Ghost Stories: The Golden Arm

One of the most popular ghost stories has been going around for a LONG time: The Golden Arm. It goes something like this:

"THere once was a man whose wife had a golden arm. When she died, she wanted to be buried with it. But he dug it up and took it home, because he couldn't bear to bury something so valuable. But that night, he heard a voice in the distance saying "who's got my golden arm? who's got my golden arm?" Then it got louder - "who's got my golden arm?" Then louder, until it was right beside his bed... "who's got my golden arm?" And then....YOU GOT IT!"

A skilled storyteller can make this spooky as hell, and really get a jump out of the last line. Still well known among kids, but it's an OLD story - Mark Twain, who used to perform it, claimed it was an old slave story (he told it in dialect, which no one really thought was racist at the time, though we certainly would now). There're plenty of versions, such as one with a glass arm, and one Vincent Price recorded for a ghost story album called "The Leg of Gold."

I suppose that folklorists should focus on how it's a story of the folly of greed or something, but my question was always: who the heck gets an ARM made of GOLD? It must have cost a freaking fortune! Of COURSE the guy wanted to keep it instead of burying it, that thing must have been worth a mint! And what the hell kind of material for a prosthetic limb is gold, anyway? It's expensive and heavy. The woman probably died of a crooked spine. Or maybe the weight of the thing caused her to fall on a railroad track. In any case, I'll bet she died from doing something stupid - just WANTING a golden arm not only shows a sense of worldly vanity, it shows a distinct lack of common sense. I'm on the guy's side in this story.

4 comments:

  1. You know, I have to admit that I always kind of wondered why the heck anyone would make a fake arm out of gold too! But I definitely remember that story from my childhood as well. Another one that seems to have remained in the active folk tradition but moved on from mere bathroom mirrors to the internet is "Bloody Mary" - which I was amused to hear a classroom of 5th graders chattering excitedly about her in technology class. :-D

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  2. There's a Tanglefoot song where the pirate singing it has a leg made of gold, which the other pirate cast for him when he was still the cabin boy after they took a lot of treasure in the battle that allowed them to retire. It's a relatively recent song, so there might be a connection.

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  3. Folkmew - there's a BIG "Bloody Mary" post coming. Kids who know I run ghost tours ask me about that all the time.

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  4. My father did this one to me with a slightly different build up, with the thief (by my own name of course!) cowering in bed, and the ghost comes slowly up the stairs,announcing each one: "Bobby, I'm on the first step . . .Bobby, I'm on the second step .. ." etc. until:
    "Bobby, I'VE GOTCHA!!!"

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PLEASE tell us where and when you heard your version (ie, "Chicago, early 1950s). And please be aware that the information may end up in a book sooner or later.