Author Archives: John Keating

John Henry


“John Henry.  Back in the railroad days, railroads were king, and that’s how you would get around the country, and um, and ya know, so railroad workers were really celebrated and there’s this one huuuge guy who could, um, drive a railroad tie, ya know how you have to put the pins in the railroad tie?  His name was John Henry, and um, he was huge, and soo strong, and he could drive railroad ties faster than anybody– he was legendary for doing that.  And um, so, but with time, machinery caught up and technology and everything, and a steam driver was made and everybody was like, “Ohh nobody can beat John Henry.  So I don’t care what kinda machine you make, he is just amazing.”  And he was like, “I’m not gonna let any machine beat me.”  And so he, um, they had a contest, they brought the steam tie driver out, and they went right alongside each other, steam driver and John Henry, and um, it was crazzy, never seen anyone work as hard as John Henry.  And he, uh, just kept drivin’ em in with his huuge sledge hammer, just one after the other, he could do it in one hit, ya know just drive the whole tie down in one hit.  And he, uh, he beat the steam– he beat the contest, he beat the steam driver.  And I guess he was a real guy, but I guess it’s a legend that he beat the, uh, the machine, the steam driver.  But he worked so hard, sweated so much, put so much out of uh– just gave his whole self to beatin’ the steam driver that he, he had a heart attack.  Just too much for his heart.  And he died.  But everyone was so impressed cause he did beat him, he did beat the steam driver.  I think they made a statue, I always heard the story, I’m sure there’s books and things out there.”





This was told to me by my dad’s buddy, Evan Rennie.  I had actually heard this story when I was young, but it was nice to get a refresher.  This tale follows the track of a typical legend.  The main figure possesses a mythic power (strength in this case) and is determined to succeed.  I thought John Henry’s death at the end of the tale presented an interesting twist.  If anything, his death helps grow the legend even more.  He went out doing what he loved to do: driving railroad ties.


Three Soldiers Coming Home From War

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SO.


SO:  “This is the story of three soldiers coming home from war.  And they’re walking through the countryside and they’re really hungry and they’re tired.  And they come across this little village.  And they walk into the village and the people aren’t overly friendly and the soldiers say to them, ya know, “Do you think you could give us some food?”  And the one house says, ya know, “We’d love to but the harvest hasn’t been good….. and we just don’t have any food to give you.”  So the soldiers go on to another house and said, “Do you think you could give us some food to eat, ya know, we’re really hungry, we just fought in the war to help all of you people… and um this other couple, this other family said, “Ya know there were soldiers that came by here recently and we gave them all of our food.”  And what really happened, uh, was these people had seen the soldiers coming and they hid all their food cause they didn’t wanna share it with the soldiers.  So the soldiers were kinda upset and they’re in the town village and they said, “Well, there’s no food, we have a good idea… we’re gonna make stone soup.”  And all the people in the village were like, “Well, what’s that?  I’ve never heard of that before”  


JK:  “Stone Soup?”


SO:  Stone. S-T-O-N-E.  Stone soup.  So the soldiers said, “We gotta get a big, big pot of water and let’s build a fire, and they boiled this big, big pot of water.  And then the soldiers said, Go find us three nice, round, smooth, stones.”  And the villagers were, uh, kinda excited, they went and they got the stones and they put the stones in their and the soldiers were stirring them.  And the soldiers said, “Ya know, do you think maybe we should….put some carrots in there?”  And the villagers said, “Yea, that sounds like a good idea, we could find some carrots.”  So they put some carrots in there.  And then they stir it up, and then they said, “Uhh maybe we should put some celery in their.”  And the villagers ran home and got the celery  and put it in there.  And then the soldiers said, “Well, what if we put some barley in there?”  And the villagers ran home and got the barley.  So it was startin’ to smell really, really good and then the villagers said, “Wait a minute, we need something more than this… we need some bread.”  And they went home and got their bread, got the bread.”  And then the villagers said, “Nah, we need, we need to have a big, big dinner here.”  So they set up all these tables in the town square and it ended up turning into this big, big party.  And the villagers were so, so happy that they had this big party.  And then the soldiers said, “Well, we do need some place to sleep.”  So they go the best houses in the village.  One of the soldiers slept at the Mayor’s house, one slept at a priest’s house, and the the other slept at a really wealthy person’s house.  The villagers thought the soldiers were so clever to have this soup made out of stones.”


JK:  Where is that from?


SO:  It’s an old tale, it’s an old French tale.  It was just about how they conned the people, they didn’t even realize, ya know the people were being stingy, but the soldiers kinda conned them into making soup.  And the villagers ended up being so happy with the party, they thought these guys were just the best in the world.  In the beginning they weren’t even gonna give them anything.”




This tale was told to me by my dad’s friend, Stephen.  I enjoyed listening to how the wit and cunning of the soldiers got them everything they wanted and more.  I think this story encapsulates one of humanity’s basic animalistic tendencies: greed.  We see this when the townspeople will not give any of their food to the weary soldiers.  Everyone seems to be thinking for themselves– their minds are solely focused on their own survival.  It isn’t until the townspeople hear they will get something out of the soldier’s request that they being to cooperate and act more hospitable.


