Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

Do you remember the scariest story that you ever heard? Was it around a campfire? Were you in the woods? What was it that sent chills down your spine? My father used to tell "The Golden Arm" story perfectly, always succeeding in getting a shriek or two. By the time I was a teenager (this is Nelda, the AWHC education coordinator writing), the hook story and the hitchhiker ghost story didn't do much for me. But I will never forget the night that I heard a friend summarize Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum." The woods were dark, the fire was dying, and I suddenly was that man in the pit, the walls getting smaller and smaller. Steals my breath just thinking about it.
Prepare to be thrilled AND chilled by the scary stories of the 2009 Haunted Hallow, brought to you by the American West Heritage Center and the famous Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
What's that you say? Scary stories from the Grimms? Thanks to countless cultural forces (including Mr. Walter Disney), many people today are unfamiliar with the stories that the Brothers Grimm published in Germany between the years 1812 and 1857. The brothers' Kinder- und Hausmarchen contained tales based on the stories they collected from many people over decades of research. Contrary to popular belief, the tales we know as the Grimms' "Little Red Cap" and "Cinderella" and "Rumpelstiltkin" are not exactly the tales that working class or peasant Germans had passed down for generations through oral retellings. It turns out that even those peasants from the Black Forest weren't THAT strange.
The Brothers Grimm were intrigued by the stories and other bits of verbal culture that made Germans who they were. During the Grimms' lifetime, German scholars of all kinds were searching for anything that could define a German identity in the face of a very tumultuous time for the growing nation. France was trying to edge its way into German areas, French was the language deemed by many of the upper class to be the fashionable language to speak, and everyone wondered where Germany could fit into this big scheme of things.
To find this fit, scholars such as the Grimms began collecting folktales and folksongs, thinking that they would find The Original German Identity in the things the very simple, "uneducated" folk passed on to each other. After the Grimms collected their tales, they set themselves on the very curious work of "polishing" these tales to fit the "Christian" ideals, traditional family patterns, and a kind of quaintness that they believed the German folk should portray. The original tales were propped up, fluffed up, tidied up, and cutsy-ed up to convey what the Grimms thought Germans (and eventually German children) should know about themselves.
And what do we learn from these tales today? Why do we keep telling them? Ask yourselves these questions as you wander down our Haunted Hollow this year, which opens tomorrow (Friday, October 9 at 7:30pm). Due to the original Grimm-ness of this hollow, we would ask you to send your small children to the hay jump or pirate ship kids' maze while you go through. Or, you can arrive at 7pm, at which time our volunteer haunters will not be wearing masks or scaring people, and little ones can see the creepy decorations without the whole show. The Haunted Hollow will run Fridays and Saturdays throughout October until the 30th. (There will be no Haunted Hollow on Halloween night.) The haunted path will open at 7:30pm and the last ticket will be sold at 10:15pm.