Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Great Balls of Fire! with fireballs in the South

By Haloeffect via Wikimedia commons
When I told my ninety-one-year-old mother about a newspaper article from 1893 New Bern, North Carolina about a night's entertainment by a lantern swinger, it reminded her of a childhood memory. Kerosene balls. Kerosene what? Balls. Flaming. Flying through the air. At that point I sat down and asked for details.

By Sebastian Ritter via Wikimedia Commons
Back in the 1920s and early 30s when Mama was a child growing up on a farm near Swansboro, North Carolina, entertainment was as homegrown as the food on their tables. On special nights like New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, when more affluent communities paid for fireworks displays, the farmers and fishermen of coastal Carolina gathered on open expanses of farmland or sandy beaches to toss around balls of kerosene-soaked cloth or yarn. Many an old, holey sock was unraveled and wound into a tight sphere, soaked in vats of kerosene for a couple weeks, then dried and ready for fiery fun.

On the appointed night, folks would gather and watch as young men lit the kerosene balls and tossed
them into the inky darkness, usually with bare hands although they might coat their palms with dirt first. As a little girl, standing back out of harm's way watching the fireballs streak through the night sky, she found the display beautiful and exciting. I did an Internet search and found the practice is called fireballing or kerosene balling and often saw it noted as a form of entertainment in rural
By Elmer Guevara  via Wikimedia Commons
Alabama. There's a YouTube video showing a modern-day gathering of Alabama fireball tossers keeping up their family's annual tradition. In addition to tossing the balls into the air and playing flaming games of catch, there was a version called "Hail-E-Over" in which people would stand on either side of a tin-roofed house and toss a fireball over its top. The idea was to keep the ball in the air, lobbing from one side to the other until the losing side allowed the ball to thud to the ground.
Stonehaven Parade By MrPurple , via Wikimedia Commons

The roots of such flaming entertainment may reach back to Scotland. One notable example is the annual fireball parade in Stonehaven on the night of Hogmanay (New Year's Eve.) Balls of fire encased in wire cages are swung overhead from chains as the participants process through the town. The traditional thought is that the fire burns away bad spirits of the old year, clearing the way for the new year. There's even a Stonehaven Fireballs Association!
Quite a bit further south in El Salvador there is an annual Bolas de Fuego or "Balls of Fire" festival in which teams hurl kerosene-soaked flaming balls at each other. Apparently throwing fire around knows no borders!
Bolas de Fuego By Elmer Guevara via Wikimedia Commons

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And...Remember, Only YOU, can Prevent Forest Fires!)

Smokey and Me By William Francis Ahearn (Author's Husband)

No comments: