NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Summer, 1962
BLUESTONE LORE AND BLUESTONE MEN
WHAT in the world can a town’s bedrock and its folklore
have to do with each other? The answer to this
riddle is that they may have a great deal. For long years
of give and take between a town’s people and its bedrock sometimes
result in the birth of a rich and colorful family of folk beliefs,
tales, and ways of doing things. Of course, this does not happen
in every town. Take, for example, a town whose bedrock acts
as little more than a hidden platter on which are heaped up glacial
debris or riverborne sands and gravels from which the town’s
living things draw nourishment. In a place like this a man may
lead a long and useful life without ever catching a glimpse of the
bedrock which supports him and his neighbors. This man’s personal
stock of folklore will ignore his bedrock, for it seems never
to touch his emotions or shape his desires.
In another town, the discovery that the bedrock of the place
has a cash value may quickly bring into being a large body of folklore.
This is the folklore of a mining town. It is made up of tales of
sudden wealth and equally sudden poverty, of gambling and violent
death, of living it up and doing without. It is an anxious
folklore which reflects a sense of insecurity.
There is still another kind of town—one which strikes a balance
between these two extremes. This is the kind of place whose
people know their bedrock and get along well with it. They
neither ignore nor exploit it but use it with moderation and a
wholesome pride. In such a town a body of folklore grows up that
links together town and bedrock in a way that gives the place an unmistakable air of being at home in its landscape. Its people
acquire a comfortable sense of permanency, of having roots that
go deep into the enduring rocks beneath their feet. The town in
which I live—Woodstock, New York—has much of this quality.
True enough, there was one period when the town and the rock
on which it stands lapsed into bad relations. That was the day of
intensive quarrying. But through the rest of its recorded history,
Woodstock and its bedrock have been on good terms. A small part
of the town’s bedrock is formed of red shale, a useful material for
surfacing roads. But most of it is made up of layer upon layer of
the hard, fine-grained sandstone known as bluestone. Through
many years of living in intimate and daily contact with its bluestone,
the town’s people have accumulated a great wealth of bluestone
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