Sunday, April 24, 2005

"Shooting the Anvil"

Last weekend, I was showing the lakehouse and some neighbors stopped by to say hello. I didn’t realize that this man grew up in the same community as my mom. I don’t think it ever was a thriving big town, but here’s nothing there anymore but a church. Even though he was a bit younger than my mom, he does remember her and he told me that when they would "Shoot the Anvil" at Christmastime, his family could hear it three miles away through the woods.

And what is “shootin’ the anvil?" His explanation was that they stick some TNT under the anvil and shoot it off. But of course it made me curious, and since I am a member of the “I HEART Google” group, I learned quite a bit more.

For one thing it involves two anvils which suprises me that my mom’s people would have two, but there is a variation where the bottom one is replaced with a sledge hammer head. (For the youngins, an anvil is the hunk of iron with a pointy end that the blacksmith hammers metal on). Anvils have a square hole on the bottom. The first anvil would be placed upside down and the hole filled with gunpowder. Then the second would be placed on top. A metal rod would be heated red hot and used to set off the gunpowder. The results would be a very, very, very loud boom and the top anvil would fly into the sky and spin and ring.

Shootin' the Anvil
Being the old-timey variation of fireworks, “shooting the anvil” was used for celebrations, to get attention for everyone to gather around for some important announcement such as a treaty reached in a war, or just plain ol’ competition to see how high the anvil will go. (A 1995 account of some contemporary blacksmithy types claim a height off 615.47 feet although 200 to 300 ft would be more common.) There are still places that feature “shoot the anvil” events at annual festivals.

Since my paternal grandfather was a blacksmith among other professions, I was SHOCKED to find out that my dad had never heard of “shoot the anvil." He is a walking encylopedia of "all things folk" being born in 1917. I explained to him what I had read about it and he said, “No, never heard of it.” But he did go on to tell me a story of an ol’ drunk that was in was in his dad’s blacksmith shop and came across some dynamite. People needed dynamite when they were digging a well and hit rock and apparantly, it was the blacksmith who kept it around. This ol’ drunk asked him what would happen if they put dynamite on the anvil and hit it with the hammer (think big, sledgehammer size hammer). So my grandfather cut off a small slice of the dynamite and laid it on the anvil, handed the hammer to the drunk who promptly gave the dynamite a big whack. In addition to a mighty big bang, the hammer head shot through the roof of the blacksmith shop! Do you think it sobered him up a little?


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