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Friday, November 24, 2023

Munkittrick - Wishbone Valley - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

By now the Thanksgiving leftovers have taken the place of any feasting on Thursday.  Among the turkey bones one thing seems to always capture attention . . . the wishbone!  There are various blog articles about how the wishbone came to be valued for granting wishes and others on how to win when snapping it.  Country Living has an article giving both along with plans for Thanksgiving since it was written back in August of this year.  If you're not too stuffed or worn out, it might be a time to think back to see what worked and what didn't for next year's plans.

Certainly a story focused on that wishbone, or another Thanksgiving aspect might be reasonable.  Project Gutenberg has The Children's Book of Thanksgiving Stories edited by Asa Don Dickinson.  The book's only illustration is the frontispiece, but following it leads to a most unusual "ghost story", "Wishbone Valley."  The story comes from Harper's Young People, November 21, 1893 -- pages 48-50 and contains another illustration which I will insert in the story even though Dickinson didn't include it.  Both will be as close as I can come to where both the colored frontispiece and the humbler illustration from "Harper's" occur in the story.  Neither give a clue as to their illustrators.


A Thanksgiving ghost story about a boy who dined not wisely but too well.

THE Thanksgiving feast had just ended, and only Donald and his little sister Grace remained at the table, looking drowsily at the plum pudding that they couldn't finish, but which they disliked to leave on their plates.

When the plates had been removed, and the plum-pudding taken to the kitchen and placed beside the well-carved gobbler, Donald and Grace were too tired to rise from their chairs to have their faces washed. They seemed lost in a roseate repose, until Grace finally thought of the wishbone that they intended to break after dinner.

"Come, now, Donald," she said, "let's break the old gobbler's wishbone."

"All right," replied Donald, opening his eyes slowly, and unwrapping the draperies of his sweet plum-pudding dreams from about him, "let's do it now." So he held up the wishbone, and Grace took hold of the other end of it with a merry laugh.

"Here, you must not take hold so far from the end, because I have a fine wish to make, and want to get the big half if possible."

"So have I a nice wish to make," replied Grace, with a sigh, "and I also want the big end."

And so they argued for a few minutes, until their mother entered the room and told them that if they could not stop quarrelling over the wishbone she would take it from them and throw it into the fire. So they lost no time in taking it by the ends and snapping it asunder.

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Donald, observing Grace's expression of disappointment. "I've got it!"

"Well, I've made a wish, too," said Grace.

"But it won't come true," replied Donald, "because you have the little end."

And then Donald thought he would go out in the air and play, because his great dinner made him feel very uncomfortable. When he was out in the barnyard it was just growing dusk, and Donald, through his half-closed eyes, observed a gobbler strutting about. To his great surprise the gobbler approached him instead of running away.

"I thought we had you for dinner to-day," said Donald.

"You did," replied the gobbler coldly, "and you had a fine old time, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Donald, "you made a splendid dinner, and you ought to be pleased to think you made us all so happy. Your second joints were very sweet and juicy, and your drumsticks were like sticks of candy."

"And you broke my poor old wishbone with your little sister, didn't you?"

"I did."

"And what did you wish?" asked the gobbler.

"You mustn't ask me that," replied Donald, "because, you know, if I tell you the wish I made it would not come true."

"But it was my wishbone," persisted the gobbler, "and I think I ought to know something about it."

"You have rights, I suppose, and your argument is not without force," replied Donald, with calm dignity.

The gobbler was puzzled at so lofty a reply, and not understanding it, said:

"I am only the ghost, or spirit, of the gobbler you ate to-day, but still I remember how one day last summer you threw a pan of water on me, and alluded to my wattles as a red necktie, and called me 'Old Harvard.' Now, come along!"

"Where?" asked Donald.

"To Wishbone Valley, where you will see the spirits of my ancestors eaten by your family."

It was now dusk, and Donald didn't like the idea of going to such a place. He was a brave, courageous boy, on most occasions, but the idea of going to Wishbone Valley when the stars were appearing filled him with a dread that he didn't like to acknowledge even to the ghost of a gobbler.

"I can't go with you now, Mr. Gobbler," he said, "because I have a lot of lessons to study for next Monday; wait until to-morrow, and I will gladly go with you."

"Come along," replied the gobbler, with a provoked air, "and let your lessons go until to-morrow, when you will have plenty of light."

Thereupon the gobbler extended his wing and took Donald by the hand, and started on a trot.

"Not so fast," protested Donald.

"Why not?" demanded the gobbler in surprise.

"Because," replied Donald, with a groan, "I have just had my dinner, and I'm too full of you to run."

So the gobbler kindly and considerately slackened his pace to a walk, and the two proceeded out of the barnyard and across a wide meadow to a little valley surrounded by a dense thicket. The moon was just rising and the thicket was silvered by its light, while the dry leaves rustled weirdly in the cold crisp air.

"This," said the gobbler, "is Wishbone Valley. Look and see."

Donald strained his eyes, and, sure enough, there were wishbones sticking out of the ground in every direction. He thought they looked like little croquet hoops, but he made no comments, for fear of offending the old gobbler. But he felt that he must say something to make the gobbler think that he was not frightened, so he remarked, in an offhand way:

"Let's break one and make a wish."

