The Devil Goes Skating

When Hell freezes over. [From feltandwire.com]

When Hell freezes over. [From feltandwire.com]

A slight and frosty tale today from a series of ghost stories submitted to the Dayton [Ohio] Daily News in 1914.

The Devil Goes Skating

No. 678

One winter night a crowd of farm boys went skating. The ice was smooth and the boys were soon having a fine time, and one of them said: “My! How I wish the old Devil would come and skate with us.” The boys laughed but thought no more of that remark until a few of them, at one end of the pond noticed a figure coming across the fields. They watched it come nearer and saw it was skating swiftly across the snow covered corn field. Then these boys started for home. The other boys did not notice the figure till it skated in among them. Then they ran without waiting to take off their skates. They always declared “it” had horns and one foot and a hoof, and really was Satan himself. The boys that had seen it coming, said that no human being could skate on the top of six inches of newly fallen snow. The boys never went skating on that pond again.

This story was told by my father, who claimed it was true, and admitted that he ran as fast as the rest of them.

Dayton [OH] Daily News 14 March 1914: p. 7

A very minor squib of a story, scarcely anything at all, really, but built on centuries of “speak of the Devil and He will appear” folklore. We half expect to hear that the blaspheming boys were skating on the Sabbath.

Now we know that the Devil is a party animal.  Relentless in his quest for souls, he is a regular attendee at dances and card-games. And he must love the outdoors since so many recreation areas are named for him: Devil’s Lake, Devil’s Canyon, The Devil’s Garden. Yet it is highly unusual to find Lucifer crashing a skating party.

It is not for want of practice. The Devil on ice may harken back to the notion that Hell’s Dominion contains both fire and ice: Dante’s 9th circle of Hell is Lake Cocytus, where the contorted bodies of traitors lie frozen in the ice, an image popularized by Gustave Doré’s widely published illustrations for Dante’s Inferno. And the figure coming across the fields surely owes something to Pilgrim’s Progress:  “But now…poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way, before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him…”

Deeply embedded cultural references in a piece of family folklore aside, any thoughts on what the creature might have been? A stray goat seen imperfectly in the twilight? Or the Devil accepting a careless invitation? Thoughts to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com, who is waiting for the Holiday on Ice version of the Inferno.

dore cocytus frozen lake

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com.

This just in: Author G.H. Finn sent me this fascinating link on #FolkloreThursday and says  “Skating was once viewed as magic & is linked to the Norse god Ullr.”