Hundreds of legends have been generated by unusual geological formations. A good case in point is New England’s Great Stone Face. Lovers’ Leaps can be found throughout the entire country. In a remote part of Johnson County, a rock outcropping known by the locals as “Screaming Rock” and “Fiddler’s Rock” has given rise to one of East Tennessee’s signature ghost stories.
Around the Turn of the Century, a young man named Martin Stone was known as the best fiddler player in Johnson County. For years, Martin traveled the back roads, playing the old English ballads and reels that he had learned from his grandfather. He made a living playing at weddings, square dances, church picnics, and even funerals. Martin was said to be such an expert fiddle player that he could heal the sick and stop babies from crying. On Sundays when Martin was not playing the fiddle, he enjoyed climbing up a stone bluff and playing his fiddle while the sun came up. Sometimes, of he did not have gig on that particular day, he continued playing his fiddle until sundown.
Martin’s fiddle playing was put to the test one day when he was sitting on the bluff, playing for no one in particular, when a snake slithered from under a rock and began watching him play. More snakes followed suit until Martin was completely surrounded by rattlesnakes. As Martin played the old familiar mountain tunes, the reptiles swayed in time with the music. The snakes remained curled up in the sun, enjoying Martin’s fiddle playing, until nightfall.
The next Sunday, Martin returned to his post atop the bluff and commenced to play. Once again, the rattlesnakes emerged from their hiding places, curled up, and listened to him. What happened next depends on who is telling the story. Some say that when one of the largest snakes remained on the bluff after the others had left, Martin, on a whim, pinned the snake to the ground with a forked stick and crushed its head under his boot. Others say that after mesmerizing the snakes the first time, Martin realized that he could probably make more money from rattlesnake hides than he could from fiddle playing. So when he returned to the bluff a second time, he proceeded to blast away at the snakes with a shotgun, killing as many as he could carry back home. The demand for rattlesnake hides was so great in Johnson County that Martin began going up to the ledge four or five times a week to kill snakes and fatten his purse. He soon became known far and wide as the “Fiddlin’ Snake Man.”
After several weeks of charming the snakes with his fiddling playing, Martin began to wonder if the snakes would come out at night. One Sunday, as the sun was going down, Martin took the worn path up to the ledge where he had spent so much time hypnotizing snakes. The next morning, a man riding past the bluff found Martin’s mule tethered at the slope. Knowing that Martin never spent all night on the ledge, the man became alarmed. He returned to town and organized a search party. The men had not been on the bluff for very long before they discovered Martin’s body. His swollen hands and face were covered with more than two dozen fang marks.
No one really knows how Martin died. Because his bow was found near the round rock where Martin usually sat, the searchers deduced that he had dropped it while he was playing the fiddle and, when he bent down to pick it up, the rattlesnakes stirred from their trance and attacked him. To this day, the residents of Johnson County shun Fiddler’s Bluff. They believe that the high-pitched screeching sounds the wind makes as it whistles through the rocks are actually the lilting tones of Martin Stone’s fiddling.