Students craft spooky stories at Paw Paw
Six graders at Paw Paw Elementary sat in the dark for more than an hour last Wednesday, learning the difference between a helpful ghost and a restless ghost.
Their lesson – one in folk-lore and West Virginia ghost stories – came from professional storytellers Jo Ann Dadisman and June Riffle who visited Morgan County schools for three days.
Known as "Mountain Echoes," the women presented their spooky program as part of the Morgan Arts Council's Adopt-A-School program. Dadisman and Riffle also visited the sixth grade classrooms at Warm Springs Middle School and conducted an after-school story workshop at the Ice House.
Long-time friends and teachers, Dadisman and Riffle team up for writing and storytelling workshops around West Virginia, both in schools and at conferences and festivals.
During their Paw Paw visit, the duo took turns telling scary tales and asking students in Anne Helmick's classroom to think about the value of stories as records of events, as entertainment and a way of passing on lessons.
As an assignment, the students were asked to bring a ghost story set in Paw Paw or one told to a friend or relative.
They also talked about why ghost stories are so common in West Virginia. One young man supposed it was because of the state's Indian burial mounds. Another said it was because there were lots of fatal accidents during the making of the C&O canal.
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The storytellers said the valleys and mountains, the trains and plentiful graveyards tucked away here and there might be another reason why local people saw and heard so many odd and unexplained things.
"Houses that are empty for a long time develop stories about them," said Riffle before telling of an abandoned farmhouse she came upon in Tucker County.
Admitting that she was a little too curious for her own good, Riffle said she walked into the house through an open door. The only things inside were an old wood cookstove and a lonely Victrola in a back room.
Old records still sat near the player, so Riffle cranked the machine and listened to the old-time music until she got spooked and left the house. Imagine what a passerby would think of music coming from an abandoned house!
Students listened to West Virginia tales starring a helpful ghost, a vengeful ghost and a restless ghost.
They heard about the Shue Mystery, or Greenbrier Ghost, the story of Doc Anderson, the Daniel brothers of Logan County and the little girl who haunted a Preston County schoolhouse, looking for her ragdoll.
After discussing setting, characters, conflict, climax and endings, students were set to work crafting their own storyboards and tales.
Throughout the program, Dadisman and Riffle took turns building suspense and bringing old stories alive for their young audience. They advised the new storytellers to remember stories as pictures in their minds instead of words on a page so the tales could be easier to recall and share.
Local ghost stories collected by the Paw Paw students will be gathered into a booklet, said teacher Anne Helmick.