or the local high school; but the prize money, the crowds, in short, “the action,” is at the fiddle contests. In theory they are judged by old-timers who know the music; but in fact, as Ray Cortwright somewhat bitterly attests, they are also crowd-pleasers, and the young fiddler who steps right up to the mike and fires off some trick-and-fancy fiddling stands to gain not only an ovation but also the prize money. As noted earlier, this may be having the ironic and unintended effect of discouraging the very fiddlers whom they were set up to honor and preserve in the first place; for the ego-strokes that we all need, performers especially perhaps, the old-timers have to turn to young enthusiasts, not necessarily well-informed about their music, unless they are fortunate enough to have a Steve Jacoby, who respects their music and will sit in with them at home and play the old tunes with them (thfortunately bad videotape, with less than minimal lighting, at Julian Teeple’s cabin, 11/26/85).

Ignorant crowds are no way to treat old-time square dance music; but if we are not to retreat into the dusty museums, we have to recognize that it is among those ignorant, beer-swilling crowds that we will find our young fiddlers these days. Some, like the aptly-named Johhny Ace, can win in the more traditional settings such as the old-established West End Fair contest (now in its 15th year), with such tunes as “Old Joe Clark” or “Mississipi Waltz,” then turn around and walk away with prizes by playing Bill Monroe’s “Jerusalem Ridge,” at a newer contest the following night (Videotapes, West End Fair, 8/27/85, and Greene-Dreher­Sterling Fair, 8/28/85); Johnny also plays in a hot country band, “Penn Station,” which plays at the local resort hotels.

Some, like Steve Jacoby, a member of 4-H and devoted to the farm he lives on, are as at home playing for the grange halls (4/22/86 videotape) as they are running off with the Trick-And-Fancy Division at the West End (8/27/85) or sitting in with their friends in a farmhouse basement for a weekly practice session, where the tunes go around the room and nobody insists on being the star (Videotape at John Wargo’s house, Honesdale, PA, 1/28/86).

But that Pocono Mountain fiddling is alive and well is beyond question. That it shares repertoire as well as heritage with the fiddle music of the Southern Appalachians also seems beyond question, although of course the effect of syndicated programs such as “Hee Haw” (referred to admiringly by a number of these fiddlers in passing) cannot be ruled out here, either.3 That it will continue to evolve, under pressures to please the crowds and to satisfy the fiddlers’ own love of novelty and variety, there can be little doubt, either. The field has not yet been studied in anything approaching the depth with which, for example, the Southern Appalachians, or even the Central and Southern Pennsylvania traditions:, have been studied (See the work of Matthew Guntharp and Bob Doyle, Learning the Fiddler’s Ways, and Samuel P. Bayard’s Hill Country Tunes). The enticing title of George Korson’ s early collection of coal-miners’ songs, Coal Dust on the Fiddle, threatens to distract us westward to the Scranton coal region before we have fairly begun to evaluate our findings here!

That there is more work ahead, then, goes without saying. That there is room for more workers should be equally obvious (side-comments about newly-hatched Ph.Ds to the side). That the chosen recording medium, 1/2 inch VHS, would eventually lend itself to further circulation, possibly through historical societies’ interests in preserving the record of the old-timers, is a suggestion which the current author intends to explore in the near future. Let me say only in closing that I am now in process of exploring the possibility of a folklife conference at my home institution next year (tentative title: “Pocono Foxfire”:The Folklife of the Northern Appalachians.”) You are invited.



1.     The videotapes listed din the “Works Cited” were all obtained through the kind permission of the fiddlers and contest organizers involved, specifically for educational purposes, and with my offer of a souvenir copy gladly accepted, for the recipients’ own agendas; one told me quite serenely, in front of her husband, that this would be a good way to remember Pa, especially for the grandchildren, “after he’s passed on.” Steve Jacoby’s use of the Graham Townsend tape is described more fully in the text of this paper. I have oral permission to share these tapes with other investigators, if they would be of any educational value. With that restriction, that they not be re-used other than for research and educational purposes, I will be only too happy to send copies of any of the videotapes listed within the text and cited at the end of the paper, to anyone who will send me a blank 1/2 inch T-120 VHS videotape; it may take some weeks to get your copy back, since it must be copied in “real time” on facilities used for other purposes.


2.     I am indebted to Bill Lightfoot of Appalachian State University for the predicate of this title, the emblem of the folk music session within which the videotapes underlying this paper were originally presented at the Ninth Annual Appalachian Studies Conference, Boone, NC, March 22, 1985.


3.     I am indebted to Dick Blaustein for a number of things, not least a lively discussion of the North-South re-orientation of Appalachian folklore studies which this paper supports.


4.     Recognizing that the name “Foxfire" is of good lineage and is probably copyrighted, I have applied to the Foxfire Fund for their permission to incorporate it into the proposed title of this hoped­for conference. A good title is worth a lot.



Bayard, Samuel P. Hill Country Tunes. AFS Memoirs, 1944. Blaustein, Richard. “Missouri Old Time Fiddlers’ Associations.” Paper presented at American Folklore Society Convention, Cincinatti, Ohio, Oct, 1985.

Brunvald, Jan H. The Study of American Folklore: An Introduction. Norton, 1968.

Feintuch, Burt. “Revivals of Northumbrian Small-Pipes.” Paper presented at AFS Convention, Cincinatti, 1985.

Getis, Arthur, Judith Getis and Jerome Fellmann. Human Geography: Culture and Environment. MacMillan, 1985.

Guntharp, Matthew [and Bob Doyle]. Learning the Fiddler’s Ways. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1980.

Korson, George. Coal Dust on the Fiddle. Folklore Assocs., 1965.



Fred Williams Friends of Old Time Music, at Dreher Grange Hall, So. Sterling, PA., 4/22/86.

Fred Williams Friends of ‘Old Time Music, Practice Session at John Wargo’s Farmhouse, Honesdale, PA., 1/28/86.

Graham Townsend at Honesdale High School, Honesdale, PA., 9/7/85.

Greene-Dreher-Sterling Fair Fiddle Contest, Newfoundland, PA., 8/28/8

Julian Teeple, Lord’s Valley, PA., 2/22/86.

Papa Jake Miller, Portland, PA., 2/22/86.

Ray Cortwright, Marshalls Creek, PA., 2/20/86.

West End Fair Fiddle Contest, Gilbert, PA., 8/27/85.