Buckeye Legends

Katz, Michael Jay.  Buckeye Legends: Folktales and Lore from Ohio.  Ann Arbor; The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Are you looking for a comprehensive encyclopedia of Ohio folklore?  I wish you good luck.  Buckeye Legends is not the book you are looking for, but it has its merits.  Katz has put together a very diverse collection of folklore from Native American and early European settlers of Ohio (though he somehow found a way to mix in a Polynesian myth and Paul Bunyan).

I will confess that many of the stories told are not that exciting.  You are not reading Homer.  But, Katz is a storyteller.  Each story is told in the second-person and the narrator is some “old friend” who always knows a relative who has first hand knowledge of the strange occurence.  This rural-folksy persona might rub a modern reader the wrong way after a few stories.  But after a few more tales, it seems natural.

Storytelling is a craft that ties this-and-that together.  Katz tells the story of a not-too-pleasant woman (“The Formidable Abigail Mink”), and throws in a description of early cheese and maple syrup craftsmen of Geauga County.  He also does a thorough job of describing the landscape of the region.  His stories cover most of Ohio, but he does focus heavily on the south central part of the state (Ross County and environs) and Geauga County makes several appearances.

Of historic note, there are two stories about the Blennerhassett Island affair (where Aaron Burr planned his conquest of Texas with the funds of Harmann Blennerhasset).  Blennerhasset resided, and was raided by federal troops, on an island — which happened to bear his name — just south of Marietta.  One story tells the Blennerhassetts fate and the other is about James Canter, who was in the Burr gang and supposedly lived out the rest of his life in a cave.

Also, his one story about Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman, is a good start for those who have not visited the museum in Urbana.

Buckeye Legends is folklore, so do not expect the truth.  Also, other than the occasional reference to a state road, these tales are from 1850s and before.    Would I like to see more from a book of Ohio folklore?  Yes.  Should Katz’s work be read?  It will not hurt you.

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