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Friday, October 27, 2023

Larkin - Mary Culhaine - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

from in the category of "Oops and sorry"

That cat should be all black for Halloween, but his face and paw photograph so much better on a "tuxedo" cat ... consider it the costume for a black cat.  As for me, I truly am embarrassed.  I often work ahead on my blog posts and last week accidentally posted the start of this week's posting of Chuck Larkin's version of my favorite spooky tale, "Mary Culhaine and the Dead Man."  I wouldn't have even realized it if it wasn't for a loyal reader, friend and mentor, Joseph Gaudet, better known as Papa Joe.

He said: I think I'll try putting Darth's voice into one of my Tales this week and see if the kid was right. BTW, in the version of Mary Culhaine I tell, the corpse only makes a slice in a finger of each of the boys. Even still, it's pretty horrifying.

That alerted me there must be a way he saw it.  YIKES!  Well it was complete except for my actually giving the story.  I gave this link, but here is that story as Chuck told it, along with his comments on why he made the choices he did.  I added breaks to the paragraphs for easier reading, but there are also page breaks I'm unable to eliminate.

Mary Culhaine

(Chuck noted this:)
A few years back a school board religious fuss over
this story resulted in a need for a script. I found that both
the Folktellers and Carol Birch had a manuscript version
available from National Storytelling Association (NSA) on
audio cassettes based on a published version from the
early ’70s.
One will note that the dialogue between the characters
returning to the grave yard in the published version is in an
illogical reverse order. Logically the Cadaver asks the ques-
tions and Mary answers. I have included the Bible with holy
water in order to upgrade to southern USA culture (our Bible
thumping kids do not know “Holy Water”). The substitution
of dirty water in some variations also is not logical.
Manuscript variants can be found titled “Mary Culhane
and the Dead Man” in The Goblins Giggle, by Molly Bang
and “The Blood Drawing Ghost” in Robert D. San Souci’s
collection “Even More Short and Shivery.” I have also lis-
tened to a version told by a storyteller from Belfast, Ireland
and this old Irish legend has many variations as the story
involved teenagers and was quite different.

Jim Culhaine was walking home during the long shad-
ows of the late afternoon. He was swinging his blackthorn
walking stick, feeling good. Jim had been drinking with his
friends and was a bit late for supper. He decided to take
a short cut through the cemetery. Just as he was about
to step over the wall to the woods path he noticed a fresh
opened grave! “Ah, now that’s a bit strange I wonder why
the new grave? No one in Carlisle has died or I would have
heard about the wake.” As Jim stood there thinking he
heard a strange groaning sound from the open grave. The
noise startled him! He gave a jump, dropped his blackthorn
walking stick, turned and leaped over the wall. Jim being
a bit skittish quickly went through the woods path and the
streets to his house.

The family was already seated at the dinner table. As
Jim sat down he said, “ah, I dropped my walking stick!” His
daughter Mary Culhaine, who was about 18 years old at
the time said, “Daddy where did you drop it?” “I remember
something startled me as I was crossing the graveyard and
I dropped it just inside of the wall by the woods path. I’ll
fetch it in the morning.” “Daddy I’ll fetch it for you now.”
Before any body could stop her Mary was up and running
out the door. She ran down the street through the woods
path and hopped over the wall. It was now dusk. In the
darkness she could still see the long slender black walking
stick in the grass.

As Mary was bending over to pick up the stick when
she heard. “Mary, Mary Culhaine, come over here and help

me out of this grave.” Mary started to turn and head for the
wall but she found she could not move. A force held her
and she found herself standing and turning. Slowly, strug-
gling she was being forced to walk toward a gaping hole
of an open grave which looked like a deeper blackness on
the dark ground. “Mary reach down here and help me up
out of this grave.” Mary found herself kneeling down on the
side of the grave and then her hand on its’ own began to
reach down into the darkness. Something cold and clam-
my grabbed hold of her hand and began pulling itself up
out of the grave. The creature next climbed onto her back,
wrapped its’ arms around her neck and legs around her
waist. “All right Mary stand up and take me into the town.”
Mary found herself slowly standing and with the creature
holding and ridding her piggy back turned and crossed the
graveyard wall.

