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The Johnny Darling Frolic: a local legend lives on in Livingston Manor

By By Jonathan Fox
July 5, 2012

The Johnny Darling Frolic, spearheaded by local historian Mia Koerner, began in 2009—the 200th anniversary of storyteller Darling’s birth. Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling’s reputation is a story in itself, rich in legend, based on fact. Famous for his “tall tales,” Darling’s love of folk stories and his passion for children and keeping the spoken word a living tradition has become a part of the landscape in these here parts, and Koerner’s commitment to keeping his spirit alive is a big part of the picture.

“I didn’t want the next generation to lose sight of what Johnny Darling stood for” Koerner told me, “and these days, with technology and the internet, if we don’t maintain his legacy of storytelling, it will surely die.” Traditionally, Appalachian folk music and stories were not written, but passed down orally from one generation to another, and the Frolic is dedicated to commemorating this form of entertainment. “Folk tales, which are known for exaggeration and hyperbole, used to make the common experience uncommon. As the stories made their way around the country, they often grew into unbelievably tall tales...and this is part of the charm.”

Darling, who lived in Shandelee, met his wife Martha at a “frolic” (read “merry or cheerful event) in Purvis, NY—now called Livingston Manor—on the grounds of what is now the Livingston Manor Central School. In tribute, this year’s frolic will take place directly across the street at the Water Wheel Junction (3 Main St.), and will be an all-day affair on July 14, beginning at 10 am.m. Local storytellers Jim Newton and Malcolm Lamoreu will join kids (over the age of ten) in a “tall tale” contest sponsored by the Livingston Manor Free Library, replete with prizes and boasting rights, as befitting the man himself.

Craft vendors displaying quilts, weaving demonstrations, homemade soaps and candle-making workshops will be followed by local musicians Little Sparrow, the acoustic sounds of Mike Vreeland and 16-year-old equestrian and clogger Ashlynn Ratner performing with Iris Gillingham’s tribute to Darling’s Gaelic heritage, in the form of Irish High Stepping, the traditional dance of Johnny’s ancestral home.