As some of you may know, a new series, Snake Man of Appalachia, aired on Animal Planet last week. According to Animal Planet’s website, the series follows “the lives of an extraordinary Appalachian family with deep roots in the serpent-handling tradition. Verlin Short keeps more than 40 deadly rattlesnakes and copperheads for use in religious services. It’s a lifestyle not without its sacrifices, for both Verlin and his family.” One of our UTC professors, Dr. Ralph Hood, who is an expert on snake handling traditions in Appalachia, is a contributor to the show.
You might be wondering about the connection between snake handling and the Special Collections. We hold the Hood-Williamson Archives on the Serpent Handlers of Southern Appalachia which contains 184 DVDs with 400 plus hours of footage that document the contemporary serpent handlers of Southern Appalachia. Included in this collection is extensive footage of entire services of the major Jesus Name serpent handling churches of Appalachia spanning many years. Some of the footage includes well known names in the contemporary snake handling tradition, such as John and Punkin Brown. Dennis Covington, a college professor and author noted for his exploration of the Appalachian snake handling tradition is also present in some of the videos. Covington’s book on the serpent handling tradition, Salvation on Sand Mountain, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Our future expectations are that we will present a sizable portion of these materials online. Currently they are only accessible in the Special Collections department, but adequate equipment is available for viewing the materials. We’ve already seen an uptick in interest after the airing of the Animal Planet series and hope that interest will continue to grow.