Title: “The Bride and Groom of Pisgah”
Bibliographic Info: Harden, John. Tar Heel Ghosts. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1954.
Ethnic Origin: NC Appalachian ghost story
Running time: 8-9 min.
The relationship between the two teenagers is very engaging to me. We see the courtship process, and Mary’s passive compliance to Jim’s wooing and her agreement to run away with him. Their defiance of Old Man Robinson in continuing to see each other, and then in their secret marriage and subsequent disappearance, is something that today’s young adults can relate to. It is a dynamic that I can remember in my first serious romantic relationship. Some would argue that it isn’t “true love,” but the intensity of emotion that adolescents experience is very real.
Jim’s impulsiveness and anger
Again, I feel that these are emotions that young adults strongly identify with. They act out of anger, without thinking. They are often emotion-driven, but Jim’s behavior is more complex than that. He is ultimately concerned with the consequences of his behaviors, but doesn’t stop to really think things out before he acts. The sense of confusion, the inability to deal with intense and new emotions in a rational way, is a big concern for adolescents.
Tragedy of the father losing his daughter due to his own refusal to let her grow up, to let her go. Parents can learn from this story too. Instead of reading the end result as: “Mary should have listened to her father and stayed away from that boy,” I read it as “Old Man Robinson should have listened to his daughter and allowed her the freedom to pursue her natural curiosity about boys/dating” (within reason, of course).
Jim Stratton, 17 yrs old
Mary Robinson, 15 yrs old
Old Man Robinson
Search party/ sheriff’s posse
Incidentally mentioned: Jim’s mother, Mary’s mother
1- Jim courts Mary; Mary’s father disapproves, threatens
2- Jim’s still is destroyed; Jim shoots revenuer
3- Jim and Mary get married and leave
4- Search party; bodies never found; ghosts
Synopsis: Jim Stratton, 17 years old, starts courting Mary Robinson. Her father disapproves and doesn’t want to see Jim around. Jim and Mary sneak out together when her father isn’t home. Old Man Robinson realizes what is going on and makes more threats against Jim. Jim becomes more determined to “have” Mary. Jim hears rumor that Mary’s father has told the revenuers about his moonshine still; he threatens to get even. One day in December, Jim’s still is destroyed and Jim shoots one of the men. In his confusion, Jim decides to go to an old friend of his mother’s, Peggy Higgins. He tells her the whole story and she tries to persuade him to leave town. He won’t go anywhere without Mary, and convinces Peggy to get the preacher while he goes to get Mary. It is cold and snowing outside. Mary and Jim get married at Peggy’s; Mary wears Peggy’s ancient wedding gown and Peggy’s ring. They leave out the backdoor as sheriff and men are approaching the house. It is too dark to follow them that night, and in the morning the snow is too deep to trace their path. In short, they are never found. And they appear as ghosts on Mt. Pisgah when it snows.
Mountain setting offers opportunity to take advantage of my North Carolina accent.
Tradition of moonshine, everyone has a still
Some of the unique phrases are from the text:
Jim: “big, raw-boned, strapping fellow, with sharp black eyes and a square set to his jaw”
“the late afternoon before the quick cold darkness clamped down on the mountains.”
Whistling like a bobwhite for Mary.
Others came from my own readings:
“If the revenuers bust up my still, I’m gonna bust up your daddy.”
Audience: 14-16 yrs old
I discussed some of the reasons why this story might appeal to young adults in my section about the power centers of the story. Developmentally, the story addresses some of the changes and feelings that young adults are experiencing. Havinghurst’s developmental tasks, such as achieving new and more mature relations with age-mates, achieving a gendered social role, and preparing for marriage, are included. The descriptions of Mary and Jim are highly gendered- I offer them for questioning. I don’t want the girls to really like Mary or want to be like Mary, even they may identify very strongly with her situation. I want them to challenge the conventions of gender, masculinity and femininity.
Elliott and Feldman’s tasks are similar: becoming emotionally and behaviorally autonomous, dealing with emerging sexuality, mate selection. Jim and Mary both act very independently, though the adults try to control their behavior. Though Jim is persuasive, Mary does have the choice to stay at home and let him flee from the law on his own. Teenage rebellion is very closely related to their emerging sexuality and desire to pursue relationships; parents usually fail when they try to control these feelings with their parental authority.
Stover and Tway identify the concerns of adolescents: defining oneself outside the family (which Mary does as she pursues her relationship with Jim), dealing with developing sexuality, thinking about the future, and finding their own place in the world. Back in the time where the story is set, people married young and set out as “adults” at an age where we are still very much under our parents’ jurisdiction. But still those feelings and concerns are present. I hope this story can convey my respect for the adolescent’s ability to make independent decisions, and the importance of letting them make their own choices in a safe environment, rather than forcing them out into the woods or the streets.
Other variants: Since this is a “ghost story,” unique to the NC mountains, it is not really a folk tale with other versions. But the plot and underlying emotions are very similar to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Teens love Shakespeare’s tragic tale, as evidenced by the success of the most recent remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. “The Bride and Groom of Pisgah” is interesting to me because of its setting in North Carolina. I also prefer it because the characters are not aristocratic, and there is no ancient feud preventing the relationship between Mary and Jim. It is simply a cranky old man who doesn’t want his daughter to date anyone. Also, the tale is shorter to tell, and easier to tell because most people will not have heard it before. Listeners will not immediately draw the connection between the tale and the play, but if the similarity occurs to them it can enrich their understanding of teenage love relationships and family relationships. Sometimes we forget just how young Romeo and Juliet were.