Ghost story of northeastern Tennessee’s famed Fiddler’s Rock and a local fiddle player who has a bad run-in with some evil rattlesnakes.
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The Ghost of Fiddler’s Rock, Tennessee – Audio Story
Back in the late 1800s, Martin Stone was the most popular young fiddle player in northeastern Tennessee. For years, he wandered the mountainous backroads of Johnson County, playing at every social event that would have him — church picnics, weddings, barn dances, even funerals. It was a good living, allowing Martin plenty of leisure time to do whatever he wanted.
In the summertime, Martin liked to take Sunday off and sit up on a rocky bluff near the top of Stone Mountain. There, he would play his fiddle and watch the sun come up over the green, rolling hills. Sometimes he would spend all day up there, playing reel after reel until the sun dropped from the sky.
One day, Martin was playing a slow, leisurely tune on his fiddle when a rattlesnake slithered out from under a rock, curled up in the sun, and watched him play. Then another one came out and joined him, followed by yet another. Before Martin knew it, the surrounding rocks were filled with rattlesnakes. Most people would have fainted dead away in terror at that point, but Martin was fascinated. For the snakes made no move to strike — instead, they swayed back and forth to the music like scaly, reptilian metronomes.
As the sun went down and dark shadows filled the valley, the snakes slithered back into their nests. Martin packed up his fiddle with a chuckle, and made plans to come back next week — but with a surprise.
The next Sunday, Martin climbed to the rocky overhang and began to play his fiddle. Again, the rattlesnakes slithered out from beneath the rocks and listened to him, hypnotized. Martin chuckled to himself, put down his fiddle and picked up a shotgun. He began blasting away at the rattlesnakes, picking them off one by one. The other snakes slithered back to their nests in terror.
Martin stopped shooting and laughed heartily as he collected the dead snakes in a burlap sack. This is too easy, he thought to himself — I can make even more money selling rattlesnake hides!
Every Sunday for the next few weeks, Martin returned to the bluff, played his fiddle until the snakes came out, then began shooting. It became a sport to him, and soon he became known around the county as the “Fiddlin’ Snake Man.” Whenever someone wanted a snake skin to wrap around their hat or to make into a belt, or a rattle for their babies to play with, Martin was the man to see.
One Sunday toward the end of summer, Martin returned to the bluff like he had done many times before. As the sun rose, he began to play a soft waltz on his fiddle. Once again, the rattlesnakes wiggled out from underneath the rocks and listened, swaying back and forth to the music.
Martin stopped playing, reached for his shotgun — then stopped. Something in the snakes’ eyes caught his attention. On his previous trips, the snakes’ black eyes seemed to glaze over from the soft, gentle notes of his fiddle. But today, the snakes glared at Martin with fiery red eyes, burning with intense hatred. Martin was hypnotized in their glare — as hard as he tried, he couldn’t reach for his gun.
The snakes surrounded Martin and, one by one, began crawling up inside his pant legs. Martin was frozen with terror as he felt their scaly bodies wriggle around his legs, his chest and his arms. All at once, the snakes started biting, their sharp fangs ripping into Martin’s flesh. As their icy venom flowed through his veins, all Martin could do was scream — a horrifying scream that resounded throughout the valley.
A few days later, a search party found Martin’s lifeless body sprawled across the overhang, his fiddle by his side. They looked with horror at the bite marks that covered his skin. Even more of a mystery was the loaded shotgun leaning against the rock, well within Martin’s reach. Why didn’t he try to defend himself?
To this day, some Johnson County residents refuse to climb to the rocky overhang at the top of Stone Mountain, Tennessee which they now call “Fiddler’s Rock.” For in the lazy summer months, when the sun rises over the hills, they say you can hear the faint notes of a fiddle, followed by a high-pitched screeching sound — the scream of Martin Stone, as the snakes take their revenge.
-THE END –
Where is Fiddler’s Rock?
There are several versions of the Fiddler’s Rock story placing it in different locations, with different events and hauntings. The most common version – the Martin Stone story – places Fiddler’s Rock atop Tennessee’s Stone Mountain off U.S. Highway 421, near the small towns of Trade and Mountain City. Follow Stone Mountain Road to the large cell tower at the top, and the rocky ledge where Martin Stone played for the snakes is underneath (Google Maps). Locals also call this ledge Screaming Rock.
However, another Fiddler’s Rock can be found in the Daniel Boone National Forest, just over the state line in Kentucky (Directions). This is believed to be the location of old community dances. Look closely and you’ll find a flat outcropping of sandstone where the fiddle player stood. An old pioneer road nearby served as the dance floor. There are mysterious engravings of fiddles, cowboys, a rifle and various names and dates – but no snakes.
The Martin Stone story is just one “Fiddler’s Rock” legend. Others involve moonshining, silver mines or fiddle players lost in caves to explain the strange fiddling sounds some locals claim to hear. Like any good story, “The Ghost of Fiddler’s Rock” can be told many different ways, depending on the storyteller.
NOTE: This story was first recorded and published in 1997-1998 as “The Ghost of Fiddler’s Rock” and has been updated with current information.
Adapted from folklore by Craig Dominey
Told by Jim McAmis
Photography by Jon Kownacki
Sound Design by Henry Howard