Mary left the woods path and started walking down
the street. As she was passing the first house the creature
said, “Mary stop here.” “Sniff, sniff, sniff. Keep going to
the next house Mary.” Mary found herself being stopped
at each house while the creature sniffed the air. When they
reached the corner the creature lifted one arm and pointed.
“Mary turn that way.” In the moonlight Mary could see the
outstretched arm. She could see where the flesh had rot-
ted off the bones and parts of the creature’s skeleton were
visible, plus it smelt pretty bad! “What is it you are smelling
for?” “Mary I am smelling each house looking for a house
without any holy water or Bibles in it. Keep moving. Stop
here, sniff, sniff, sniff. Now the next house.”

House after house they stopped and the creature, an
old dead cadaver sniffed the air. Finely the creature said,
“ah Mary here is a house with no holy water or Bibles. We
will go in here.” Mary looked up at the house in the moon-
light and recognized the Finnagin home. She knew that
there were three teenage boys upstairs sleeping in the front
bedroom and there parents were sleeping in the upstairs
back bedroom. “I don’t want to go in their home, we will
wake them up!” “No one wakes up Mary when we go into
their homes. Now do it.” Mary tried to resist but the crea-
tures power was too strong and they entered the house.
“Take me into the kitchen Mary.”

When they reached the kitchen the cadaver slipped
off Mary’s back and sat on a chair by the kitchen table.
“Mary fi x me two bowls of oatmeal.” Mary went over to the
old wood stove and opened it up. She placed some kin-
dling wood on the banked coals and blew softly to restart
the fire. Next she placed in some firewood and closed the
stove. Mary opened the cupboard and found the oatmeal.
She pored water into a pot, placed the pot on the stove and
stirred in the oatmeal. “Mary pick up that bowl and come

over here.” The creature again climbed piggy back on
Mary. “Now Mary go upstairs and into the bathroom. Pick
up that razor and go into the boy’s room.” “I don’t want to
go into the boy’s room!” “Do what I say!”

As Mary was forced to turn to walk into the boy’s room
the door opened slowly in front of her. “Mary take the razor
and cut that boy’s finger and catch the blood in the bowl.”
“I don’t want to do that!” “Do it!” Mary had no control over
her body and as her hand reached down with the razor and
cut the tip of the boy’s finger, her other hand with the bowl
caught the blood. Not much blood came from the boy’s
finger. Less than an ounce when the boy’s finger stopped
bleeding and the boy stopped breathing. “Now Mary get
some blood from each of the other boys.” Mary noticed
when she was done that all three boys had stopped breath-
ing. “Mary put the razor back into the bathroom and then
go back into the kitchen. When they got back into the
kitchen the creature again slipped off of Mary’s back into
the chair. “Mary mix the blood into the oatmeal and serve it
to me in two bowls.” Mary stirred the blood into the cooked
oatmeal and pored it into two bowl and placed the bowls
and a spoon before the creature.

The creature pushed one bowl across the table, “you
eat that bowl Mary.” “I don’t want to eat any bloody oat-
meal” “Do it. Mary’s hand picked up another spoon, sat
down and her hand dipped the spoon into the bloody
oatmeal and started moving the spoon toward her mouth.
Mary struggled as hard as she could and just as the spoon
reached her chin she was able to turn her shaking hand
over and spilled the oatmeal into her neck kerchief. She
looked at the creature but it was looking down at its’ own
bowl. Mary was able to finish first and drop each spoonful
into her kerchief without being caught. “All right Mary clean
up everything so nobody knows we were in this house.”
Mary cleaned the bowls, spoons and the pot and banked
the fi re. As she was returning things to the cupboard she
was able to slip the kerchief off from around her head and
hide it behind a stack of dishes without being seen. “I’m
done.” “Then let’s leave now.”