The Motel’s Hat

“A spooky story, we were away, Sue and I and another couple, and we were in this old really rundown motel, kinda– bed and breakfast.  We were skiing and uh, so we go check in in the lobby waiting room thing, ya know, where you go to get your room keys, and the lady behind the desk was kinda weird, little odd.  There was this big old picture behind the counter, it was portrait of this old guy.  Long skinny face.  White hair pokin’ out at the ears and he had this hat on.  It was like a hat you’d see guys wear back in the 1920s, 30s, great depression era kinda thing, not one you’d see out today.  Anyway, the picture caught my eye, cause they guy looked spooky, just very gaunt.  In writing at the bottom it said “Founder” and then the guy’s name that I don’t remember.  And then the dates of his life.  He had died like 15 years ago or something.  Anyway we get the keys, and go to the room and I found my way makin’ it down this creepy hallway and there was this door at the end that didn’t really seem to go anywhere, so I opened the door… and I was reaching for the light switch and I stepped into the room and fell like two feet into the room, so the door was like two feet higher than the floor of the room.  So now I’m gettin’ just a little bit of light from the hallway comin’ into the room and somebody reaches in and finds the lightswitch and there’s just a hat….  on the floor, and that was the only thing in the room, it was barren, just the hat.  Looked just like the one the guy was wearing in the picture.  So now I’m pretty spooked.  And I picked up the hat and looked at it and it said:  “I am the hat, touch me not.”  And we just looked at each other, dropped it, and ran out of the room.  It was the creepiest night I’ve ever had.  We thought the guy was comin’ back to haunt us or something. We were scared to death.  Ran down the hall like little kids.”




This story was told to me by my Uncle Steve.  He said this happened when he and my Aunt Susan were in their late twenties, early thirties.  I find any ghost stories that spook legitimate adults to be pretty funny.  When he tells the story now, Uncle Steve seems to think it was just a crazy coincidence that the hat he stumbled upon looked exactly like the hat worn by the creepy looking founder of the hotel in the portrait.  Either way however, I think a small part of my Uncle could still believe in the supernatural based off of this one experience.

The Polite Moose

“So Connor, Dave, and (insert the name of the person you’re telling the joke to; we’ll say Jack in this case) went out camping.  They went out camping, just in the woods.  They’re sitting by the bonfire and the Park Ranger stops by to, ya know, make sure Connor, Dave, and Jack are following the rules of the park.  And they talk for a little and everything is all good, but just before the Park Ranger leaves, he says, “Just a heads up, you know, nothing too bad to worry about, but like there’s a Polite Moose that lives in this forest and every now and then he might come into somebody’s camp and uhh…..  I don’t know how to say it, but ya know, like he fucks one of us.  But like, so many people here, nobody heard of Moose in long time, so like, nothing to worry about.”  So ya know, like the boys have fun, they drink a little, and then they all go to their tents, uh, for the night, and Jack was really concerned about the Polite Moose, like ya know, he’s gonna come fuck him in the middle of the night.  So they were drinking like wine or champagne earlier, so he says, ya know, I’m gonna put this champagne cork up my butt, so even if like I’m sleeping and the Moose comes and wants to fuck me, ya know, he won’t be able to penetrate me, ya know.  So the other one’s are sleeping in the middle of the night, it was very dark and quiet… All of the sudden you hear from Jack’s tent “(sound of cork being uncorked, then in a very deep voice) Good evening, Jack.”



This joke relies heavily on the delivery, therefore it’s tough to get it fully across on paper.  During the punchline, the teller will stick his finger inside his cheek and then pull it out quickly, making a popping sound.  Then he will make his voice substantially deeper and say “Good Evening, (whoever he’s telling the joke to)”  I first heard this joke as a 16 or 17 year old while I was working my summer job.  Every summer since I was 16, I’ve done valet parking at a resort on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  The rest of the valets and I have a fair amount of downtime during the 8 hour shift, so we just tell jokes and stories to pass the time.  This joke belongs to my boss and good friend, Rado.  Rado is originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.  He came to the US a little over 10 years ago.  It was tough to get his Bulgarian accent to translate onto the page, but listening to him tell the joke in imperfect English is hilarious.   

The Blind Woman and Her Dog

The interviewer’s comments are denoted through initials JK, while the interviewee’s responses are denoted through initials SC.



SC:  There was this blind woman, this is an old horror story that I betch everybody.. your teacher’s probably heard it.  Ok so, there was this woman, this blind woman, she was blind.  And she lived alone and she had a dog, a german shepard, and the dog protected her and kept her safe, but the police came by and said, “There’s a serial killer out and you need to lock your doors and be very careful tonight.  You’re sure you don’t want us to stay with you?”  And she said, “No, no I have my dog.  He’s big, he would scare off anybody.  She says, “Watch this.  Everytime I call the dog, he comes and licks my hand and I know I’m safe.”  So she calls Fido, the dog’s name, and the dog comes and licks her hand right in front of the police officer.  “I really feel safe with him, I think I’m gonna be fine.”  So she says goodnight and you know, throughout the night she calls Fido and he comes and licks her hand and she goes to sleep… and Fido licks her hand.  And all through the night, she wakes up and Fido licks her hand.  She calls for her dog and Fido licks her hand.  And then, so the next day, the police officer comes by to check on her and he knocks and knocks on the door, no answer, no answer.  What is it?  You know, no answer, and nobody’s seen her or anything.  They go into the house, they break in and the woman is….. completely  dead.  You know she’s all dead, like cut up, slashed.  And the dog is slashed too, like the dog is hanging.. um from a lightbulb thing, like from a string or something is the way I remember it was told to me.  And in blood written on the wall, it said, “People can lick too.”


JK: Oh my gosh.


SC: Isn’t that awful!?!?  I learned that one when I was young and the reason why it was so scary for us is that we had a blind school nearby.  It hit close to home.  My friend Mitzy Freemyer, we would always have slumber parties at her house and she lived like just a block from the blind school, so it just felt more real to us.





I heard this story from my Aunt Susan.  I liked how it’s dark and gruesome story, but it ends with a comedic twist– I was expecting something more clever, not something I would laugh at.  Similar to the Ant Face Girl story, this tale really freaked out my Aunt because she could relate to it: she grew up close to the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA.  It’s interesting to see how small kids can scare themselves by finding any little connection to a story they’ve heard.