Steve Clark is a Navy veteran and college student but lacks direction. Unable to decide what to do with his 175 accumulated college credits, he is encouraged to take a break from learning and try teaching instead. Knowing good advice when he hears it, he packs up his belongings and his pregnant wife Lacey and moves to Medley Springs Township in Burke County, Missouri. Though he is an outsider to the Ozarks, it is love at first sight for Steve and the old run down schoolhouse where he is to teach.
Members of the school board help the Clarks find a place to live, but follow up their recommendation with the cryptic warning that the house in question is not “natural” (27) and that they fear the pregnant Lacey might see something in the house that would “mark the baby” (28). Undaunted, the Clarks rent the old house, complete with the massive bed on the upstairs floor.
It isn’t long before Steve and Lacey meet the unnatural aspect of their new home in the form of a ghost they call “Hiram Walker”. Hiram doesn’t exactly haunt the house; he haunts the large bed that came with the house. Hiram is actually Benjamin Springfield, a Confederate soldier from Tennessee who died in the Civil War. His wife Elizabeth lived to old age and passed away in their bed, which her ancestors later brought with them to Missouri.
At first Hiram looks quite ghostly, just a wisp of a person, but as he becomes stronger and more tangible the neighbors begin to wonder at his presence and Steve has to pass him off as an adopted uncle. This scheme is only partially successful and eventually Steve is forced to publicly prove to the community, particularly the virulently fundamentalist preacher, Pastor Tucker, that Hiram is real and not some evil manifestation.
Music is what moves this story along and gives Hiram his strength. Hiram was a farmer by necessity but a musician by choice in his former life. He shares his passion for music with Lacey, who has a music degree from the University of Missouri. It was a little unexpected that it was not love for his wife, but his devotion to his music, that had kept him tied to the earth for almost a century after his death. Music gives Hiram substance and keeps him tied to the mortal world, influencing lives and the evolution of music.
Fiddler’s Ghost is peppered with the Elizabethan language that so entranced the book’s author, Mitch Jayne, when he came to the Ozarks many years ago to teach in his own one-room schoolhouse in Dent County, Missouri. Like Steve Clark, Jayne was an Ozarks outsider who fell in love with the Ozarks land and people. While not a typical ghost story with the usual chills and thrills, the book is quite readable and illustrates Jayne’s love for the Ozarks. The book is somewhat wordy and moves a little slow for my taste, but the old Ozarks language is lovely to read, and I am grateful that Jayne chose to share it with his audience.
Jayne wrote several books set in the Ozarks and in 2008 he won the Missouri Governor’s Humanities Book Award for Fiddler’s Ghost. He passed away in Columbia, Missouri in 2010.