A letter from the magazine's editor
There is a story passed down to me by family members about how my grandfather, Emanuel, was nearly killed by a bull, and, pinned against a tree, was saved by his son with a nine-bolt action rifle. It is a good story; an heirloom from my paternal side. It’s one of several I have from both sides of my family—the entirely true story of how my maternal grandmother, at 23, got her car stuck on the railroad tracks and had to escape just before being hit by a train, or the true, but likely embellished story of how my great grandfather was kicked out of his small town in Italy for punching a pedophilic priest in the face.
None of these stories have, to my knowledge, been written down (save a newspaper account of my grandmother’s near-death experience). All of them have been traded and swapped and passed down orally, used to entertain or to enlighten. They are stories of, as Lenape writer Hitakonanu’laxtk writes, my relationship to the place in which I live, my origins, my ancestors, who I am and where I came from.
For this magazine, I opened up the TRR Hotline and encouraged people to call in and tell us their own folklore. No one called. For two weeks we shared the word in print and on social media. Zip. It’s likely that most don’t think they know any folklore native to our area.
The Upper Delaware is rich in history and steeped in the tradition of storytelling, from the raftsmen who made their money here, to the real-life Paul Bunyon of New York to the stories we share within our own families. We have big-fish-like tales of the incredible feats of outdoorsmen and ghost stories of haunted houses that have stood unoccupied for years. We have stories we make up to answer unanswerable questions and stories we embellish with the stuff of our souls.
"I think in more recent years we’ve kind of lost [the] notion, that history is really just a collection of stories," John Conway told me. "The failures and successes of people who came before us, the situations they face and how they resolved problems are, I think, all important lessons for us to learn.”
Folktales are not fairytales or even necessarily falsehoods. Sometimes childhood nostalgia can create a lore of its own. Folklore is not about falsehoods, or "alternative facts." It is not a genre meant to be taken literally. "You're not necessarily supposed to believe it," wrote the author Daniel Wallace, "you're just supposed to believe in it."
Enjoy reading this small collection. I cannot gaurantee that everything in these pages is true, but I know that they are good stories, and that they are valuable. The next time someone spins you a yarn too unbelievable to be true, pay attention. They might be trying to tell you something else entirely.
- Elizabeth Lepro, section editor