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.
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!
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!
– THE END –