A Devil’s Fiddle


celloMost summer evenings on the island, a group of teens gather at the central store then head off on foot, bike, or car to a designated beach until curfew. After telling stories and hanging about, someone comes up with a great idea for a prank to pull. Most of the pranks are harmless and the Islanders laugh and joke about them.

A notorious one is called playing the Devil’s Fiddle. It requires very little equipment or skill — just violin rosin, a spool of black Aunt Lydia’s carpet thread, a small nail, and the ability to not get caught. The thread is tied securely to the nail which is then wedged under a clapboard (wooden siding pronounced clabbahd) on a house. The person backs away from the house letting the thread out until he or she is out of sight — either behind shrubs or far enough away to make an escape. The person runs the hunk of rosin back and forth along the taught thread, playing it like a bow on a fiddle. The sound inside the house is subtle but noticeable — like the mild vibration of a worn kitchen appliance. Because everyone on the island knows about the Devil’s Fiddle, the element of the unknown has rendered it unexciting.

Many decades ago a group of teens heard about the arrival of a new family of four who had rented a house on the island for a week. Someone said the man of the house was older and not in very good shape. So half a dozen young yahoos, with no harm intended, piled into a jeep, approached the house with headlights off, and parked just out of sight. They stood quietly under the cover of darkness as one approached the house and placed the nail under a clabbahd. He held onto the spool of thread and let out a long line, joining his friends on the road.

He played the “fiddle,” and his friends watched as the cellar lights in the house came on. They muffled laughs as they watched a flashlight beam flit across windows. Lights on the second floor went on. Soon flashlight beams in the attic were visible. Then the fiddler played “Shave ‘n a Haircut.” The front door opened, and a very athletic and angry man appeared in the door way. He stepped outside into the line of thread, grabbed hold of it, and shined the flashlight at the kids now laughing loudly in the road. The fiddler pulled, trying to get the thread and nail back, but finally dropped it and ran with the angry man close behind. They all scrambled to the jeep, running alongside the moving vehicle, grabbing hold, and jumping in as the driver stepped on the gas. The man was the last to grab onto the back of the jeep but couldn’t hold on. In the darkness they saw the flashlight beam behind them making circles low in the road and went home with a bad feeling.

The next day the man, bandaged but not seriously hurt, packed up his family and left the island. A deputy sheriff visited the homes of the most likely suspects. For decades after, there was never a trace of rosin or Aunt Lydia’s carpet thread to be found on the island.


Betsy Hanscom writes a monthly email newsletter for those people who have signed up to receive it. Subscribers’ names are included in a monthly drawing for a free Maine Warmer. Snippets is a feature story in the newsletter which also includes a sale item available to subscribers and their friends and is not open to the general public. To sign up go to the Maine Warmers’ Web site.

1 comment

  1. longbranch pennywhistle says: June 27, 2012

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