Tag Archives: golden arm

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/

The Golden Arm – Campfire Story


I called informant RM on the phone to ask if they could remember and retell any of the campfire stories they used to tell. RM remembered this one in particular because they could almost guarantee to get a scare out of at least one of their listeners.

For context, this story was usually told to a group of younger (around 7-11 years old) kids at night time either around a campfire or right before bedtime. When RM would tell this story they were sure to speak slowly and softly creating sustained suspense while enticing listeners to lean in closer.


The story is as follows:

“There was a farmer that lived out in the sticks and his wife lost her arm while working. The family was very poor, but she always wanted a golden arm so one day they got her a golden arm. As time went on, she died and the family buried her. Her two sons were having money problems so they went and dug her up but the golden arm was not there – one of the other ones had stolen it earlier. She was laying there in the coffin and then she set up and said ‘Who’s got my golden arm? Who’s got my golden arm?'”

At this point, the story is over and RM (the storyteller) would abruptly jump up and grab the arm of one of the kids who was leaning in to listen and scream, “YOU GOT IT!” RM reccounts many times where both the grabbed and ungrabbed listeners would jump with fright at this moment.

As RM finished retelling this story to the best of their memory, they laughed as they thought back to all of the times they tricked listeners with the same story.


As a campfire story, the story of The Golden Arm would not appear to carry any kind of meaning or moral. Its primary function is to simply entertain and scare listeners making for a enjoyable and memorable experience. While on its surface, this story might not seem to have any other significance, I am inclined to think that the artful performance of this story actually speaks to the relationship that is shared between the teller and its listeners. Since this story requires patience from both the listener and the teller and (ideally) culminates in a jump scare, I believe that this story would only be shared with listeners who the teller feels comfortable scaring. If there were no relationship between these parties, the teller could end up scaring the listener for good and lose their trust. The Golden Arm only works when trust is shared between its teller and its listeners. If this assumption is true, then perhaps The Golden Arm and other similar campfire stories might actually reveal more about the listener/teller and the relationships between them than initially meets the eye.

The Golden Arm

The Tale:

“Once upon a time there was a little lady who lived in a cottage…all on her own, uh, in the woods. One day, when she was out in her house, outside her house, um, working in her garden and gathering, uh, vegetables and taking care of her flowers, she um, she decided to go on over to the little graveyard…that was not too far away from her house, and she thought she would go and lay some flowers on the various graves. Well when she came upon one grave, she found this very interesting…uh…gold…thing that caught her eye, and when she looked at it more carefully, it looked like it was in the shape of an arm, and she thought that was very odd, but yet it was still so pretty and shiny. She decided she would pick it up and take it home. So she took it home with her, and she went on back home, and she made dinner and everything, and uh, lit a fire, and sat by the fireplace for a little while, and then she got tired and decided to go to bed. So she went to bed that night, and after she had fallen asleep for a little while, she, she thought she heard something and she wasn’t sure, so she sat up so she could hear a little bit better, and she heard something, um from a, sounded like from a distance going: ‘Briiiing back my golden arm. Briiiing back my golden arm.’ And it kept getting louder, and louder, and louder. And she was very nervous, she didn’t know what was happening. And it got louder, and closer. ‘Briiiing back my golden arm. (louder) Briiiing back my golden arm. BRIIIING BACK MY GOLDEN ARM.’ So the little lady…scrambled up, she got the golden arm, and she looked out but she didn’t see anyone, so she quickly ran back out to the graveyard and put it back where she found it, and ran back to her house and locked the house, and she never heard, or saw the golden arm again.”

The informant is my mom. She is from Tennessee working as a middle school Spanish teacher. She heard this tale from her mother when she was a little girl, and she then told it to my sister and I at home. The tale had a haunting impression on her as a child. My grandmother was an intimidating woman; she was very strict and got upset with my mom if she didn’t obey exactly what she wanted her to do. I believe my grandmother told this story to my mom in order to scare her and instruct her to follow the rules or avoid messing with things about which she doesn’t know enough information. It doesn’t seem to have that exciting of an ending, but I imagine my grandmother’s intention was just to scare my mom, so it didn’t matter. It also kind of disturbed my sister and me.