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The Legend of the Jack ‘O Lantern

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was an Irish blacksmith who was known throughout his town as Stingy Jack. One Halloween night, Stingy Jack was at the local pub, and as usual, he’d had more than enough to drink. As he searched his pockets for money so that he could have one more drink before walking home, he suddenly looked up to see the Devil sitting on the stool next to him.

“It’s time, Jack,” the Devil said. “I’ve come to take your cheap, lying carcass down to Hell where you belong.”

“Well, now,” replied Stingy Jack, “I suppose you’re right. I’ve never felt any particular allegiance to the truth, and I certainly would rather steal than part with a farthing. So I’ve no doubt that Hell is just the place I deserve.”

“I’m delighted you agree,” said the Devil. “Shall we be off then?”

“I’m anxious to go,” Stingy Jack, smiled, “but before we’re off, would you allow me just one more glass of whiskey. For a soul as valuable as mine, I’m sure you can spare just a moment.”

“Alright then,” the Devil conceded, “have your glass and let’s be going.”

“Barkeep, another glass if you will.”

Now the bartender couldn’t see the Devil and hadn’t paid any attention to Stingy Jack during the past few moments, assuming the despicable blacksmith was just talking to himself. So when he walked over to Stingy Jack’s end of the bar, he was less than cordial.

“Money first, Jack,” the bartender said. “No money, no whiskey.”

Without a word, Stingy Jack pulled his pockets out of his pants and they were, of course, empty. As the bartender started to walk away, Stingy Jack turned to the Devil who gave Jack an icy stare.

“Very well,” the Devil said, “but know this Jack: when I get your hide in Hell this whiskey will cost you dearly.” And as soon as he finished his words, the Devil changed himself into a sixpence, which dropped onto the bar in front of Stingy Jack.

The bartender, hearing falling coin, turned and began to make his way back when Stingy Jack surprised him by snatching the sixpence off the bar and shoving it quickly into his pocket. “No, thanks,” Stingy Jack called as he headed quickly for the door, “I’ve had my fill tonight.” And he was off and into the street before anyone could respond.

Out in the moonlit Halloween night the Devil’s voice screamed out from Stingy Jack’s pocket. “You tricked me, you worthless sack of manure. There’s a cross in your pocket, though how it got here I cannot figure.”

“Oh, the cross was there all the time,” laughed Stingy Jack. “But when I turned my pockets out I was careful to palm it. A fellow can’t be too careful these days.”

“Take out the cross, now,” threatened the Devil.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” replied Stingy Jack. “As long as that cross is in my pocket with you, you can’t return to your true form. And as long as you’re a sixpence, you won’t be taking me down to Hell.”

The Devil let loose all manner of curses upon Stingy Jack, but the blacksmith paid him no bother as he strolled through the empty streets humming none too softly. At last the Devil fell silent.

“Alright,” said the Devil with all the restraint he could find, “what is it you want?”

“Well, I’ll tell you,” said Jack. “I’ve no desire to carry the Devil in my pocket the rest of my days, even if he is just a sixpence.” And Stingy Jack burst out laughing, thoroughly pleased with himself.

“So now I’ll make you a deal,” Stingy Jack continued when he regained his voice. “I’ll set you free if you swear you’ll never take my soul. If you refuse,” Stingy Jack went on, before the Devil could reply, “then I guess the world will lose its Devil and the drawer in my dresser that holds my sock will soon have one cross and one cursed sixpence as permanent tenants.”

After a long silence the Devil finally said, “Very well. I swear that if you set me free I will never take your soul into Hell.” And Stingy Jack drew the cross and the sixpence out of his pocket and, with another burst of laughter, tossed the sixpence into the road. Instantly the sixpence changed back into the Devil who glared menacingly at Stingy Jack before disappearing in an angry flash.

Many years later, Stingy Jack finally died of old age on another Halloween night. Because of his miserly and deceitful ways in life, however, he was refused admittance into Heaven. So Stingy Jack went down to Hell, but the Devil also refused him admittance.

“Oh, Jack, you’ve forgotten our bargain,” laughed the Devil. “In exchange for my freedom I agreed never to take your soul into Hell. And so, I’m just keeping my word by sending you away.”

“Well,” sighed Stingy Jack, “I guess the last trick has been played on me. Before I go, though, can you at least spare me a light so I can see my way?”

“No tricks this time, Jack. Take this to light your way, as a courtesy from one trickster to another and let me never see your face again,” said the Devil as he tossed a coal from Hell to Stingy Jack.

“But how will I carry this coal?” asked Jack.

“I see you died with a rutabaga in your hand,” said the Devil, pointing to the vegetable Stingy Jack still held. “Carve out the middle and set the coal inside for your lantern. Now be gone.” And with that the Devil slammed the gates of Hell shut on Stingy Jack.

With little choice, Stingy Jack did as the Devil had suggested, fashioning a lantern from the rutabaga to light his way as his spirit wandered the earth.

And so it was that the people of Ireland, hearing the story of Stingy Jack, began to call him Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-‘O-Lantern. And on Halloween nights, when restless spirits, including Stingy Jack’s, were most prevalent on the earth, the Irish began to make lanterns from rutabagas, turnips, or even potatoes that they placed in the windows of their cottages. And Stingy Jack, always looking for some place to call home, would see these lanterns in the cottage windows and falsely assume that some other spirit had already claimed the cottage home. Thus, he continued to wander, always looking for someplace to call home.

And when the Irish came to America and discovered that turnips and rutabagas and potatoes were in shorter supply, they began to carve pumpkins to place in their windows on Halloween night.

So learn your lesson well: carve your pumpkins and light them well this Halloween night, lest your home becomes the place that Stingy Jack can finally call home!