Tag Archives: ATU 366

The Golden Arm

A is 54 years old. She was born in Ft. Waldon, Florida and moved to Sylvania, Georgia at 2 years old. She’d been there all her life until last year (2021). A has a thick Southern accent that’s very pleasant to listen to. She told me this story, or rather instructions on how to tell the story, in conversation. It’s a ghost story that’s meant to be performed around a campfire.

“There’s one that’s like an old campfire tale, if I can remember how it goes… ok so this woman had a golden arm and this man knew about her right, and he had plotted and planned on how to get that golden arm to sell it and make some money off of it so he went and… he went to try and get it from her while she was asleep and she woke up and he ended up killing her, well as the story goes he killed her, got the golden arm and buried her out in the woods by the swamp and he was… one night out with some friends talking and all of a sudden… after his friends had left… he kept hearing something and it was the woman saying “I want my golden arm…” and remember this is by the campfire and it’s dark so each time you repeat that line “I want my golden arm” you have to say it louder and louder (laughing) and then you pick someone that’s sitting near you and you yell out “you have it!” and grab ‘em! It scared the bejesus out of me every time I heard it! I was probably 13 when I first heard it, you know we went on family trips with friends… on weekend trips out by the river so… I used to tell it too.”

According to John Burrison (see Burrison, John A. (1968). “The Golden Arm” The Folk Tale And Its Literary Use By Mark Twain and Joel C. Harris. Atlanta, Georgia: Georgia State College. pp. 1–23) The Golden Arm or ATU 366 (see http://www.mftd.org/index.php?action=atu&src=atu&id=366) is a very old folktale that has been documented for 200 years but its oral tradition goes back further. The belief underlying the tale is that the dead “can find no rest until its physical remains are intact.” The lesson of the tale may initially have been respect for the dead, but variations have made it a cautionary tale about greed. There are many variations across different cultures where the missing item is not an arm, but some other body part. In media, the tale was told around a campfire by Andy Griffith in a T.V. show. A version similar to the one A told me was a favorite of Mark Twain’s and can be found in How to tell a story and other Essays (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3250/3250-h/3250-h.htm#link2H_4_0003) For more about Mark Twain’s version and a fun but somewhat unrelated story about a ghostly Twain and copyright law please see https://marktwainstudies.com/happy-halloween-twains-favorite-ghost-story-and-twain-speaks-from-the-netherworld/