The Firefox Book, by Elliot Wigginton (editor)
A perfect book for #throwbackthursday, this compendium of customs and rural living practices was published in 1972, and was in its time hugely influential. The local tradition and lore documented in The Foxfire Book comes firsthand from longtime residents of Southern Appalachia. At the height of this book’s notoriety, copies could be found nearly everywhere, and for certain readers, the word foxfire (a term for Georgia’s phosphorescent lichen) might still conjure the volume’s distinctive Courier type, its sepia-toned layout, and the tooth of the cover’s heavy stock.
Subtitled Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living, the book was the brainchild of Elliot Wigginton, an English teacher who first envisioned a community oral history project as means to render the curriculum more relevant for his high school students. The students set about recording taped interviews and taking black and white photographs, gathering what has become an unmatched collection of methods and means of rural homesteading.
The material was originally collected in 1966, in a magazine series simply titled Foxfire, and four years later, when demand exceeded supply, the content was collected in anthology form. Soon after its release, The Foxfire Book reached national prominence to become a best-seller and soon reached circles far beyond its locus. Here, for example, is just a portion of the topics to be found in Volume One’s Table of Contents:
Building a Log Cabin
White Oak Splits
Making a Hamper out of White Oak Splits
Making a Basket out of White Oak Splits
An Old Chair Maker Shows How
Rope, Straw, and Feathers are to Sleep on
A Quilt is Something Human
Cooking on a Fireplace, Dutch Oven, and Wood Stove
Churning Your Own Butter
Curing and Smoking Hog
If you’re interested in traditional Americana, this series set the standard, and did so way back when a book this size cost (check the price on the cover) $3.95. The volume pictured above was the first—eleven more volumes (the most recent of which was published in 2004) comprise the series.
Foxfire continues today as the Foxfire Fund, a not-for-profit educational and literary organization that trains educators and oversees national programs on experiential education. Read more about the Foxfire Fund here.