Georgia folktale about a man meaner than the Devil himself, and the real place where Spanish Moss comes from. Adapted from folklore by Babs Bagriansky.

Listen to storyteller Babs Bagriansky narrate “The Meanest Man”

Over in Savannah, Georgia, there lived a Wicked Man. Everybody feared him – he’d get neighbors fighting against one another (oh, he loved that!), he’d tie tin cans to the tails of cats, put poisonous things in children’s food. He even beat his wife and dog.

Nobody liked him – except the Devil, of course. ‘Cause you know how the Devil likes evil people. So that Wicked Man was right surprised when he was walking down the street one day, and he felt a presence behind him. He turned and looked, and there he saw the long arm of the Devil himself reaching out for him. The Wicked Man said, “Whoa! Mister Devil, you’re not comin’ for me, are ya’?”

The Devil said, “Well, I reckon I am! You’ve been here a long time!”

The Wicked Man said, “Oh, Mister Devil, I got so much meanness left in me. Could you let me stay here just a little bit longer? C’mon, please?”

Well, the Devil was a little bit reluctant to take him back down anyway. So he said, “Alright, I’ll let you stay here a little bit longer.”

Then the Wicked Man said, “Oh, Mister Devil – just one more thing. I know it’s askin’ a lot of ya’, but next time, could you not sneak up on me like that? Could you give me a sign first? Something I could see? Something I could hear?”

The Devil said, “Alright, no problem – it’s a deal.” And he went back down.

Then that Wicked Man got a big ol’ grin on his face. You see, he wasn’t only just as mean as the Devil – he was as smart as the Devil, too. He knew he was getting older, and was going both blind and deaf! So anything that the Devil sent for him to see or hear – why, that Wicked Man wasn’t going to be able to do it!

Dirt road lined with Spanish Moss trees, Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

And that’s just what happened. Time passed, and the fella just kept doin’ his evil ways. The Devil came back up for him many times – flashin’ his name out in lightning, thundering it out in the clouds. But that Wicked Man couldn’t see it or hear it – so he couldn’t die!

Finally, the Devil just gave up, since there was nothing he could do. After all, a deal’s a deal. So the Wicked Man just kept on wandering around spreading his nasty ways. He headed up north up to Charleston, South Carolina, then up through Wilmington, North Carolina, and as far north as Virginia Beach, Virginia. Then he went on back down to New Orleans, Louisiana, and over to Jacksonville, Florida, and then back over to Savannah. He couldn’t eat anything – berries would shrivel up when he walked by, animals would run away, and the water would turn black before he could drink it. Nobody would talk to him – he was all by himself.

And he kept getting skinnier and skinner – in fact, the only thing that grew on him was his hair. It got long and gray and wiry, and would catch on every tree and bush that he passed, and the wind would blow it around.

One day, he just disappeared, and the only thing left behind was his hair. It just kept growing everywhere he’d been. Southerners call it “Spanish moss,” but that ain’t what it really is. It’s the hair of the meanest man who ever lived. Y’all come down and try to pick some of it. He’s left a nice surprise for you – a chigger or two just itchin’ to get under your skin. To let you know where that mean ol’ man has been!


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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Jamie McDonough

    I always wondered why the good Lord would let the Devil be warden of all the bad people who are deceased. I always wondered if that was giving too much privilege to the Devil. But I also knew God has a reason for everything and I have no reason to assume I know better. This was a fun little story. My thanks to The Moonlit Road.

  2. Carolina Ferreira Jørgensen

    Funny, in Denmark we have a very similar story – only, in Denmark the story is based on a female character.

  3. This is by far one of the best stories about where chiggers come from! Loved it!

  4. Sandra

    Well, in spite of all the other commenters, I found this story a little bit dumb. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s just that it takes a LOT to “scare” me. I don’t scare easy at all. And, I am a published writer. So this story, perhaps if it had been read by someone else, may not have been so goofy sounding. I was actually laughing at the way the narrator was reading. I am a big horror story fan, but this one just didn’t cut it for me. However, your other stories…and I read them all when my friend forwards them to me, I have found the majority of those stories very good…very interesting indeed. This one? I would send it to the archives….

  5. Kattykat

    it was GREATTTTT!!!!!

  6. Carley

    Hey well i acually like this story! Its iterresting.. 🙂 yall did good with the story!

  7. Joe | Pool Pump Motors

    I truly appreciate this article.Much thanks again. Will read on…

  8. reanna

    good story.

  9. this story is old .i have heard it many times before