The ghost of the old gobbler frowned, drew himself up, and uttered a ghostly whistle that seemed to cut the air. As he did so, the ghosts of the other turkeys long since eaten popped out of the thickets with a great flapping of wings, and each one perched upon a wishbone and gazed upon poor Donald, who was so frightened that his collar flew into a standing position, while he stood upon his toes, with his knees knocking together at a great rate.

Every turkey fixed its eyes upon the trembling boy, who was beside himself with fear.

"What shall we do with him, grandpapa?" asked the gobbler of an ancient bird that could scarcely contain itself and remain on its wishbone.

"I cannot think of anything terrible enough, Willie," replied the grandparent. "It almost makes my ghostship boil when I think of the way in which he used to amuse himself by making me a target for his bean shooter. Often when I was asleep in the button-ball he would fetch me one on the side of the head that would give me an earache for a week. But now it is our turn."

Here the other turkeys broke into a wild chorus of approval.

"Take his bean shooter from his pocket," suggested another bird, "and let's have a shot at him."

Donald was compelled to hand out his bean shooter, and the grandparent took it, lay on his back, and with the handle of the bean shooter in one claw and the missile end in the other began to send pebbles at Donald at a great rate. He could hear them whistling past his ears, but could not see them to dodge. Fortunately none struck him, and when the turkeys felt that they had had fun enough of that kind at his expense the bean shooter was returned to him.

"Now, then," said the gobbler's Aunt Fanny, "he once gave me a string of yellow beads for corn."

"What shall we do to him for that?" asked the gobbler.

"Make him eat a lot of yellow beads," said the chorus.

"But we have no beads," said the gobbler sadly.

"Then let's poke him with a stick," suggested the gobbler's Granduncle Sylvester; "he used to do that to us."

So they all took up their wishbones and poked Donald until he was sore. Sometimes they would hit him in a ticklish spot, and throw him into such a fit of laughter that they thought he was enjoying it all and chaffing them. So they stuck their wishbones into the ground, and took their positions on them once more, to take a needed rest, for the poor ghosts were greatly exhausted.

There was one quiet turkey who had taken no part in the proceedings.

"Why don't you suggest something?" demanded Uncle Sylvester.

"Because," replied the quiet turkey, "Donald never did anything to me, and I must treat him accordingly. I was raised and killed a long way from here, and canned. Donald's father bought me at a store. To be a ghost in good standing I should be on the farm where I was killed, and really I don't know why I should be here."

"Then you should be an impartial judge," said Aunt Fanny. "Now what shall we do with him?"

"Tell them to let me go home," protested Donald, "and I'll agree never to molest or eat turkey again; I will give them all the angleworms I can dig every day, and on Thanksgiving Day I'll ask my father to have roast beef."

"I think," replied the impartial canned ghost, "that as all boys delight in chasing turkeys with sticks, it would be eminently just and proper for us, with the exception of myself, to chase this boy and beat him with our wishbones, to let him learn by experience that which he could scarcely learn by observation."

"What could I do but eat turkey when it was put on the table?" protested Donald.

"But you could help chasing us around with sticks," sang the chorus.

They thereupon descended from the wishbones upon which they had been perching, and flying after him, they darted the wishbones, which they held in their beaks, into his back and neck as hard as they could. Donald ran up and down Wishbone Valley, calling upon them to stop, and declaring that if turkey should ever be put upon the table again he would eat nothing but the stuffing. When Donald found that the wishbones were sticking into his neck like so many hornet stings, he made up his mind that he would run for the house. Finally the wishbone tattoo stopped, and when he looked around, the gobbler, who was twenty feet away, said: "When a Thanksgiving turkey dies, his ghost comes down here to Wishbone Valley to join his ancestors, and it never after leaves the valley. You will now know why every spring the turkeys steal down here to hatch their little ones. As you are now over the boundary line you are safe."

"Thank you," said Donald gratefully.

"Good-bye," sang all the ghosts in chorus.

There was then a great ghostly flapping and whistling, and the turkeys and wishbones all vanished from sight.

Donald ran home as fast as his trembling legs could carry him, and he fancied that the surviving turkeys on the place made fun of him as he passed on his way.

When he reached the house he was very happy, but made no allusion to his experience in Wishbone Valley, for fear of being laughed at.

"Come, Donald," said his mother, shortly after his arrival, "it is almost bedtime; you had better eat that drumstick and retire."

"I think I have had turkey enough for to-day," replied Donald, with a shudder, "and if it is just the same, I would rather have a nice thick piece of pumpkin pie."

So the girl placed a large piece of pie before him; and while he was eating with the keen appetite given him by the crisp air of Wishbone Valley, he heard a great clattering of hoofs coming down the road. These sounds did not stop until the express wagon drew up in front of the house, and the driver brought in a large package for Donald.

"Hurrah!" shouted Donald, in boundless glee. "Uncle Arthur has sent me a nice bicycle! Wasn't it good of him?"

"Didn't you wish for a bicycle to-day, when you got the big end of the wishbone?" asked his little sister Grace.

"What makes you think so?" asked Donald, with a laugh.

"Oh, I knew it all the time; and my wish came true, too."

"How could your wish come true?" asked Donald, with a puzzled look, "when you got the little half of the wishbone?"

"I don't know," replied Grace, "but my wish did come true."

"And what did you wish?"

"Why," said Grace, running up and kissing her little brother affectionately, "I wished your wish would come true, of course."

Whether you get the long or the short end of the wishbone or skip it altogether, may you enjoy the many stories in Public Domain!


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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