The creature again climbed on Mary’s back and they
went out the front door. “Are those boy’s dead?” “They
might as well be Mary only some of that bloody oatmeal
on their lips would bring them back to life again. He, he, he
we ate it all. Say Mary do you see that pile of rocks over
there in that empty field?” “Yes,” “What do you call that
field Mary?” “We call that the haunted field no one goes in
that field.” “Oh that is funny Mary, he, he, he that field is not
haunted Mary we just got people thinking that. We keep our
gold and silver in that field under those rocks.” “Why did you
tell me that I don’t want to know that?” “Because you are
going back into the grave with me Mary and live under the

ground.” “I don’t want to do that!” “You’re going to Mary.”
URRACH “What was that sound Mary?” “I don’t know it
sounded like a baby lamb bleating for its’ mother.” “Well,
lets hurry to the graveyard Mary.” As they were walking
through the graveyard again they heard URRACH. “What
was that Mary?” “Well, it sounded like an old hoot owl.”
“Hurry Mary into the graveyard. Stop resisting me!” Mary
did all she could to keep from moving forward but the crea-
tures power was too much. She stepped across the stone
wall and tried everything she could to keep away from that
open grave. She found herself kneeling down on her hands
and knees as the creature slid off her body into the grave.
The suddenly again the sound UR UR UR URACH. “Mary
you lied to me those sounds were the rooster crowing. You
lied to me, get down here in this grave.” But Mary knew that
when the Rooster crows for the third time the first beam
of morning sunlight was rushing over the trees and hit the
graveyard. Immediately the creatures power started to drop
off of her. Mary held on until she was able to break free and
roll over away from the grave. She picked up her daddy’s
walking stick and ran home. Mary placed the blackthorn
walking stick by the front door and went up to bed.

About ten o’clock Mary’s mother woke her up. “Mary
I’ve terrible news. The Finnagin boys have died in their
sleep and we are having the wake.” “Momma I’ve been
up all night I’ll be over later.” Mary got up about two in the
afternoon and went over to the Finnagin’s home. When the
Irish die they have a party we call a wake. People do cry
but they are the Keeners not everybody. In fact Father Kelly
was doing his magic tricks when Mary arrived.

Mary went up to Mrs. Finnagin. “Ah Ms. Finnagin I’m
sad for your loss but may I ask you a question?” “Sure
you can Mary, what can I do for you?” “Ms. Finnagin don’t
you own that old piece of rocky land they call the haunted
field?” “Yes, I do Mary why do you ask about that now at
the wake?” “Well, Ms. Finnagin if you will give me that wee
piece of land I can bring your three boys back to life, I can,
I can!” “Oh Mary if you can, the haunted field is yours.”
Well, the village attorney was at the wake and she drew up
the necessary papers to transfer ownership of the land to
Mary. Then Mary chased everybody out of the house and
retrieved that kerchief with the bloody oatmeal from behind
the dishes. She carried it upstairs and put some on each of
the boys lips and they started breathing at once. Within five
minutes they were sitting up feeling good and did not know
anything was wrong.

Mary hired some young men to move that pile of rocks
and found a catch of gold and silver coins that were worth
more to the museums then the value of the gold and silver.
Mary built a huge white house with pillars holding up the
front roof. And inside by every door is a box nailed to the

wall that has a small vial of holy water and a Bible. This
story took place in western Ireland close to three hundred
years ago. Since the Storytelling renaissance began in 1970
so many Storytellers have told this story that the village of
Carlisle has not only remodeled the Mary Culhaine home
but the Holiday Inn has built a motel in Carlisle to handle
the tourist from all over the world. When you visit Carlisle
you will find that every building even the barns have boxes
next to the doors with bottles of holy water and a Bible.
I’ve been told that every motel room has a box with a glass
front so you can see the vial of holy water and the enclosed
Gideon Bible.


Chuck doesn't credit Curtin, but merely calls it "A traditional Irish tale collected and adapted by Chuck Larkin"  For another personal version, I let Mary be especially fond of the youngest boy, who is her own age.  After becoming rich from the buried treasure she marries him.

That's the story and I'm happy to share it with anyone who loves a bloody, spooky story.

****************** Here's my standard message for "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" about finding stories online (including about Chuck Larkin's website) 

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 the late 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 December 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!

    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.

You can see why I recommend these to you. 

Have fun discovering even more stories

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