Have you been introduced to the stories of Manly Wade Wellman?
In my book CrimeSong I discuss the famous “Omie Wise” ballad (you can hear Julie Nelms, Berea College senior perform “Omie Wise” in the video at the end of this post), and I allude to Manly Wade Wellman’s 1954 write-up of the story of “Omie Wise” in his book Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina (The University of North Carolina Press). Wellman’s book also discusses the “Frankie Silver” and “Tom Dula” stories. The prices for copies of Dead and Gone are all over the boards. Here is the cover of my copy— an entirely appropriate image for the week of Halloween, don’t you think?
I had not realized how prolific Wellman was. He published many short stories in the old pulps like Amazing Stories. Only recently I discovered that Wellman wrote a series of stories about “John”—no last name—who is also referred to as “Silver John” and “John the Balladeer.” John is a mysterious character who roams the mountains of North Carolina. He was a solider in the Korean War before returning to the mountains. John plays a guitar with silver strings and sings lines from some familiar ballads. Wellman wrote many stories in the fantasy and science fiction genre, and in the “John” stories the hero frequently runs into witches with magical powers. John has some familiarity with these arts too.
The stories were collected several times under different titles. I recently picked up a copy under the title Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens, published as volume 5 of a series put out by Night Shade Books. If you are looking for a copy, you may be shocked by the prices demanded. Check your local library—you may have a hard time finding a copy to purchase at a reasonable price. I find the book interesting because of the North Carolina folklore packed into the stories
By the way, there are a couple of types of owls that do hoot in the daytime.