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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Shelter in Place - week 4 / Miller - Trapping the Plague - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Plagues and pestilences have happened throughout history.  The quote “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it” is attributed to the American philosopher George Santayana and it can be accurately quoted as “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” as stated in his work, The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense.  I went looking for stories and, other than the very dark "Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allen Poe, it was interesting how little I could find and, of course, even less that was Public Domain.

I was able to find an interesting story from an area that fits the title of the Undiscovered Scotland website.  Cromarty has a landlocked harbor that had industrial factories for brewing, iron, lace, cloth, and rope until road and rail routes passed it by, leaving a conservation site and what Encyclopedia Britannica describes as "perhaps the best preserved 18th-century town in the Highlands."  Cromarty remembers its most famous citizen, Hugh Miller, with two buildings.  The National Trust for Scotland operates his birthplace, the only thatched cottage in the town, as a museum and there's also the Hugh Miller Institute which Undiscovered Scotland calls "a grand, if a little out of place, library presented to the town by the Carnegie Institute in 1903."

Hugh Miller is described by Wikipedia as "a self-taught Scottish geologist and writer, folklorist[1] and an evangelical Christian.[2]"   Let's leave his geological writings to the scientist and look at the first book he ever wrote, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, or The Traditional History of Cromarty.  It's easy to picture his tale of the central part of the church-yard of the little Scottish Highland town of Nigg (current population said to be 156).  The town is small, but the Wikipedia article about it opens with:
Nigg (from the Scottish Gaelic: An Neag meaning "the notch", referring to a feature of the hills above the parish church) is a village and parish in Easter Ross, administered by The Highland Council. It lies on the north shore of the entrance to the Cromarty Firth.
This is 2d attempt at posting Wikimedia Commons photo
Nigg Old Church and churchyard.
Rosskmaxwell - Own work

 Nigg Old Church

The present parish church is an 18th-century building on an early Christian site dating back to at least the 8th century. The Nigg Stone, one of the most elaborate stone monuments of early medieval western Europe,[1] is preserved in a room at the west end of the church. This late 8th century Pictish cross-slab formerly stood in the churchyard, but was moved indoors for preservation in recent years.
The nearby manse is one of the oldest to survive in Scotland, dating back to the first half of the 17th century. It is now privately owned and no longer used as the parish minister's residence.
Nigg Old has its odd and curious features. In the churchyard is the Cholera Stone, dating from the cholera epidemic of 1832. One of the elders, on coming out of the church, saw a cloud of vapour hovering above the ground. He believed it to be a cloud of cholera, threw a blanket or cloth over it and placed this large stone on top to keep it from escaping. And inside the church, according to one tradition, the beadle (church officer) allowed an illicit still to be kept in the space under the pulpit.[2]
Aye, that's the Scottish tradition or folklore for you.  But Nigg is right across the bay from Miller's larger hometown of Cromarty (population 719 to 730 depending on your source) on an area called "the Black Isle."   Wikipedia's Nigg article also says:
The Nigg to Cromarty ferry route is often called The King’s Ferry – the route taken by King James IV of Scotland when on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Duthac at Tain, doing so at least 18 times in the years between 1493 to 1513.[3]
It is the only ferry service from the Black Isle. The ferry crosses the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, one of the finest natural harbours in Europe and also an area rich in wildlife and world-famous for its dolphin population.[4]
Hugh Miller was both interested in science and folklore so his book gives you a larger picture of how the protected harbor played a role in the early 19th century Cholera epidemic from quarantine to its spread, with that interesting tale of its capture in Nigg on the third page.  There's more, though and it provides some interesting incidents -- especially if you "read between the lines", so don't just skim to that third page.

It's interesting that Persia, now called Iran, and Russia are mentioned.  This time Iran was heavily hit early because a trader apparently carried Coronavirus, Covid-19 back from China, while Russia has sealed its country off as best it could.

Would that we could somehow trap the current plague in a bag.  Until then I hope you take this bit of advice from the authors site, :

Readers...Self-Quarantining Since 750 B.C.

This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!

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