Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Appalachian Folklore: The Legend of Stingy Jack (HIstory of the Jack o' Lantern)

As I was recently reading some Appalachian Folklore, I came across a tale that I had never heard but thought would be good to share now that it's time for Halloween! As you may know, much of Appalachian folklore was brought to the area from wherever the settlers came from and this tale is said to have originated in Ireland. Out of all the versions I read, Dave Tabler's over at Appalachian History is my favorite. Hope y'all enjoy! 

     There's an old Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." Stingy Jack was a drunken brawler who found great enjoyment from playing tricks on anyone who crossed his path Jack also had the great misfortune of running into the Devil more than once.

     Jack's first encounter with the devil happened at a local Irish pub within the village. Obviously Stingy Jack was called Stingy Jack for a reason, and he wasn't about to change now in the face of the Devil. Jack convinced the Devil to transform into a sixpence piece so that Jack could use him to pay for their drinks. In exchange for this transaction, the Devil would receive Jack's soul. Little did the Devil know, Jack sill had a few tricks up his sleeve. 

After changing into the sixpence piece, Jack quickly tossed the Devil into his pocket next to a silver cross - thus preventing the Devil from returning to his original form. Jack then bargained with the Devil to keep his soul for 10 more years - in return for the Devil's freedom. The Devil reluctantly agrees and Jack frees him. Ten years pass and Jack crosses path with the Devil a second time. With the Devil ready to claim his soul, Jack made a last request: "I'll go, but before I do - will you retrieve and apple from that tree for me? I'm awfully hungry!"

The devil began to climb the tree, and while the Devil was climbing to the top of the tree, Jack carved a large cross into the back of the tree. Again, the Devil had been tricked and could not get down. 

Jack being quite pleased with himself; bargained yet again with the Devil - this time for the promise that the Devil would never, ever try to take his soul again. With no way out of the tree, the Devil agreed. 

Year pass and Jack finally passes away. Unfortunately for Jack, after all of his evil trickery and horrible deeds - God did not allow Jack into Heaven. The Devil, still bitter at Jack and his bag of tricks, kept his word and did not claim his soul. Jack was unable to get into Heaven, and unable to get into Hell. 

"Where shall I go?' Jack asked the Devil, confused and afraid.

"Back to where you came from!" The Devil growled angrily at Jack and sent him on his way back to earth.

Jack's journey back was very dark, and he begged for the Devil to lend him a light to help him lead the way. The devil provided Stingy Jack with a coal from the fires of Hell - which Jack then placed into a turnip he had in his pocket. The carved out turnip lead the way back to earth. Since then; Jack appears every Halloween. doomed to roam the earth in search of eternal rest - leading the way with his turnip lamp.

The Irish people began to refer to the ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern, " and soon "Jack O 'Lantern."

Traditionally on All Hallows Eve, many Irishmen make their own versions of Jack's lantern by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them near doors and windows to scare away the body-snatching spirits. 


According to Appalachian History, pumpkins weren't actually used until the Irish immigrants brought the tradition of the Jack-o-Lanterns with them to America - only to discover that pumpkins were easier to carve than their traditional turnips and potatoes. 

Have you ever heard this tale? I was very surprised to learn that the tradition all started with a turnip! Dave has all sorts of Appalachian related lore and info over at his website and I encourage you to check it out.

Hope y'all enjoyed the tale and I hope you have a Happy Halloween! 


  1. It is very interesting to know the story of the creation this legend. In addition, the story provides an opportunity to experience some of the folklore features of the region

  2. I heard this story many years ago and, even though I've no Irish heritage that I know of (does being born on March 17th count?), I still find the biggest rutabaga (turnip) in the market and carve it for Hallowe'en.

  3. I hope you go back to blogging. I feel really lucky to have stumbled across your blog.